Year C: Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Departure for Jerusalem; Samaritan Inhospitality

Luke 9, 51-62

 When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village. As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “[Lord,] let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” [To him] Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”


Discussion Questions: 

  1. Where do you find it most challenging to order-prioritize your vision of life, with the vision of life Jesus is talking about?
  2. We can all easily slip into thinking “once I have this or take care of that” I’ll jump into my discipleship journey more seriously. What gets in your way of following Jesus’ invitation to deeper discipleship?
  3. Have you ever had a personal experience of suffering rejection for following Jesus? What happened and how did you respond?
  4. In what ways might your fears or needs for security, safety, and comfort block you from living more freely out of Jesus’ value system?

There’s a saying that goes;God does not want to be the number one priority on your list, He wants to be the list.”

“The greatest danger to discipleship is not our sinfulness, but fear, hesitation, and our clinging to security or previous priorities that can keep us from the road.” (Source unknown)

 To be clear, Jesus is not saying you cannot have a home. What he is saying is that there are ideals more important than your house and your domestic tranquility. Jesus is not saying you cannot bury your parents. What he is saying is that it should be done with the understanding that there are values more urgent than this honorable duty. Jesus is not saying your family is not a primary issue. What he is saying is family, marriage and children are commonly used as excuses for not walking a spiritual path.

Biblical Context

Luke 9:51-62
Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ

 Luke made the opening line (9:1) of today’s Gospel selection the pivotal point in his Gospel. He had announced the birth of Jesus with the phrase “and it came to pass that the days were fulfilled” (for her to give birth); here he says “and it came to pass that when the days were fulfilled for his being taken up” Jesus set his face for Jerusalem. Whatever is about to happen, it is the story of fulfillment. The Gospel now takes on a new depth of seriousness; Jesus has set off on the road to his final earthly destination. The journey provides the context conditioning everything that happens from now until he enters Jerusalem (19:28).

Luke tells us that when Jesus sent ambassadors out to prepare his way, some Samaritans refused to bend their traditions enough to welcome a Jew headed toward Jerusalem. This briefly narrated incident may have been intended to underline Jesus’ lack of a place to lay his head and/or to show that the trigger-happy disciples still had much to learn about Jesus’ way of responding to rejection. Neatly placed at the beginning of Jesus’ final journey, this hostility prefigured the treatment he would receive at the culmination of his pilgrimage. It also presents a thoroughly inauspicious beginning for this segment of the Gospel.

Proceeding from that snub, Jesus and his group were approached by an unnamed “someone” who made an offer of discipleship. With the exception of Andrew and a companion who sought Jesus out in the Gospel of John (1:35-40), this passage presents the only examples we have of disciples who initiated their own call. In reply, Jesus warns the man about the hardships of his vocation. The life Jesus offers is not that of a ruler like Herod the Fox, nor does he enjoy the well-feathered bed of those who traveled under the banner of the Roman eagle. In fact, his recent rebuff by the Samaritans was inconsequential in the light of what awaited him in Jerusalem. Jesus had already informed his disciples about the crosses to come. Nobody should start off on the road without fair warning: they were not going to be at home anywhere for a very long time.

In the next example, Jesus himself invited someone to join the group of disciples. This one accepted the offer as if it were a retirement plan: “Thanks. As soon as I get my inheritance and all my affairs settled, I’ll catch up with you!” This self-important soul may have been one of the few who ever made Peter and companions look good. For all their faults, Jesus’ disciples had left everything to follow him (Luke 5:1-11), while this one, like the businessman encountered by the Little Prince, had “matters of consequence” to deal with before he could accept Jesus’ invitation. By this time the disciples must have been wondering if anyone else would ever have the courage to join their company.

Jesus’ poor band of followers could hardly have been heartened with the third encounter. This postulant disciple couldn’t bear to leave home. Comparing their mission to plowing, Jesus stated the obvious truth that anybody who keeps looking back while working the field will not end up tilling useful furrows.

For all their lack of understanding and impetuousness, the disciples who walked the road with Jesus were willing to learn from him. While they may have argued with one another and gotten into plenty of competitive skirmishes, they had left everything and were following him. Imperfect as they were, they were the ones who accepted the call and dealt with the consequences. (See John 11:16.) Most of all, they remained in the struggle to become free enough to follow Jesus.

Listening to these readings, we hear Christ call us to that same freedom. Because it is freedom, it is ambiguous; we can never know exactly where it will lead — except to the Paschal Mystery. Discipleship proffers the freedom to be exactly who we are: to become all that God’s grace can enable us to be. The more we believe that Christ frees us, the more we will respond with the extravagance of Elisha, who abandoned everything that might have prevented him from putting on the cloak of discipleship. From day one we will know the temptations to see other pursuits as “matters of consequence.” All along the way, we will be tempted by our needs for security and comfort and there will always be other interests vying to divert our eyes from the prize.

