Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Luke’s gospel is unusual in that it arranges everything in the framework of Jesus’ journey towards Jerusalem. I don’t know if you heard it but the opening sentence said something like: as the time drew near for him to be taken up, he turned towards Jerusalem (9: 51-62). Luke is not just speaking about geography but Jesus’ lifting up or his glorification on the cross. His lifting up is his passion, death and resurrection. A number of people in the parish are also facing the same events in their own life and so this gospel can remind us of our ultimate goal, which is heaven. And the importance of dying well, as a Christian, in the grace of God and with the sacraments and accepting what the Lord sends.
It is also surprising that the Lord decides to go into Samaria on their way to Jerusalem. Usually Jews would go around Samaria since Samaritans inter-married with other nations and were considered unclean by the Jews at that time. Why do you think Jesus decided to go in this direction? Right after this gospel Jesus is sending the seventy-two disciples out to preach the gospel without money or anything so he could be training them to experience rejection and humiliation. Jesus also knows how James and John are going to react. It is no wonder that they are called the sons of Thunder. Maybe Jesus wants to use this occasion to make the point that this is not the reaction of a disciple of Christ.
Let’s cut to the first reading for a minute to see how Elijah is going to pass the baton to his successor Elisha. He does it very dramatically by throwing his cloak, which has miraculous powers, which is a symbol of his person over Elisha. And Elisha does not resist; in fact, he slaughters his oxen and plow, which symbolizes his renunciation of his old way of life.
What Christ says in the gospel goes far beyond the expectations in the Old Testament. We see this clearly in the example of burying a parent. What could be more important for a Jew than to bury the dead, especially a father? Jesus is using this example to highlight that his relationship supersedes any law or even sacred human tradition. Of course, he is not saying don’t bury your father or your mother, but the example shows the priority all Christians ought to have by putting their relationship with God above all others.
He seems to be contrasting the deadness of what must be left behind to the liveliness of companionship with Christ. Going back means to return to what does not move, or what is static or dead. To be a Christian or to be a disciple always implies movement, change and dynamism. To seek life means that one must move toward it, be taken up into it. In the original language it is a play on words meaning, let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead.
It could be that Jesus is also saying the ones who are expecting a political and temporal Messiah are the dead ones; they are not capable of seeing the Kingdom. Or it could refer to some today who always see the solution of the country or the world in political terms. Christianity does not require brilliance or perfection or knowledge, but fidelity and courage, and one could add: an adventurous heart.
I never plowed a field before but I imagine his disciples must have been very familiar with this image. Plowing requires an eye set on making a furrow, and a straight one. This would be ruined every time a person turned around. Even on a bicycle I find it very difficult to turn around checking for traffic when I need to make a left turn. Lot’s wife also was turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah after being warned not to.
These are strong words of Christ today and somehow we can easily dismiss them. I pray that we see the seriousness of following Christ and living a Christian life and dying as a man or woman of faith. It is hard to measure the enormous impact of seeing a person live and die in this way, but it is something that can affect a town or a parish for decades.