by Dan Loch
Sunday’s Gospel from Luke is a grim one on first reading. We confront an unsympathetic and uncompromising Jesus who speaks “hard sayings”: “The Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head,” “Let the dead bury their dead,” and “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” Harsh! It jars with our image of the compassionate Jesus.
But let’s start at the beginning. Luke uses the symbol of a journey to express commitment. Sunday’s Gospel marks the beginning of Jesus’ journey, a turning point from which there is no turning-back. His great journey to Jerusalem makes up the second half of Luke’s Gospel, a good ten chapters. Jesus has been a big success – in Galilee: miracles with the leper, the paralytic, a sick woman, the demon-possessed man, and the raising of the widow’s son and a dead girl; the Centurion’s faith; parables and teachings; feeding 5,000; Peter’s confession of faith; the Transfiguration! Big, BIG success!
Yet . . . Now he heads south to Israel’s religious and political capitol, a pit where John the Baptist got the ax. He also gives three very demanding responses to people who would follow Him on the journey, but first want to bury a father and say good-bye to family. Hard sayings, indeed, but Jesus is teaching us what following him means: a life of wandering, no guarantee of safety or shelter, and the priority that proclaiming the Kingdom must have even over family obligations. The Kingdom is about rescuing human beings for life in a world that is sliding to destruction, hmm, something like ours might be.
In the First Reading Luke compare and contrasts Jesus to the prophet Elijah. Elijah recruits Elisha to be his follower. As Jesus said yes to God the Father, Elisha by destroying his plow says yes to Elijah. But Elisha requests to go home first to say good-bye to his parents. Elijah allows it. In contrast to Elijah, Jesus will not allow it, insisting that the urgent claim of the Kingdom must have priority.
In the Second Reading Paul tells us that not breaking the law is easy when compared to the positive commandment to love God and others. It’s not easy to be a disciple, the point of the Gospel. Christians are already free, but they are not yet totally free. Habits of mind and heart, addictions of all kinds, retain their hold even after they are given up. The Christian freedom to love enables us, gives us the power, the grace, to be faithful to competing responsibilities, to do what is truly the right thing to do, according to the proper priority.
Note in the Gospel that Jesus scolds the disciples when they want to “call down fire from heaven to consume” the Samaritans who did not accept Jesus. Jews hated Samaritans and vice-versa. They regarded each other as heretics. Why? Over where God should be worshiped! Jews said Jerusalem, Samaritans said the hills of Samaria. Shiites and Sunnis. Democrats and Republicans. Big-Endians and Little-Endians (in Gulliver’s Travels the Lilliputians wage war over which end of a hard-boiled egg to crack first).
Here’s the deal. There is no part-time discipleship, yet all disciples face the conflict of legitimate responsibilities. Second, we’ve got a lot more proclaiming to do. I think of “Proclaim the good news at all times; if necessary, use words.” Jesus’ life, like my own, was shaped by the choices He made, and the choices of others. Jesus made the choice to be faithful to God’s call. That meant taking the good news of the reign of God to the power center of Jerusalem, and facing the consequences of this choice. If I want to proclaim the Kingdom, I must share Jesus’ passion and the hardships it brings. I show the kingdom of God in the way I live as a disciple. If I “look back,” if I have doubts and want to remember anger and revenge, then I are not yet ready for the difficulties of bringing about the Kingdom of God.
I am reminded of the November 2011 founding meeting of CONECT (Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut) to which the parish belongs. 1,500 people assembled – black, white, Latino, Asian, low-income, high-income, Catholic Protestant, Jewish – all speaking truth to power, to the governor, the Bridgeport mayor, state officials, all for the good of those assembled needing help. Fr. David’s proclamation upon seeing this has stuck in my mind: “This is what the Kingdom of God looks like.”