Reflection for 13 Sunday of Ordinary Time
Today the Gospel recalls some of the most significant moments in the life of Jesus. He had walked the roads of Galilee, proclaiming the good news and healing the sick. Then, one fine day, he decided to go up to Jerusalem. This decision let loose a whole series of events which eventually led to his tragic death. Jesus foresaw his death and made use of the long journey to prepare his disciples for it. The journey lasted several days. Jesus transformed his time with them and their intimate sharing into an exclusive school for his closest followers. He was aware that he was going to his death and he wanted to prepare his disciples to be faithful followers to the very end. When we recall episodes that took place during this journey, and the contents of Jesus’ teaching, we have a unique opportunity to accept his teaching and to be transformed into his disciples. Unlike those first disciples who walked with him on the journey, we have the good fortune of knowing how the journey ended. Because we know that this teaching was given as he approached his death, we are more likely to pay attention to it and more willing to accept it. We are in a better situation than those disciples who listened to him as he went along the road to Jerusalem.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
Luke’s account of the journey to Jerusalem (Lk 9, 51-19, 29) opens in a very solemn manner. Aware of the fact that the time was drawing near for him to “ascend” to heaven, Jesus decides to “go up” to Jerusalem, following a precise divine plan, rather than his own will (cfr. Lk 9, 31). It is not by chance that this journey, which will turn out to be a way of the cross, begins with rejection and will end with rejection. The one who will be taken up to heaven is rejected by the people of a village in Samaria (Lk 9, 53), and again by the authorities and by the people in Jerusalem (Lk 23,13-23). As a good Jew, Jesus could have decided to pass through the Jordan Valley and avoid Samaria. But since his journey to Jerusalem was not a free choice, neither was he free to choose which way he should go. He took advantage of the incident to instruct his angry disciples James and John (the “Sons of Thunder” – cf Mk 3.17). He rebuked his disciples severely and went to another village. He was to be the victim of violence and he rejected violence on the part of his followers.
There were three brief encounters with people who wanted to follow him, but they each had other priorities. They serve to illustrate the type of followers Jesus wanted as he went towards his “ascension”. Luke does not give their names, but only their request. The three want to follow Jesus. We do not know how any of them reacted to the harsh words of Jesus. The important thing for the evangelist is not the good will of the would-be disciples, but the warnings given by Jesus to all who want to be his followers.
The first (Lk 9, 57) and the third (Lk 9, 61) tell Jesus of their desire to follow him. The second one is the only one who was invited by Jesus to follow him (Lk 9, 59). The answer Jesus gave to the first one who wanted to follow him could not be more devastating. He wanted to follow him wherever he went, but Jesus warned him that he had nowhere to go and no home to stay in (Lk 9, 58). What matters in discipleship is following Jesus. It does not matter where you go.
The other two, the one chosen by Jesus and the one who wanted to be chosen (Lk 9, 61), both refer to their family situation which relegates following Jesus to second place. Burying your father is an inescapable duty and leaving your family is a reasonable personal decision, but Jesus does not regard them as valid reasons for not following him. The kingdom must take up all the time and fill the hearts of those who want to follow him. The followers of Jesus will have nowhere to go, but they cannot be preoccupied with anybody other than Jesus or anything other than the Kingdom.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
Here we have the beginning of Luke’s account of the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. It is significant that in his account the journey begins badly and would finish badly. The journey that would lead to his death in Jerusalem begins with a public rejection. He is denied hospitality on his journey through Samaria. Jesus did not react in a rude manner, but he did not let the opportunity slip and he transformed the whole episode into an instruction for his disciples. What happened to them was not just an anecdote, but a sign of what was about to take place. Jesus would not allow his followers to use violence towards others, but they themselves would have to suffer violence. It seemed reasonable to respond to the insult, but this was not a good start to the journey he was about to begin. Not only did he have to put up with rejection by foreigners, but he also had to leave his own beloved people. Those who want to follow him will have neither a home of their own, nor a family. Only those who are concerned about the Kingdom of God are worthy to be his followers. Any other preoccupation, however reasonable or virtuous it might be, is not valid in the eyes of Jesus. As for the Master, so shall it be also for the disciple. Home is wherever he preaches the gospel, and his fate is the giving of his life. Anyone who follows Jesus on the way to Jerusalem needs to know where it will lead him.
This last journey of Jesus got off on the wrong foot. He was refused entry to a village because he was on his way to Jerusalem. The reaction of the disciples was very understandable. They would like to have brought down God’s punishment on the people who rejected the very one who went in search of them. But Jesus rebuked the disciples, not because they had actually had recourse to violence, but simply because they desired it. They did not want to engage in violence themselves. They left the decision in God’s hands. They thought it was enough to call on God to take revenge on those who had offended Jesus, and they expected a positive response from God. Revenge was not Jesus’ way, and he did not want his disciples to seek it either. The God of Jesus will never answer prayers motivated by a spirit of revenge. The two disciples meant well. They wanted to preserve their Master’s honour. But their prayer was not heard. Christians should never pray for evil to come against those who have done them wrong. Even an offence against Jesus is not sufficient excuse to desire evil against the perpetrator.
