Wholehearted Constancy for the Christian Mission

We continue to travel through Ordinary Time, so named because we use ordinal numbers to designate the weeks and days of this season.  While each of the other liturgical seasons is marked by special feasts and solemnities, this season has one over-arching theme that focuses our attention on the “cost of discipleship.”  Because the “monetary” term “cost” might cause us some discomfort, let me rephrase it to say the “demands of discipleship.”  The readings for this particular Sunday give us a very good example of what the Church means by this theme.

The Gospel begins with a statement that actually divides the Gospel of Luke into two parts.  Up to this point, the Gospel has shown us Jesus as he preaches and heals and teaches in the area of Galilee.  However, at this point, Luke tells us that Jesus, realizing that his time had come, resolutely determines to go to Jerusalem.  I can only presume that we all know what happens there.  The remaining chapters of the Gospel will tell us of the journey to Jerusalem and the events that won for us our freedom from sin.  Everything from this point on must be read in the light of what Jesus is about to do.

One thing that is immediately evident is that Jesus begins to prepare his disciples for what will be asked of them if they choose to follow him to Jerusalem.  The word “disciple” comes from Latin and designates someone as a student.  The word “apostle” comes from Greek and means someone who is sent.  So Jesus now focuses his attention on those who wish to learn from him rather than on the crowd at large.

The first issue that he takes on is the age-old feud that existed between the Samaritans and the Jews.  If you attended Mass this week or read the daily readings for this week, you heard the story of the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Assyrians.  They carried off the soldiers, the people of influence, and the young and fit citizens of Jerusalem into what we now call the Babylonian exile.  However, they left behind the elderly, the weak, and the so-called “useless” people of Jerusalem.  In order to survive, these people chose to intermarry with the other citizens of Canaan.  Intermarriage was forbidden to Jews.  So when the exile was over and the Jews returned to their homeland, they shut out the descendants of those who had been left behind, even refusing their offers of help to rebuild Jerusalem.  The enmity between them festered and grew until the time of Jesus who went so far as to use one very famous Samaritan to illustrate what it means to be a neighbor.  His rebuke of the disciples in today’s Gospel comes down to this, “If you want to be my disciple, you must set aside this enmity.”  This message is just as powerful in our own day and age as it was then. We cannot be disciples of Jesus if we have a "we" and "they" kind of perspective.

Then he turns his attention to two uncommitted disciples who are having difficulty deciding whether they really want to follow Jesus.  One of them asks to go to bury his father.  Jesus’ answer may seem heartless.  However, when we stop to remember that Jewish customs surrounding death would have meant that if this man’s father was dead, he would have been sitting with his father’s corpse for twenty-four hours before burying his remains.  He would not have been with Jesus.  In other words, his father is not dead yet.  What he is really saying is, “I need to put off the decision to follow you until my father dies so that I can inherit his possessions.  Then I will come to follow you.”  Jesus sees through his words and dismisses him.

Another man asks to simply go home to say farewell.  The gesture may seem innocent enough to us.  However, this man is also saying that he cannot leave his family behind in his pursuit of discipleship. 

Before we settle into the notion that these examples are clearly about those who want to follow Jesus in religious life or in the priesthood, let us remember that neither priesthood nor religious life existed at the time that Jesus walked among us.  Jesus is speaking of the demands of our baptism.  His answers exemplify the wholehearted constancy that the Christian mission requires.  The point is that lesser loves must be seen in the light of God’s love, and true followers cannot be half-hearted or flighty in their commitment.  In other words, there is a definite cost to discipleship!

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator


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