Gospel for the Thirteenth Sunday (26 June 2016)
Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.
When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:51-62 – NRSV)
for him to be taken up: The Greek is a noun – literally “for his being taken up”. “The noun analēmpsis is used only here in the NT, but Luke uses the verb form analambanō in Acts 1:2, 11, 22, which makes it clear that Jesus’s exodos and analēmpsis refer not simply to his death but to the whole sequence of events, climaxing in his ascension.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, The Liturgical Press, 1991, 162.) At the transfiguration, the disciples heard Jesus discussing his exodos with Moses and Elijah – see 9:31.
he set his face to go to Jerusalem: This is again an affirmation of Jesus’ prophetic role. See Ezekiel 21:7-8 where a similar expression is used of the “Son of Man” who is told to “set his face against Jerusalem,” and to “prophesy against the land of Israel.”
he sent messengers: We are reminded of John the Baptist in 7:27. See also Exodus 23:20.
a village of the Samaritans: “The Samaritans are not easily brought into sharp focus. Sources are often contradictory, sketchy, or nonexistent. It is problematic how distinct the Samaritans are from the Jews of different periods, what constitutes the basic distinguishing focus, or how much interaction existed between the Samaritans and other sects based on the Mosaic Pentateuch. The geographic origin of the people called Samaritans has been seen in Mesopotamia and both N and S Palestine, raising the question whether their basic characterization is geographical, ethnic, or doctrinal.” (R T Anderson, “Samaritans”, in D. N. Freedman (Ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 5), Doubleday, 1992, 941.) The antipathy between the Judeans and the Samaritans was “based on the rivalry between the shrines of Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Zion, and on a whole cluster of disputes concerning the right way to read the sacred books, messianism and above all, who was a real Israelite.” (Johnson, op cit, 162.)
“Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”: This is another reference connecting Jesus to the prophetic tradition. We read in 2 Kings 1:10 that Elijah does precisely this. Jesus fulfills all that has been promised but also clarifies the promise. That kind vengeance and violence is not to be part of the kingdom.
I will follow you: These three instances of people wanting to follow Jesus are shared with Matthew – see 9:57-62. Perhaps there is a suggestion of Elisha’s threefold expression of his willingness to follow Elijah – see 2 Kings 2:1-6. These three instances and another in 9:61 are the only times recorded in the Gospels when people say they will follow Jesus.
“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”: Following Jesus is not a part time job! The image of the plough reminds us of Elisha who was called by Elijah while ploughing. He asks the prophet to “(let me) kiss my father and mother and then I will follow you” (1 Kgs 19:19–21). Elijah seems to permit him to do this. But, as with the vengeance and violence Elijah brought down on his enemies, Jesus has stricter demands on his disciples.
Today’s Gospel represents a turning point for Jesus. “He set his face towards Jerusalem”. His whole life had been orienting him that way. Now it becomes explicit and clearly focused. From now on, until Jesus gets to Jerusalem (19:28), Luke will remind us often that Jesus is “on the way” – for example see 9:52-3, 56, 57; 10:1 & 38; 13:22, 31 & 33, 14:25 and so on.
There is obviously an essential and, at times, hard truth here for those who say they want to “follow”. Are you prepared to be a pilgrim? But there is another question embedded in this more obvious question: Are you prepared to become who you are?
“It is pilgrims we are, wayfarers on a journey, and not pigs, not angels.” (Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins: Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World, Avon Books, 1978, 104.) Pilgrims choose to let go of “home”, to set out and keep on setting out. Pilgrims get tired, aching limbs and blisters on their feet. Pilgrims know they need hospitality and help from other pilgrims. They – and their clothes – often need a good wash, which they cannot always get. Pilgrims depend on signs and symbols, intuitions and inner sense. And they are filled with wonder and questions, doubts and confidence, joys and sadness. They find themselves surprised and filled with longing, sometimes face to face with a self they had not yet met. Pilgrims are purposeful because they are going somewhere, even if they cannot be precise about that “somewhere”.
We get ourselves into all sorts of strife when we forget that we are pilgrims. We also get into strife when we are simply agitated, restless people who cannot commit to anything, perhaps looking like pilgrims but not really being so. The essential pilgrimage is in fact a journey home – to who and what we are, the true self in God. In 1967 Thomas Merton wrote: “Our real journey in life is interior: it is a matter of growth, deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts. Never was it more necessary for us to respond to that action. I pray we may all do so generously. God bless you.” (The Road to Joy: The Letters of Thomas Merton to New and Old Friends, edited by Robert E Daggy, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1989, 118.)
The Church is a “pilgrim Church” – see Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), Ch VII. We are “as pilgrims in a strange land” (#7). Again, we get ourselves into all sorts of strife when we forget this. Thus, Lumen Gentium reminds us that “the Church (is) always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal” (#8).