Today’s readings give us God as a hands-on General. The first reading from Isaiah has Him recruiting troops (“They shall bring your brothers and sisters from all the nations as an offering to the Lord…’Some of these I will take as priests and Levites,’ says the Lord.”) The second reading is Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, toughening them up for God’s discipline (“…do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him…”) And in the Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus puts a potential recruit through some tough basic training when the man asks “Will only a few people be saved?” (“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough,” Jesus says.
Jesus got a lot of questions from followers during his time as teacher. Some were asked in disrespect, to test him, others were posed in a rather self-serving manner, like the above from someone more interested in achieving reward than meriting it. I get the impression Jesus used his answer to this guy’s question as a little whack on the back of the head to make the guy wonder if he had the right stuff.
Remember a similar Q/A encounter from Mark’s gospel, in which a follower asked “Which commandment is the most important of all?” After Jesus tells him that loving God and your neighbor are the keys, this gentleman agrees wholeheartedly, adding his opinion that God appreciates these more than animal sacrifices. Jesus saw true wisdom in how this man responded and said “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
Like the best of soldeiers, this guy’s focus was on the mission, not any resulting reward. And because Jesus recognized his heart, Jesus assured him of a promotion.