Discipleship is a risky leap onto a long road to freedom. The disciples’ example demonstrates that mistakes happen and can be overcome. The greatest danger to discipleship is not our sinfulness, but the fear, hesitation, clinging to security or previous priorities that can keep us from the road. But the invitation remains: Each of us has been called to freedom and promised that the Spirit will guide us.

 But first…

Fr Michael K. Marsh

 Today’s Gospel is a difficult one. It’s confrontational and it doesn’t leave much, if any, wiggle room. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” We’re either looking toward the kingdom or we are not. We’re either responding to the call of life or we’re not. We’re either open to the coming future or we’re not.

Jesus is calling us into question and that’s never easy, fun, or comfortable. He is calling into question the direction of our life, the values we claim to hold, and how we are living and embodying those values. He is asking us to look at ourselves rather than the Samaritan on whom we’d like to call down fire from heaven.

By Samaritan I mean those who look, act, and believe differently from us; those who do not hold our particular religious or political beliefs; those who are not from these parts; those to whom we are opposed and in conflict with, for whatever reasons. And if you’re not sure who your Samaritans are look at your social media feed and who posts the articles and comments that push your buttons, turn on the news channel you refuse to watch, picture the face of one you crush and defeat in the arguments that go on in your head.

Today’s gospel won’t let us turn away from the people and situations that are right in front of us or the future that is coming to us. Jesus recognizes and holds before us the tension in which we live. On the one hand we say to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” On the other hand, we say to him, “But first let me go and ….” You probably know what that’s like. I know I do.

When have you experienced that tension? When has it felt like you were being pulled in two directions, the way of Jesus and some other way? In what ways have you said, “But first let me go and…?” It’s easy and simple to follow Jesus, in principle. Love your neighbor as yourself, love your enemy, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and imprisoned, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give the thirsty something to drink, turn the other cheek, forgive not just seven times but seventy times seven. These are values Jesus holds. That’s where Jesus is going. That’s the direction in which he has set his face. That’s the road to Jerusalem and it sounds good. Most of us probably agree with those values. It’s the road we too have chosen to travel, in principle.

But it’s so much harder and messier to follow Jesus in life than in principle. I suspect we are all in favor of love, hospitality, forgiveness, and nonviolence until we meet the unloveable, the stranger who scares us, the unforgivable act, the one who throws the first punch, or the Samaritan in our life. Then it’s a different story and that story usually begins with, “But first….”

Jesus, however, puts no qualifications, limitations, or exceptions on where he is going, who is included, or what he is offering. He doesn’t seem to care who we are, where we are from, or what we have done or left undone. Republican or Democrat, citizen, or foreigner, Christian or Muslim, gay or straight, black or white, good or bad, believer or nonbeliever just don’t seem to matter to Jesus. For him there is no why, no conditions, attached to love, hospitality, forgiveness, or giving. He does not allow for a “but first” in his life or the lives of his followers.

“But first” is the way we put conditions on the unconditional.

  • Yes, I will love the other but first let me go and see who the other is, whether she or he is deserving of love, whether I like him or her, whether he or she agrees with and is agreeable to me.
  • Yes, I will open my door to and welcome the stranger but first let me go and see who’s knocking, how different he or she is from me, what she or he wants, what I am risking.
  • Yes, I will forgive another but first let me go and see if she or he has acknowledged her or his wrongdoing, is sorry for what they did, and has promised to change.
  • Yes, I will give to and care for another but first let me go and see why I should, what it will cost me, and what’s in it for me.

But first….

It’s as if we are backing our way into the kingdom while keeping an eye on the door. It’s as if we are walking backwards into our future, not wanting to see or deal with what is before us. It’s as if we have put our hand to the plow and looked back. And we already know what Jesus thinks about that.

I don’t want to back my way through this life. I don’t want to live, if you will pardon a bad pun, a butt first life. And I hope you don’t either. I want us to turn and lead with our hearts, that deep heart that loves the unlovable, forgives the unforgivable, welcomes the stranger, and gives without seeking a payback or even a thank you.

I wasn’t kidding when I said that this is a difficult gospel. I wish I could resolve this in some neat and simple way, as much for myself as for you, but I can’t. It’s not about resolving the gospel. It’s about resolving ourselves, resolving our heart. That resolution is not a simple or one time decision. It’s a way of being in this world, a way of relating to others, a direction for our life. It’s a choice we make every day. It’s the road to Jerusalem.

That means looking at the ways in which we are backing through life. It means naming the people and situations to which we have turned our backs and acknowledging that we do sometimes live a “but first” life.

I wonder what our lives and world would be like if we were to love, give, welcome, and forgive without a “but first?”

I think it would be risky and scary and look pretty crazy. But as I look at the world, read the news, and listen to the lives and stories of others, the world is already risky, scary, and crazy.

So, what if we took a better risk, faced a better fear, and lived a kinder craziness? And what if we were to let that start with you and me, today, in our lives, in our particular situations, and with whoever or whatever is before us?

What if we were to lead with our hearts and not “but(t) first?”