Wednesday, June 22, 2016

GENUINE DISCIPLESHIP


13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.  1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62.
AIM: To help the hearers make an unconditioned commitment to Jesus Christ.
 
Sixty-eight years ago, at Easter 1948, I entered seminary to pursue the goal to which I had aspired from age twelve: to be a priest. It would be six more years before I reached that goal. I had many difficulties, and not all those years were happy. But I never doubted the goal: not for a single day then, not for a single day since.
Upon entering the seminary, we new seminarians were given a little book called Principles: pithy, short sayings to guide our lives. One of them, entitled AOn getting work done,@ said this: AWhen work is committed to you, remember your responsibility is for getting it done, not for providing the reasons why it was not done.@ That impressed me sixty-eight years ago. It impresses me still.
The gospel reading we have just heard tells about a number of people who had reasons for not doing, or for postponing, something they knew they should be doing. Their reasons were all good ones. None of them, however, was good enough.
The Samaritans who refuse to give Jesus hospitality were closely related to Jews ethnically, as close as Sunni and Shiite Moslems in Middle East today. Like those two closely related groups, however, Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies. In refusing hospitality to a Jewish rabbi and his followers, the Samaritans thought they were being patriotic. Love of one=s own people and one=s country is a virtue. But patriotism does not absolve us from kindness to strangers. In the world of that day hospitality, which is a form kindness to travelers, was considered all important. The Samaritans thought they had a good reason for refusing Jesus hospitality. The reason wasn=t good enough.
The man who says to Jesus, AI will follow you wherever you go,@ seems just the kind of disciple Jesus was looking for: eager to follow the Master and to do what is right. Why, then, Jesus= warning? AFoxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.@ Perhaps Jesus saw that this eager applicant for discipleship was a person who valued personal and financial security. Should the road which this man is so eager to embark on today prove tomorrow to be more costly than he had reckoned, he would find reasons to turn back. Jesus warns him in advance that those reasons would be irrelevant. Seeking security for one=s self and those one loves and for whom one has responsibility is good. When this stands in the way of wholehearted following of Jesus Christ, however, something is wrong.   
The last two people Jesus encounters want to postpone the call to follow Jesus. In both cases they give family reasons. ALord, let me go first and bury my father,@ the first man says. The second wants to defer joining Jesus until he has said goodbye to his family at home, as Elisha does in our first reading before leaving home to follow the prophet Elijah. Care for parents is enjoined by the Fourth Commandment: AHonor your father and mother.@ When it comes to following Jesus Christ, however, all other duties take a back seat. ANo one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind,@ Jesus says, Ais fit for the kingdom of God.@
None of the would-be disciples in today=s gospel is without fault. Jesus does not reject any of them, however. Jesus meets each of us where we are and challenges us to a decision. Many Catholics have never really made a decision for Jesus Christ. Their faith is something they have inherited and take more or less for granted, like their American citizenship. For most such Catholics their faith is not liberating but confining. They experience the inner conflict which Paul writes about in our second reading: AThe flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other.@ 

How can we resolve that inner conflict? How can we make our faith what Paul says it should be, when he writes in that reading: AYou were called for freedom, brothers and sisters@? To experience that freedom, to make our faith a source of joy and not a burden, we must make a conscious, mature commitment to Jesus Christ with no ifs, ands, or buts. For most people that seems threatening. In reality it is liberating. Once we make a deep and unconditioned commitment to follow Jesus Christ, we discover that though discipleship is costly, it is also the fulfillment of our deepest longings and desires. 

How can we know whether we have made such a commitment? Consider this question: Can you complete the sentence: AI will follow Jesus Christ on the condition that ...@? If you can fill in the blank in that sentence, then you are like the people we meet in today=s gospel: good people who thought they had reasons to postpone or abandon following Jesus= call, or not to respond at all.

I began with a story from my youth. Let me close with another story. A priest was waiting in line at the filling station he always patronized to have his car filled with gas just before the long Fourth of July weekend. The attendant worked quickly, but there were many cars ahead of him waiting for their turn at the pumps.  Finally, the attendant motioned the priest toward a vacant pump. "Sorry about the delay, Father," said the young man. AIt seems as if everyone waits until the last minute to get ready for a long trip.@ The priest chuckled: "I know what you mean,” he said. “It's the same in my business."

Are you ready?