Awaiting Your Response
by Rev. James C. Hudgins
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
When the days for Jesus' being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?" Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village. As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus answered him, "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head."
And to another, he said, "Follow me." But he replied, "Lord, let me go first and bury my father." But he answered him, "Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." And another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at him." 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."
There is no storyteller in the New Testament greater than St. Luke. Luke is the only Gospel that states from the outset its purpose is to faithfully narrate the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. This Sunday’s reading is the turning point in Luke’s story. “Jesus resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51). From this point in the Gospel onward, Jesus will move closer and closer to Jerusalem where he will offer his life on Calvary. There will be fewer of Jesus’ miracles, and more of his teaching. Hostility against him will irreversibly escalate, as the events of Good Friday loom larger and larger. And because Jesus wants us to know and love him by imitating his sacrifice, here at the turning point of the Gospel, Luke recounts three brief vignettes of Jesus’ encounters with would-be disciples. In each case, an invitation to follow Christ is left open-ended and unresolved, as if Jesus were awaiting your own response. In each case, Jesus reminds us that following him will require nothing less than the gift of your whole heart.
“I will follow you wherever you go,” says one overly eager soul. Immediately Jesus tempers his naive enthusiasm, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Recall how at Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem, there was no room for him at the inn (Lk 2:7), and how he would later tell his disciples that his kingdom is not of this world. Do we, as Christians, honestly expect to find acceptance and welcome in a world that did not welcome Christ? Perhaps we need to ask the Lord to temper our naiveté as well, and steel our resolve to sacrifice.
The next character sincerely wants to follow Jesus, and makes what seems to be a perfectly reasonable request. “First, let me bury my father” (Lk 9:59). Jesus’ mysterious reply, “Let the dead bury their dead” sounds harsh and curt, but isn’t really. “Let me bury my father,” is a Semitic metaphor that means, “Let me first wait until my father has died,” an event that may not happen for decades. Jesus does not trade in hyperbole here as he did when he said, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off” (Mt 5:30). Here, Jesus’ words are a summons to follow him now, not later. Tomorrow is not guaranteed you. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Ps 95:7).
Lastly, Luke tells of a man who simply wishes, “to say farewell” to his family before following Jesus’ call. To him the Lord says, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” This is a direct parallel to the First Book of Kings, in which Elijah calls Elisha as the prophet to succeed him. Elisha was in the midst of plowing a field when he hears Elijah’s call, but immediately drops his hand from the plow and follows him, without even returning home to take leave of his parents. The same God who commanded us to “honor your father and mother” (Exod 20:12) is certainly not asking his followers to ignore any family relationships. Rather, the story serves as a reminder of the totality of the commitment Jesus asks of us. To set your hand to the plow and to look back will only plow a crooked line. If discipleship to the prophet Elijah required total abandonment in following him, how much more does discipleship to the Son of God require?
To be a disciple of Jesus is a relationship of total love. There’s no such thing as a half-hearted discipleship, because there’s no such thing as half-hearted love. Jesus does not soft-pedal the seriousness of commitment to him, or ask us to hear his voice and “think it over.” Drop everything your heart is clinging to and follow him. Jesus assures us the story will end very well for those who do.