Are You In? Brace Yourself

13th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

We are free to choose whether or not to take up the yoke of discipleship and follow Jesus, but to those who accepted the call, Jesus was absolutely clear about his expectations. It won’t be easy, and there are no alternative routes on the journey.

 “I will follow you wherever you go” —Luke 9:57

There’s no rest, no downtime, and no relaxing of the rule to love. When Paul told the Galatians that “Christ set us free,” [Gal 5:1] meaning, free from adherence to the 613 Mitzvot[1] of Judaic law, Paul reminded them that there was still the one all-encompassing, non-negotiable rule that Jesus left them with: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Gal 5:14].

Some early Christians, and some still today, misinterpreted “freedom” or “being saved” to mean they were now somehow separated from and therefore not responsible for the rest of God’s creation. Paul warned them against such self-centeredness, telling them to “not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” [Gal 5:13]. It is too easy to misread Paul’s use of the word “flesh” to mean illicit sex, debauchery, and licentious behavior. But by “flesh” Paul was saying that any act of selfishness was an act of self-gratification and therefore opposed to the rule of love, or as Robert J. Karris puts it, “Flesh is the entire world turned against God.”[2]

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, to his crucifixion, when he responded to the person who said: “I will follow you wherever you go.” The text says Jesus was “resolutely determined” to be on his way, and as shocking as this is to our systems, so too should we.

“Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” —Luke 9:59

There’s no time like the present. Jesus’ response “Let the dead bury their dead” seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it? After all, don’t we have responsibilities to our family members? And this guy only wanted to go home and bury his father. Or did he? The text doesn’t say his father was lying there dead in his burial cloth; he might have been in perfect health for another twenty years for all we know. The one who Jesus called hesitated, not because he didn’t want to answer Jesus’ call, but because he didn’t think the time was right. Jesus is saying, “No, I will not hold.”

John Shea writes, “With Jesus’ command, “Follow me,” a new and vital possibility has entered his life, a possibility that demands immediate and wholehearted response.”[3]

Spiritual inspiration is like a spark which unfanned, will die. And like the one who wants to follow Jesus but who isn’t ready, those of us who hesitate —the wait-and-see followers —“will be in the position of a son who is spiritually dead burying a father who is physically dead.”[4]

Following begins the moment we’ve been called. Don’t wait until the calendar is clear to accept Jesus’ invitation.

“I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” —Luke 9:61

There’s no turning back. The Prophet Elijah allowed Elisha to return to kiss his parents goodbye before following him, [1 Kings 19:20] but Jesus’ invitation demands a full and immediate commitment from those he calls. He says, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” [Luke 9:62].

Elisha destroyed the plow he had been using and fed the twelve oxen leading it to his people. He literally changed his occupation and did not turn back. Once called, life looks different.

Obviously, the single focus that discipleship commands does not say we all quit our jobs and leave our families; what it does command, however, is our determination and resolve. “It is only sheer individual resolve that will overturn the earth significantly enough for the seed of the gospel to be planted. A determined hand on the plough is Jesus’ concern.”[5]

Are you in?

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[1] Mitzvot (Commandments) includes positive (acts to perform), and negative commandments (acts from which to abstain).
[2] Robert J. Karris, OFM. “The Letter to the Galatians”, in The New Collegeville Bible Commentary, New Testament. edited by Daniel Durken. Collegeville, MN: Liturigical Press. 2009.  581-601, here 598.
[3] John Shea. 2006. The Spiritual Wisdom of Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers: The Relentless Widow. Year C edition. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press. Page 182.
[4] Shea, 182.
[5] Shea, 182.

No deal. You can’t buy that.

3rd Sunday of Lent (B)

What was being sold in the Jerusalem Temple that put Jesus over the edge?gold_bag

The Gospel of John 2:13-25 specifically mentions oxen, sheep, and doves. But, this was not like a farmer’s market populated by vendors, or a quick stop on the way home from Temple. The goods and the market had a specific purpose; this was a place where animals could be purchased for religious sacrifice. The gospel also mentions money changers. A simple interpretation suggests the system of purchasing animals for sacrifice had become too materialistic and the money changers may have been taking advantage of buyers. Clearly this would be an unjust situation, but was Jesus’ rage brought on by commercialization and price gouging? Let’s go deeper.

Recall the reason Jesus was in Jerusalem. It was  because “the Passover of the Jews was near.” Every year great numbers of Jewish people made the long and arduous journey for the feast. Imagine making this trip, not only with your children and your elderly parents, but with your sacrificial animals in tow. For many it was unrealistic. Therefore they intended to purchase those animals upon their arrival. And what better place to find the finest, most perfect and unblemished animals than in the temple area where  people understood such things? Makes perfect sense.  But not to Jesus. What was it about this situation that enraged him so?

He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.” [John 2:15]

Hundreds of years before Jesus, the Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, and Micah denounced the cult of animal sacrifice as abhorrent to God, proclaiming what God desired was justice for the oppressed, the poor, and the marginalized, not the slaughter of innocent animals as an act of worship. And yet the practice continued as a kind of transaction initiated by humans to gain favor with God. The Jerusalem Temple had become the locus of human-divine deal making.

Theologian John Shea writes “Jesus’ Father, however, is not a deal maker. (God) does not exchange favors for sacrifices. The Father is a free flow of spiritual life and love that cannot be bought, bartered, bargained, or bribed.”[1]

Jesus said, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” [John 2:16c] He literally turns the tables on the idea of making bargains with God, and says no deal. This is not how God works. God wants your fidelity, your commitment, and most of all, your love for God, for neighbor and for all of creation. As an evangelizing people our actions must respond to each of God’s desires, not because these are pleasing to God, which they are, but because our experience of God’s abundant love prompts us to do so.

Today’s readings can be found here.

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[1] John Shea. Eating with the Bridegroom.Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2005. pg 91