Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the Mass readings for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 26, 2022.)

The apartment building was ablaze, and firefighters had arrived to rescue the occupants. Suddenly, the voice of a young boy could be heard screaming from a third floor window. The rooms on either side were quickly being consumed by the flames. His parents started yelling to get help.

One of the responders ran into the building and proceeded up the stairs. Once on the third floor, he worked his way toward the apartment with the boy, knocked down the door and found the child. Covering the child with a blanket, the firefighter carried him back to the stairwell, moved down the steps and brought him safely to his parents.

Though not mentioned in the story, the firefighter had been prepared for such an unusual event. He had been trained; his mind was focused, and he was ready. Numerous other times he had faced the challenges of fire and rescue — perhaps not to the same degree of danger, but dangerous nonetheless.  The firefighter was determined, and willing to risk his life and safety for the good of someone else. He was courageous and brave.

Today we pick up the Gospel narrative from St. Luke which we left off just before Lent. The passage today is a critical piece in understanding Jesus and his mission. Some scholars suggest that it is the interpretive key to understanding the entire Gospel. The pivotal verse here is 9:51: “When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” — that is, his journey to the cross.

Similar to the firefighter in the story above, Jesus is determined, prepared, courageous and brave. He knows what awaits him in Jerusalem, and he is ready. Unlike the story above, the perils are not obvious to those who do not know the whole of the story. Yet there have been episodes along the way to realize that Jesus’ life was in danger.

One such example was in the opening scene of the public ministry. Jesus was in the synagogue in Nazareth. He had picked the Isaiah scroll from which to read a passage. After his reading and interpretation, the people there were offended and rushed him out to a cliff to hurl him over. Somehow, he walked away through their midst.

Another example was when Satan appeared to him in the desert and tried three times to get Jesus to deny his Father and his plan — in other words, to move him from the path of life to the road of death. Jesus resisted those temptations and moved forward.

Now Jesus will move to the cross. The final confrontation with evil, with suffering and even death, will meet him there. He is aware of the confrontation. He is aware of the dangers. He is also profoundly confident in the Father’s care. In this sense, he personifies the words of the psalmist who refers to the Father as a refuge, counselor and the source of gladness. Even in the midst of danger, “my heart is glad and my soul rejoices, my body, too, abides in confidence, because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld. You will show me the path to life, fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever” (Ps 16:9-11).

Jesus will lay down his life in love, trusting that the Father will deliver him after great suffering and death to life. He takes on this mission in love. His love is expressed in his faithfulness to the Father. His love is for the Father and for all humanity, for by his cross all humanity will be offered a share in life, eternal life, divine life.

As disciples of Jesus, we walk in his path or way. We follow him who leads us to life. This following entails a commitment, a determination and a preparedness that models the kind he lived. Some of the obstacles we might face in doing this are seen in the reactions to Jesus immediately following his determination to journey to Jerusalem.

First, the Samaritans would not welcome him in their town “because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem.” On a surface level, we can identify a cause as being related to the Samaritans’ relations with the Jews. They were at great odds. For the Jews, Jerusalem was the primary place of worship and sacrifice. It was the holy city and housed the Temple. Samaritans did not worship in the Temple but at shrines throughout their lands. On a deeper level, we see the rejection as related to the cross. The sense of Jesus’ confrontation with suffering and death was one which few were prepared to tackle. They did not want to hear of this, they did not want to deal with it, they did not want to face it. So they would not allow him to enter.

Second, a group of disciples say, “I will follow you wherever you go.” They seem to be eager and willing to walk the way with Jesus; however, Jesus reads their hearts and sees something lacking – hence his response that the “Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” This group may be likened to the seed that falls on rocky ground in the Parable of the Seed. The seed immediately sprouts but because it does not have deep roots quickly dies.

Third, some disciples place other responsibilities before that of following the Lord. They express a desire to do something good for their families, one to bury his father, a second to bid farewell to his family. Jesus sees deeper than the surface level again. The deeper reality that they are struggling with is that they want to hold back from following him. Their commitment is weak.

These three obstacles are things we may or have or will face in our lives. They represent challenges to us of following the Lord. We call them obstacles because they “get in the way.” They may hinder, distract or block us from following the Lord and receiving, even in a fuller way, the love and life he has prepared for us.

Jesus gives completely of himself in love. His faithfulness to the Father’s love drives him forward to not only face the cross but to embrace it. He turns the cross from an instrument of death to that of life. His giving of himself conquers death in love. His resurrection manifests his victory.

As we journey through this life of love, we are called to walk in the way of Jesus. Each of us has a journey we take to Jerusalem, to the Cross. It is a way of love. It is a way of life. Jesus began his journey determined, committed and resolute. He invites us to do the same.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.