On December 1, 1955, she was asked with three others to relinquish her seat on a crowded bus for a white man who had just boarded. Though they were already seated in the section reserved for blacks, they were ordered by the bus driver to stand in the aisle to make room. Three complied. Rosa Parks remained seated. Recalling the incident for a television series in 1987, Parks said quietly: "When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up and I said, 'No, I'm not.' And he said, 'Well, if you don't stand up, I'm going to have to call the police and have you arrested.' I said, 'You may do that.'" She was immediately arrested and ordered to pay a fine of fourteen dollars.
Mrs. Parks died at the age of 92, a woman history will remember for her courage and conviction. As she hurriedly left the department store where she worked as a seamstress that day in December, the last thing she was thinking about was becoming a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement. She had errands to run and preparations to make for a workshop that she was organizing for teenagers that weekend. "So it was not a time for me to be planning to get arrested," she said in the interview.
Photograph of Rosa Parks with Dr. Martin Luther King jr. (ca. 1955) National Archives record ID: 306-PSD-65-1882
No matter who you are or what you believe, there are moments in life that will call you out of your daily life and into something beyond it, denying yourself for the sake of another. Almost always these moments will come with a certain degree of inconvenience. The soft spoken Montgomery seamstress who refused to give up her seat could have given heed to injustice with the rationale of not wanting to get involved just then or the daunting thought of all the things she had to get done that day. Instead, she brought about the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 and ignited the Civil Rights Movement.
As Jesus and his disciples walked throughout the cities of ancient Judea, they encountered many would-be disciples. "I will follow you wherever you go," called out one man. "I will follow you, Lord," said another. Jesus's responses are surprising, perhaps especially to those of us who long for others to see the winsome appeal of Christianity. Jesus isn't very winsome here. He spoke far more candidly about the inconveniences of discipleship—the cost of standing with God, the difficulty of denying selfish desires—than he did the allure of it.
The Gospel of Luke recounts one follower replying to the call of Christ: "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." Jesus answered: "Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God." Another man said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home." But Jesus replied, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."
I used to feel as though his responses were somewhat severe, if not completely insensitive: one man was grieving the death of his father; another only wanted to say goodbye to his family. But then I was hurt by the apathy of a friend; I wounded a loved one with my silence; I persecuted a neighbor by my passivity; I dismissed a fellow human being by making him a object more easily dismissed. And I realized that there is always going to be one more excuse. There is always going to be something that needs to be done first, a reason to wait silently or follow later or protest injustice or do the fearful, harder thing at a better time. There is always going to be an inconvenience to setting down my life, my time, my agenda for the sake of another. The call to follow Christ is not theoretical. He makes it clear from the start that the only way to follow is by leaving everything to follow after the incarnate son of God. Perfect love casts out fear; it also demands our urgency.
There are moments in life that will call you out of the comforts of daily life and into faithful inconvenience. What if it is God who is calling?
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.