BROTHERS AND SISTERS: FOR FREEDOM CHRIST SET US FREE…
Sunday, June 26, 2016
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
V. THE JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM: LUKE’S TRAVEL NARRATIVE
Departure for Jerusalem; Samaritan Inhospitality
51 When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem,52 and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there,53but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem.54When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”55Jesus turned and rebuked them,56and they journeyed to another village.
The Would-be Followers of Jesus
57 As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”58Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”59And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “[Lord,] let me go first and bury my father.”60But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”61 And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.”62[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.”
Other readings: 1 Kings 19:6; 1 Kings 19:19-21; Psalm 16:1-11; Galatians 5:1; Galatians 5:13-18
Paul’s words to the Galatians are a manifesto of Christian faith with regard to the new status reached by believers in Christ. Through their baptism and their commitment to follow Jesus, the old boundaries and bonds of the Old Law are broken and they are set free to live under the only commandment Jesus gave his disciples, quoted implicitly by Paul: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you…” (John 13:34). That is why Paul can boldly affirm: “The whole Law is fulfilled in one statement: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (5:14). Although we may seem “punctilious,” we should say that Jesus’ commandment takes a step beyond the Old Law. It is not just loving others “as we love ourselves,” but as Jesus himself loved us and gave his life for our salvation!
From this starting point we can approach our readings, complex as they are. In fact, Jesus not only has set us free, but he expects anyone who wants to follow him to act with a spirit of freedom to choose and make a free decision in such a serious circumstance. There is little “new” in the attitude he demands from his disciples. The first reading, in which we saw Elijah calling Elisha, shows the old prophet letting his disciple go and kiss his parents goodbye (1 Kings 19:20). Even though Jesus expects a free response, he demands also a more radical attitude; neither saying farewell to one’s family nor even burying one’s father can interfere with or hinder the disciple’s decision. We must, no doubt, recall Jesus’ announcement of the dire consequences entailed with following him. The would-be disciple must be ready and willing to “deny himself and take up the cross daily and follow him” (Luke 9:23). That may also imply the need to renounce a permanent dwelling place, a den one can call one’s home.
But there is also a basic feeling of freedom in the style, the attitude Jesus assumes in this precise moment, a turning point in his ministry. The Greek expression, “setting his face to journey to Jerusalem” manifests his decision to start the “Exodus” about which Moses and Elijah were speaking at his Transfiguration (Luke 9:30-31). That will be the moment of “being taken up” to his glorification, which will be realized through his death on the cross. There are resonances here of John’s Gospel: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM” (8:28); and that recalls also his free determination to follow that path: “No one takes it [my life] from me, but I lay it down on my own (10:18).
The reaction of the Samaritans in refusing Jesus and his disciples any hospitality (the beginning of our text) is to a large extent consistent with the traditional mutual hostility between the Samaritans and the Jews. Besides, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, which makes his presence in their village unthinkable. But this point in the story can give us another hint to understand the kind of “freedom” Jesus wants his disciples to embody. John’s and James’ violent and threatening reaction against the Samaritan village reflects their subjection or “moral slavery,” to their feelings of rage and vengeance. Because of its lack of sound textual support in many manuscripts, most modern translations omit the sentence in which Jesus expresses his rejection of the disciples’ attitude in harsher terms than the mere “he rebuked them” of our version: “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” That “kind of Spirit” (I use a capital “s” for stress), “blows where it wills” and “so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). That is the “spirit” Jesus desires for his disciples, who must not subject themselves to the slavery of their own spirit of violence and death.
A few hints for our Meditatio. How do we understand our vocation as Christians and as members of the Church with a specific “calling”? Do we feel invited to live the freedom of the children of God, or to simply accomplish certain duties, to subject our lives to a number of norms, regulations and routines? In our individual daily prayer, or in a group with which we regularly pray in common, do we find moments when we can open our hearts and minds and speak without “barriers”? What about the conditions Jesus demands from the “would-be disciples”? Would we easily accept them in the terms he proposed?
Pray for those who are subjected to any kind of slavery (not only servitude in oppressive social or political conditions, but also the slavery of drug addiction, greed and lust, etc.): that they may attain the physical and spiritual freedom only Jesus can give.
Pray for those who feel the calling to a particular ministry or vocation in the Church: that they may respond in joyful obedience to Jesus’ invitation.
Let us pray for ourselves: that the Spirit of the Lord may help us to live in an attitude of “mutual service in love.”
Whether we are single or married, priests or religious, we have all received a fundamental vocation to live in the freedom of the children of God. But our specific vocation to a particular style of Christian life demands, in any given moment, a response given in faith and love. Recall that process of following your calling (not the day of your marriage, the date of your vows or orders), we have all experienced, no doubt, success and failure, ups and downs … but consider every single moment when Jesus has accompanied us along our personal “path to Jerusalem.” Humbly, let us give thanks for his constant presence and help.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón,Roman Catholic priest,Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain