NEXT SUNDAY’S GOSPEL: LUKE 9: 51-62
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.
I know that a number of Café friends check in on Tuesdays for the Sunday Gospel post. I will post that tomorrow (Wednesday) on Wednesday’s stream.
Last night Margaret and I proceeded to our St. James Cathedral in downtown Orlando for the interfaith prayer service for the victims of Sunday’s shootings and the community at large. Our Cathedral is located on Orange Avenue, the main north-south street through downtown Orlando. It is at the northern side of downtown; continue through downtown and you will pass the giant Orlando Regional Medical Center and its trauma facilities, and a bit further Pulse, which you have seen on television. From where we were parked I could see the temporary electronic traffic controls diverting cars away from what is still a crime scene. The air above the Cathedral was full of helicopters—presumably both media and law enforcement.
We arrived considerably before the 7 PM starting time, not knowing what the parking situation would be like. But Orange Avenue was open at least as far as the church, and a crew of young Catholic adult volunteers assisted us in parking in the small lot owned by the diocese, though it was my impression that there was a lot of street parking available as well. Several chancery officials greeted us at the door. We saw old friends from throughout the diocese. Given that there was a major memorial just across downtown (the televised candlelight event with about 7,000 persons) I expected that those most emotionally impacted, such as the LGBT community, would attend that service.
It was my sense that our congregation was made up of those who perhaps had not lost an intimate to the hate crime, but who felt nonetheless a need to show a solidarity of faith and concern, as well as to address our interior pain, that global pain that comes from life in a world. I noted the presence of a number of Catholic social justice workers, graying like men of my age and beyond, who have borne the heat of the day’s labors on behalf of God’s underdogs, and who approach twilight years with the realization that much more work remains to be done by those who follow.
The Prayer Vigil itself, hosted by our bishop, John Noonan, and joined by about a dozen representatives of local Christian Churches and one imam, was an affable and positive act of prayer. Consisting of Christian hymns, some in English and some in Spanish, Scripture Readings, the lighting of candles, and the sign of peace. At the closing hymn, the ministerial leaders held hands in a sign of solidarity. Bishop Lynch of St. Petersburg embraced the imam standing next to him in nothing less than a bear hug. As Margaret and I progressed through the church toward the door, we stopped to extend the greeting of peace to everyone we encountered, folks we generally did not know. A number of participants wore traditional Muslim garb.
The prayer event was not without its humor. Bishop Noonan was the hosting prelate and wore his simple black suit. He is a true and compassionate peoples’ bishop, but it was hard not to smile as he labored to serve as his own master of ceremonies. In his defense, there is no official church template for interfaith rituals in response to such spontaneous catastrophes. (Sadly, it is probably necessary to promulgate one.) Actually, with just a few hours to prepare, the chancery did a very good job. I also looked in on the cathedral’s monument to episcopal hubris, the stained glass window featuring our previous bishop (now Archbishop of Miami) standing at the foot of the cross with Mary and John, dressed in miter and bearing his crozier. It is a tourist stop right up there with Disney and SeaWorld, except for the poor parking.
As we drove north on U.S. 441 back to Apopka, we reflected in our own way on Peter’s words from the Gospel, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” We both could not sit still in the face of Sunday’s tragedy, and while there are many, many important moral questions about the circumstances and the appropriate responses, my wife and I do not subscribe to the theory expressed by one of my old superiors, that “prayer is the last arrow in our quiver.” We tend to agree with the great theologian Karl Barth who counseling the clergy to preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. During Morning Prayer today, I concluded that we must pray the same way.