Today’s Gospel reading begins a long section unique to Luke’s Gospel and which is sometimes referred to as the Travel Document. It describes Jesus undertaking his fateful journey from his home region of Galilee to the city of Jerusalem. The journey will end with his death and resurrection there.

It’s a resolute Jesus, knowing the fate that awaits him, that takes this long and difficult road. It begins, as it will end, with Jesus experiencing rejection. To get to Jerusalem he has to pass through Samaritan territory and people there will not receive him, simply because he is a Jew going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. (There was great animosity between Samaritans and Jews.)

In response to the hostility they experience, two followers of Jesus, James and John, (known as the ‘sons of thunder’ for their explosive tempers), want the villagers punished. However, Jesus rebukes them and moves on to another village. He will not have people who reject him punished.

Jesus never uses violence to achieve right. When provoked, his teaching is to do the opposite: ‘love your enemies and do good to those who hate you’ and when someone strikes you ‘offer the other cheek as well’. He believes so strongly in this principle that he even allows himself to undergo a violent death. Scripture commentators say this incident with the Samaritans is one of the clearest and best examples in the Gospels of Jesus’ practice of non-violence and of non-retaliation.

On the journey Jesus encounters three people who express interest in becoming his disciples. To all three he explains that nothing in their lives can have priority over following him.

The first volunteer, who says he is willing to follow wherever Jesus leads, is warned that animals in the wild have more security than do Jesus and his followers. They, like him, will have no earthly security.   

The second says he wants to wait until his father dies so he can bury him. He’s told to ‘leave the dead to bury their dead’. In Palestine then it was the custom for the eldest son in a family to stay at home, look after the property of his ageing parents and, finally, to see to their burial. In this case the man’s father is not dying or dead so Jesus is not telling him to skip the funeral. Instead, Jesus says you must leave home now and let those who do not accept me [the spiritually dead] look after your parents’ funeral whenever they [physically] die. For Jesus, the demands of discipleship take precedence even over family.

The third volunteer, who wants to say farewell to his family first, is reminded that once you join up with Jesus, or put your hand to the plough, there must be no half measures or looking back. In ploughing terms, looking over your shoulder can be disastrous as it leads to crooked furrows in the soil. Like me, Jesus says, your eyes must be resolutely set on the road ahead and with no other distractions.

Jesus’ demands here are extremely harsh. To be fair, he is only asking of disciples what he asks of himself. And we must recognise that down the ages countless people have radically changed their lives to follow him as he demands. Our Church is built on the heroism, self-sacrifice and service of such people.

However, we cannot all respond as they have done. We have family and other responsibilities that I don’t believe Jesus would want us to abandon. We live IN this world even if our calling is not to be OF it. So how might we practically respond to Jesus in today’s Gospel?

Perhaps the first thing is not to lose sight of the fact that we have no permanent home here on this earth. Like Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, we also are on a journey, to where he has gone before us, to the new or ‘heavenly’ Jerusalem. It can be all too easy to become engrossed in the preoccupations of this life that we take our eye of the ball about the next?

The other response, perhaps, might be to reflect on how Jesus dealt with the hostile Samaritans, and how he lived and practised non-retaliation and non-violence. Isn’t it odd that in the United States people who are anti-abortion are in favour of capital punishment and the right to own and use a gun against another human being? So maybe he is challenging us to look again at whether we each have a consistent pro-life ethic, as the Church asks? This would mean that in addition to being anti-abortion, we’d also be anti capital punishment and go on to challenge anything that lessens the dignity or value of the life of another?

And, perhaps, even more difficult for us, is Our Lord’s challenge is to calm our anger when provoked, and to not retaliate when wounded by another?

Michael Campion
Holy Name, Jesmond
26 June 2022

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