THIRTEENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
USCCB LINK TO ALL THREE READINGS
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 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."
The Gospel of Luke is organized in an intriguing way. The overarching message of the book is summarized well in the appearance of Jesus to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35), where Jesus explains that his Father indeed has a master plan, and that Jesus’ words and deeds, most notably his crucifixion, has communicated that plan to the fullest. Luke does not differ in content from his predecessor Mark in describing the works and deeds of Jesus as signs of the approaching coming of the Kingdom of God, nor in his description of final confrontation in Jerusalem. But Luke is unique in “marking the day,” so to speak, when Jesus himself, according to his Father’s plan, determines that the moment has come to inaugurate the final showdown. Sunday’s Gospel marks the beginning of a formal journey to Jerusalem for the last confrontation and culmination of the Father’s plan. Commentators cite Chapter 9 as the beginning of the journey, when Jesus “set his face for Jerusalem.”
Our house commentator Joel Green observes that the journey will not be smooth; it would be more along the lines of Ulysses Grant’s two-year campaign of bitter hand-to-hand combat to take Richmond. And indeed, after sending messengers forward to reconnoiter, Jesus encounters his first resistance in Samaria, that strange and alienated land of historical pain. Samaria was something of a special project of Jesus. It was a land originally settled by the tribe of Joseph, but it was captured by the Assyrians in the eighth century, B.C., and thereafter a familiar whipping boy of prophets who viewed the territory as unclean and decadent.
But in Luke’s portrayal of the Christian Mission as an outreach to the entire world, Samaria seemed like an excellent place to start. Luke, for example, describes a healing of lepers there, and John will later position one of Jesus’ major teaching encounters with the Samaritan woman at the well. That Luke depicts one of the Gospels’ most admirable characters as a son of Samaria, the Good Samaritan, must have come as quite a surprise to contemporary readers in Palestine. In our text here, though, the Samaritans reject Jesus. Green suggests two reasons: (1) the Samaritans rejected the centrality of Jerusalem and thus the prophet who was headed there through their city, or (2) like Nazareth, the Samaritans rejected what seemed to be extravagant claims about Jesus. Jesus rebukes his “sons of thunder,” James and John, for their desire to call down fire on Samaria, probably rebuking their self-righteous sense of power to judge.
The next two paragraphs are similar but not continuous. Their theme is the same: the urgency of the mission of the Christ calls for immediate breaking of familiar and familial ties. In the first instance, where an unidentified follower pledges to follow Jesus wherever he goes, Jesus responds with a teaching about discipleship. The true follower will be a “man on the go” as Jesus is now on his journey to Jerusalem, without the simple pleasures of home and hearth that even animals enjoy.
The following text is more enigmatic. In this case Jesus makes the call to a potential disciple, who asks for a reprieve so that he can bury his deceased father. The precise meaning of Jesus’ response that the dead bury their own dead is still debated, but Green suggests that a hearer of the times might have thought back to I Kings, where Elijah the prophet allowed the younger Elisha to go home and bid farewell to his parents before setting out with the senior prophet. It may be that Jesus (or Luke) wished to draw a distinction between the message of Elijah’s preaching and the urgent nature of Jesus’ mission which demands dropping everything. (As we saw in last Sunday’s Gospel, there was confusion about Jesus’ identity, and many thought he was Elijah.) Jesus reinforces this with his saying that a plowman who looks back is not worthy of the Kingdom of God. Again, this may be a reference to his journey to Jerusalem where Jesus stands in judgment before the Jewish leaders and forsakes the contemporary faith attitude of his time in favor of the new and eternal kingdom established by his Father through Jesus’ death on the cross. That Jesus did not look back has won for us the promise of eternal life.
For the next several weeks we will be on Summer schedule at the Café. The Tuesday posts on the Sunday Gospel will resume in mid-July. I will post as possible in the meantime, so stop in from time to time as your summer schedule permits.