The pastor preaches this past weekend, starting with an obscure saint, moving to the notion of discipleship and what that might mean for a serious believer. Not that we’re all going to suddenly leave families and let the dead bury the dead.
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Jesus actually does not appreciate boldness for boldness’ sake either, at least in this passage.
This passage follows Luke’ account of the Transfiguration, after which Jesus expels a demon from a boy, returning the boy to his father, and foretells his being handed over to men, and then the disciples discuss who is greatest, and Jesus remonstrates them to receive the boy as they would receive Jesus, and not to interfere with those who cast out demons even if they don’t follow Jesus.
What follows in yesterday’s Gospel are 4 examples of poor discipleship, 2 due to excessive zeal, and 2 due to hesitancy.
Notice how Jesus refused to echo Elijah’s smiting of the unrighteous. James & John are filled with zeal after witnessing the Transfiguration and the exorcism, and eager to prove their righteousness against the unrighteous. Jesus not so much. He is now on the road to Calvary, soon to reveal his righteousness not in condemnation and extirpation of the unrighteous, but in their salvation by his passion, death and resurrection.
With regard to the disciple who announced his willingness to follow wherever Jesus would go, our homilist commented that Jesus is implying that this man has shown much enthusiastic feeling but without as serious discernment of the realities of discipleship. Such a person will show a flash of zeal, but wither when the realities endure; they need to follow God’s call not for the romance of it, but out of harder, truer love.
With regard to the next man who said he needed to bury his father, this may refer to the fact that under Jewish law, a son had an obligation to complete the burial of deceased parents one year after the initial burial (this is part of the origin of placing stones on tombstones). But, our homilist noted, it may refer more metaphorically to a son’s obligations to fulfill his divinely ordained duties to honor his parents until they are dead and buried. So the delay requested here might be months or even years. Our homilist noted that when such duties interfere with God’s call, they act to kill our spiritual lives, and we must be ready to follow life where God calls us, even if it seems to conflict with prior obligations.
With regard to the last man, our homilist commented that saying farewell necessarily implies that – because a son had a divinely ordained duty to honor his parents until their death and burial – the son here would be going back to ask his parents’ permission and blessing to follow Jesus. Again, Jesus is saying that God’s call trumps any other duties, even if divinely ordained; so, do not condition your response to God’s call on the approval of others, even of those in lawful authority over you.