Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Times

June 26, 2016

Deacon Blaine Barclay

Our gospel today is about discipleship, both what it is, and what it is not. The story takes place at a turning point in the mission of Jesus. He has “set his face resolutely toward Jerusalem”, for Jesus, the city of destiny.  Up until now Jesus has restricted his mission to the periphery, to the margins, and the marginalized, to Galilee and other outlanders. Now he is going to take his mission and message to the heart of Judaism, to Jerusalem. Immediately, he meets with opposition, first from the Samaritan population, then from his closest disciples. As you know Samaritan’s and mainstream Jews didn’t get along theologically, they considered each other heretics. The dispute goes back to the Babylonian Exile. The Jews who were not taken off into exile had developed their own religious convictions and identity; accepted only the authority of the first five books of the bible, had built their own temple on a mountain in Samaria, and had interbred with the local non-Jewish Canaanites which made them suspicious in the eyes of mainstream Jews. Jesus is rejected by the Samaritan village ‘precisely’ because he is on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In other gospel stories Jesus’ relationship to Samaritan’s is marked by compassion and considerable openness, although it is clear that he disagrees with their interpretation of the Jewish religion. The opposition of the disciples James and John is no doubt born out of this religious alienation, this internal schism within Judaism. When the Samaritans refuse Jesus hospitality, in the style of the prophet Elijah, they want to call down fire from heaven to consume these heretics. Jesus’ response is instructive for us as well. Jesus turns to James and John and ‘rebukes’ them for fostering such an attitude toward other human beings. Does this mean that Jesus is being wishy washy when it comes to disputed religious questions, not at all, but he is teaching the ‘priority of mercy’, that mercy and fidelity go hand in hand. So our gospel is teaching us what discipleship is not. Following Jesus does not involve being vindictive and judgemental toward other human beings, even when they are wrong.

The next section of our gospel today teaches us what discipleship is. In short, it teaches the ‘cost of discipleship’ by way of three short dramatic glimpses into the meaning of discipleship, of what it means to be apprenticed to Jesus. Let’s look briefly at the three types of disciples that are presented to us, along with Jesus’ response to each one. I take it as a given that we can see ourselves in each or all of these types, and that Jesus speaks to each one of us in his responses.

The first type of disciple is eager and enthusiastic about becoming a follower of Jesus. “I will follow you wherever you go”. Do we not all want to be able to say these words to Jesus? The statement of this wanna-be disciple shows boldness and commitment, they hold nothing back, the type of person who jumps into the pool head first without counting the cost. To this personality type Jesus offers a caution, a warning about ‘the cost of discipleship’. He says, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’. If you want to follow me, to be my disciple, to be apprenticed to me and learn my way, expect to be a displaced person, a person on the way, whose home is elsewhere, on pilgrimage, traveling to Jerusalem, the place of destiny.

The second type of disciple doesn’t even necessarily want to be a follower of Jesus, weren’t looking for it, were not expecting this decisive encounter with the Lord. But Jesus says to them, ‘Follow me’, and he says this now to each one of us, and like this early disciple type, each of us may have our own hesitations, our own fears, our own ‘First let me go and… you fill in the blank with what ever fear you may have that is blocking your way to full discipleship. This second type of disciple wants to first fulfill a prior religious and moral obligation; they want to bury their father. I cannot imagine not attending to the death and laying to rest of my mother who died recently. But what does Jesus say to this disciple, and subsequently to us. ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God’. It sounds so harsh, one of the ‘hard sayings of Jesus’, or another example of the Jewish practice of teaching by exaggeration in order to drive home a point. The commitment to discipleship is unconditional, but, like this early disciple, we sometimes put conditions on our unconditional surrender. The proclamation of the Reign of God, the Kingdom, the good news of salvation is meant to be our first priority. Allegiance to Jesus and to his way, and to the future that he holds out for us relativizes all other allegiance’s, family, tribe, or nation. By baptism we have been born into a new family, a new body, whose bloodlines have been written with the blood of Christ.

The third type of disciple is midway between the other two types. On the one hand they volunteer for discipleship, they want to be a disciple, on the other hand, they too have conditions. “I will follow you Lord, but first let me say farewell to those at my home”. Like the second type of disciple, they too feel the pull of the ties that bind like no other, loyalty and commitment to family. Perhaps there is exaggeration here as well, but let us not use that as an excuse to not hear and respond to the what Jesus says both then and now. “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God”. Discipleship, being a follower of Jesus, apprenticeship to Jesus, is a commitment to a task that needs to be our first priority, the work of ploughing the field of the world so as to plant the seeds of the Reign of God, so that we can all bear the fruits of the Kingdom. Giving ourselves to Jesus, we must first let him plough the field of our hearts and minds so that we may join him in this work of personal and global transformation.