The call to discipleship is a call to follow Jesus. Last week the Gospel passage recalled Jesus teaching his disciples about his identity as the Messiah. He emphatically noted that His messiahship will entail the laying down of His life in the Passion.
He teaches the disciples that being a disciple will entail the cross “for whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” This week’s Gospel continues this teaching.
St. Luke tells us in 9:51 “when the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” His journey to the cross now begins. As He enters the Samaritan village we see the first rejection of Jesus because of the cross. St. Luke notes: “They would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem.”
The rejection has a double meaning here. The Samaritans were distinct from the Jews but worshiped YHWH. In their worship they would offer sacrifice at shrines and altars in their region rather than going to the Temple in Jerusalem. They would not participate in Temple worship. This is the first reason for rejecting Jesus. The second is that they reject the cross. The messiah surely could not die on a cross.
James and John try to get Jesus to use His power to destroy these Samaritans. They probably do not yet realize the magnitude of what Jesus will endure. This is His mission. He came to save not to destroy. Even if that salvation will be at the cost of His life. He will continue to journey to Jerusalem inviting all to follow.
Jesus rebukes James and John for their lack of understanding. In the encounter with the Samaritans we see “would be” disciples who are held back because they cannot accept the cross.
In the next village Jesus encounters someone who says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replies: “…the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” The person who encounters Jesus represents a disciple who is enthusiastic in his response to Jesus. The enthusiasm will have to be tested. The faith will have to develop and be rooted.
Jesus’ saying seems a bit enigmatic. Yet in the context of this passage it relates to His journey. He will continue to move toward Jerusalem. He will not establish a home or residence anywhere that would hinder the journey. This new disciple will have to accept this if he is to follow Jesus. Discipleship entails joining the journey to Jerusalem, the journey to the cross.
The passage concludes with two other people seeking to follow Jesus as a disciple. Each one has something other to do “first.” One wants to follow but he wants to bury his father first. The second wants to bid farewell to family first.
Jesus replies to the first, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God;” and to the second, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”
In these two encounters we have persons who want to follow but they place an obstacle to their discipleship. They are preoccupied with family obligations and commitments. These are good things but they have to be placed in proper perspective when it comes to Jesus. Jesus’ rebukes seem harsh and they are. It is important to realize that Jesus is not teaching on family relationships here or the importance of burying the dead. His teaching is on discipleship and he uses these two encounters to make a point. If a person wishes to follow Jesus, then Jesus will have to be first and central to the person’s life. If the disciple does not realize this how will he or she be able to journey to Jerusalem? How will he/she be able to carry their cross?
In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke we encounter a teaching on discipleship. As disciples of Jesus we need to keep him first in our lives. Work, obligations, friendships, family responsibilities, social engagements and hobbies are all good things but they need to be placed in their proper context in our lives. Jesus must be central.
Jesus teaches us that to follow Him we must follow Him to Jerusalem. Taking up His cross in our lives, as he reminded us last week, is a “daily” activity. Discipleship continually entails a laying down of our lives in love of God and other human beings. Today we are encouraged to follow Jesus and to follow Him all the way to Jerusalem.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.