No turning back

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

13th Sunday in ordinary times

To show us the importance of Jesus' final journey to Jerusalem, Luke devotes 10 chapters on it starting with today's gospel reading (Lk. 9:51–62) and ending with chapter 19. He gives us the rationale for this journey: “When the days for His being taken up were fulfilled, He resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem (Lk. 9:51).” For Jesus, it was in Jerusalem that He would be “taken up,” that is, undergo His own Exodus (His suffering, death, resurrection, ascension) for our salvation. It was also from there whence the proclamation of God's saving word would commence.

Jesus took His disciples with Him on this journey so He could continue to instruct them. He also wanted them to be His witnesses and thereby provide certainty that their later teachings were rooted in His.

Though the Jews generally avoided the route to Jerusalem through Samaria because they are at odds with the Samaritans for ethnic (the Samaritans had intermarried with non–Jews) and religious (refused by the Jews to help rebuild the Temple, they built their own) reasons, Jesus included the territory in His itinerary. For on the Samaritans, too, the Good News must be proclaimed.

The people of one village however would not welcome Him. Angered, James and John asked Jesus to allow them to call down fire from heaven to consume them. But Jesus rebuked them, in effect disassociating Himself from their attitude that those who rejected Him were to be exterminated. For He had come to reconcile, not to condemn. Moreover, He wanted to be received wholeheartedly.

Rejected, they journeyed to another village. And surprise of surprises, some villagers came up to Jesus offering to follow Him! There were also others whom Jesus invited to be His followers. From these instances, we see Jesus spelling out some of the requirements of discipleship.

One expressed his desire to be Jesus' disciple, saying, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus told Him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Jesus made it clear that to follow Him was no bed of roses — He had nothing to offer but Himself and His message on the Kingdom.

One to whom Jesus said “Follow me” answered, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” To which Jesus responded, “Let the dead bury their dead.” For Jesus, the demand of discipleship overrode even that which the Jews and most if not all cultures regarded as a filial obligation of the highest importance.

Another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” Any farmer knows that if he does not look straight ahead while plowing, the rows would be crooked. It will then be difficult to do the subsequent plowings which will keep the soil loose and kill the weeds. We do not know what the harvest will be but Jesus wants us to put our trust in Him. In effect, Jesus wants His followers to look to the future and not to the past.

In all these, we see a dramatic urgency in Jesus' challenge: the disciple has to decide which has priority, loyalty to family and culture or loyalty to mission. For His disciple to be freed for mission, he must first be freed from his past ties.

All of us who profess ourselves to be Christians have been called by Jesus to follow Him. Have we fully responded to this call? Or do we, like those called by Jesus, also have all kinds of excuses or conditions? Thus:

∗ Have we followed Jesus in the sense of “the Son of Man has no place to lay his head?” Jesus can “only” offer us His person, message and Kingdom. Are we satisfied with these so that we continue to follow Him regardless and place our trust completely in His providence?

∗ Have we followed Jesus in the sense of “Let the dead bury the dead?” If for example there is a conflict between our duties to our loved ones or present occupation and the call of God, where does our preference lie?

∗ Have we followed Jesus in the sense of “No one who... looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God?,” that is, follow Him come what may? After professing to live according to His teachings, do we look back with regret on what we have left behind — the warmth of the home and the security of the familiar?

In sum, since the offer of Jesus to follow Him is absolute, is our response also absolute? Or is it rather conditional and even with a tinge of regret?

Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” Do we have the same determination in our discipleship and thus achieve our own exodus too?