The only violence the disciple should wish for it that which comes from following Jesus. He has not got time to waste thinking of punishment for others. His time should be taken up totally in following Jesus. The only violence Christians should inflict is the violence that touches themselves. Too often we disciples of Jesus can be hard on others, maybe just to forget how hard the demands of Jesus are. We react quickly to the injustices done to us because we are Christians, and we think we are free to respond to the demands made on us as Christians. Just because we are rejected by some, we think we have the right to reject people who do not agree with us or with our ideas.
Jesus has already warned us – following him is not going to be easy. It is not enough to be enthusiastic about him for a while. To the person who promised to follow him wherever he went, Jesus replied that he had nowhere to go. On the road to Jerusalem, Jesus had no home or bed to offer to anybody. And he did not hide this fact from those who wanted to follow him. The animals have a place to rest, but Jesus had none. To the one who wanted to follow Jesus but had to go and bury his father first, Jesus replied that there is nothing that should delay those who are called to proclaim the Kingdom. Even the dead must wait when it is a question of preaching the living God. Burying a parent does not come before proclaiming the Gospel. To the one who wants to go and say goodbye to his friends before entering the circle of disciples, Jesus says that anyone who looks back over his shoulder is not fit to take his place in the Kingdom. Nothing can come before God and his kingdom.
It is a pity we are so familiar with these responses of Jesus. We miss the force of his words, and we fail to recognize the incredible demands he makes of those who want to follow him closely. We are keen to know what Jesus expects of all who want to be his disciples but we do not realize how impossible are the demand he makes. Being a disciple of Jesus presents a challenge that few are ready to face. If there are many who say they are his disciples, it is because they have not fully understood his words.
How can a Master expect us to follow him, if he does not even offer us a place to rest? Jesus did not deceive the people who said they wanted to follow him. If they have no home, and no place to rest, they will have to be able to share in common their tiredness and their place of rest. They will have to share poverty and solitude, while they listen to his words and enjoy his company. The only privilege the follower of Jesus can rely on is that of having the Master as his companion in work and in repose. By not promising anything else, and by warning them clearly that with him they will not even have as much as the foxes and the birds, Jesus teaches us not to fool ourselves into thinking that we will gain any benefit from our Christian way of life. Before we resolve to follow him closely, he wants us to stop and think whether it is worth following someone who promises so little. It would be good for us to reflect on this today.
How can we be anything but surprised at a Master who does not allow a disciple to bury his father? At the time of Jesus, burying the dead was a work of mercy, especially in this case when the dead person was the man’s father. It was an unavoidable duty. The urgency Jesus felt for the preaching of the kingdom imposes an exceptional demand. Let those who are not called to proclaim God’s kingdom, bury the dead. Only those who put God above everything else, however sacrosanct it may be, are worthy of God. Anyone who wants to follow Jesus must be willing to sacrifice every obligation, in order not to put off proclaiming God. For the disciples of Jesus, everything else can wait except the preaching of the Kingdom. Is there anyone who does not think that a demand like this is excessive and unreasonable? Does a Master who teaches this kind of doctrine, deserve to be followed?
How can we fail to be shocked by the severity of a master who does not allow a simple greeting to delay someone from following him? How can we understand a leader who does not accept that we owe something also to our family members? And yet, Jesus still wants only disciples who do not waste time cultivating relationships that have no future. Only the Kingdom of God that is to come should occupy the heart and the hands of Jesus’ disciples. Nothing else matters. Jesus does not want anything that is not of God to preoccupy the minds of the disciples who accompany him. It is not a question of breaking with someone else in order to follow Jesus. Jesus does not want us to alienate our family members and friends just because we have decided to follow him. But he will not accept that anybody or anything should delay our commitment to God and to his Kingdom. Christ’s followers can have no valid reason for postponing their commitment to their missionary work. This is something else we would do well to reflect on today.
If Jesus has been honest enough to tell us the conditions, then the least we can do is to reflect on them a bit more. To follow him without seriously considering what is involved, is to reduce his demands to mere suggestions. Anyone who follows Christ, follows his way and his conditions. Following him is optional. But once we have started the journey we no longer have any choice either as regards the way or the goal. Again, we need to reflect: can we leave him today? Because if not, we are compelled to journey the way that he has chosen for us, with the conditions he imposes. One thing is certain: our journey and our conditions will not be very different from the journey he travelled and the conditions he endured.