Nicholas King SJ 13th Sunday of the Year
I Kings 19116,19-21 Galatians 5:1, 13-18
TODAY'S gospel marks a turning-point in Luke. Up to now Jesus has, right from the very beginning of the gospel, been seen travelling to and from Galilee and Jerusalem by way of Samaria.
From now on, "his face is set" towards Jerusalem alone, and the irresistible forward march has started that will carry the word of God throughout the gospel, and its second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, towards Jerusalem, and then from Jerusalem back through Judaea and Samaria to Athens and Rome and so "to the ends of the earth" (Acts, I :8).
For the rest of this gospel Jesus moves serenely but definitely in one direction only, towards the grim crisis in Jerusalem; and appropriately enough it is a grim passage that we have to deal'with today.
The first thing that happens is that the gospel is rejected by a Samaritan village, a striking thing in the gospel of the "Good Samaritan". Jesus • however is not deflected from his purpose, either to reason with the villagers or. as James and John intemperately desired (was this the incident the led Jesus, in gentle mockery, to give them the nickname "sons of thunder"?), to call down fire from heaven on them.
This critical phase of the gospel is too urgent to allow of such diversion, and they must press on. As they do so, the sense of urgency is heightened by the encounter with three potential disciples, each of whom must be made aware that
serious things are afoot here. The first potential recruit invites himself along, and receives a decidedly discouraging reply: "foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has now here to lay his head".
Jesus is going nowhere, except Jerusalem, and anyone who wishes to go with him must share his single-mindedness, and be prepared to live his kind of life.
The second potential disciple is given no choice in the matter, only the uncompromising command "follow me". to which he makes the reasonable request, to attend to his father's funeral, a duty in Jewish law, and is told, in a memorable chilly reply, "leave the dead to bury their own dead", a remark whose harshness intentionally brings us up short, and reminds us of the cost of discipleship. It also, of course, carries the more cheerful implication that those who follow
Jesus are alive; and Luke adds, what is not in Matthew's version of the scene, the commission "but you, go and preach the kingdom of God", indicating the renunciation is necessary because there is a job to be done.
The third disciple, who is likewise missing from Matthew's account, is another volunteer, but first he wants to perform a similar domestic duty "to say farewell to those at home"; but he too is given short shrift: "no one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God".