My Dear Sisters and Brothers,
The gospels have one objective, to lead us to Christ. Christ has one objective, to lead us to God. And God has one objective, to bring us to eternal happiness. Today’s gospel, in its desire to lead us to Christ does not picture Christ as “an easy going, do whatever you want, you’re all going to get to heaven anyway” kind of person. Jesus is the most loving person who ever lived, and at the same time, when it comes to eternal life, he is a non wishy-wishy, ambivalent person. With regard to salvation he is no nonsense. Some people might even consider his words hard.
Let us consider some of these hard sayings. We hear first of all about an encounter with Samaritans. Most of us probably think of the Samaritan as a nice people because of the parable of the good Samaritan. But there was considerable animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans. A Jew could risk his life traveling through Samaria and as we see in today’s gospel, Jesus is prudently sending messengers ahead of him to see if a particular town would receive him. They wouldn’t. James and John were all for calling down destruction upon that town. Not only did they want bad to happen to those people, they wanted to be involved. They asked Jesus, “Do you want us to call down fire from heaven upon them” Jesus just rebuked them and moved on. Jesus did not come to condemn but to save. He was a man of peace. You are possibly thinking, how is what Jesus said here a hard saying?
Well, consider who are the Samaritans in your life, the people you would like to get rid of if you could? Can you have the same attitude as Jesus, willing to avoid vengeance, willing to forgive, looking for ways to find peace? It’s not always easy.
The other two or three sayings are hard ones too. There is someone in the gospel who comes up to Jesus and wants to follow him. Jesus describes the sacrifices that might be involved, especially the sacrifice of not even having a place to call home. Those who lived in the early Church had many sacrifices to make to stay faithful to our Lord, even to the extent of maybe having to sacrifice their lives. People still do in other places of the world today. But in our country so many people find it hard to sacrifice an hour for Sunday Mass or time to pray during the week, not to mention the sacrifice involved in keeping the commandments. Being a Christian is not just a matter of saying we are. It is living the way Christ wants us to.
“Let the dead bury their dead” is one of the hardest to understand. I have always understood this as the situation of the young man who wouldn’t be ready to follow Jesus until his father died which may have been years away. Jesus was saying there wouldn’t be time. How many times do we say when I get this done or that done, then I’ll begin going to Church more or spend more time praying? We are all busy today. Today we live in the age of the “drop-out”. Where we choose to spend our time tells us what’s important to us. The devil’s biggest temptation for many of us is to tell us “you have lots of time, you can pray later. You can do that good deed later. Just relax for a little while. You owe it to yourself.” (Of course we need to relax at times, but we also need to make time for the Lord.)
The last statement is very similar. “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” Our following Christ has to be serious. We can’t be indecisive and uncommitted. We can’t let feelings alone guide us, deciding to pray when we feel like it. Our faith is too important for that. I remember all the new faces I saw in church after the tornado hit Joplin, Mo in May 22, 2011. I’m glad people came, but for many the enthusiasm didn’t last. God deserves better than a passing through or a spurt of piety when we happen to feel like it.
Hard sayings! They sure are. Are they meant to accuse us or put us down or depress us? No. Our Lord’s words to us come from his love and his objective is to lead us to holiness and eternal happiness.
Peace and Everything good.
Fr. Valery Burusu