Sunday Gospel Reflection for 13th Sunday of the Year, Sunday June 26th By Brian Maher OMI
To suggest that a person should forego their father’s funeral or leave home without saying a word to family and friends seems ludicrous. It is almost like the way the wicked son in the ‘Prodigal Son’ parable treated his father. To say that this is what Jesus might literally demand of his followers simply does not fit with the person I meet in the Gospels; the man who travels from village to village, healing and teaching, every parable and story urging forgiveness and compassion and tolerance.
But that is not to say that he did not, at different times, say these things and similar things. We all know the story in Matthews Gospel of the ‘Rich Young Man’ who asked Jesus what he had to do to enter the Kingdom of God. He was, we are told, a good man who kept all the commandments, gave to the Temple, and fulfilled everything demanded in the Law of Moses. When Jesus told him to “sell everything he owned, give to the poor and then come and follow me”, we are told that he, “went away sad because he was a man who had many possessions.” This story is very like today’s Gospel. It makes the same kinds of demands and is stark, direct, and, if we take being a follower of Jesus seriously, it is guaranteed to make us uncomfortable.
But suppose, instead of reading this Gospel from the perspective of the hearer (us), we tried to hear it from the perspective of Jesus. In other words, what might be going on inside Jesus that might lead him to say these, seemingly, harsh, and unreasonable things.
It is something, I believe, we can only do in prayer with Jesus. We can ask him to help us understand why he said these things and invite him to show us how we should interpret them. If the Risen Lord lives among us and within us through the Holy Spirit, then Jesus wants us to meet him in his words.
We can never, of course, see inside the head of Jesus. We can never know exactly how he viewed his relationship with God, except that it was based on a close and personal encounter with a loving “Abba” (Dad or Pop).
Nor can we ever know how he viewed his own part in the mystery he was revealing or how his self-knowledge developed as his Mission unfolded.
There are, however, clues in the Gospels which can help us enter, as God wants us to enter, into the mystery of Jesus and of God.
Jesus began his Mission preaching, “Repent and believe, for the Kingdom of God is very near.” (Mk1:15)
From the very beginning of his ministry there is something about the coming of the Kingdom of God which is central to his Mission.
He moved from village to village and entered fully and completely into the joys and sorrows, the health and sickness of all he encountered. It was, we know, a hectic and demanding life he lived. The sick and poor were always close, always wanting him to cure them and spend time with them. We know he was so ‘busy’ he even found no time to pray, except very “early morning, long before daybreak.”
He was, he must have been, exhausted at times and frustrated with the constant demands for his time. At all times it was compassion that motivated him, yet we are told that many of those he cured disappearing without ever a “thank you”.
I so love the verse in John’s gospel: “…And Jesus, tired by the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.” (John4:6).
He must, so often, have felt tired and he must, so often, have felt alone and lonely. Even his closest friends – Peter and the others – couldn’t quite grasp what he was saying about the coming of the “Kingdom of God”.
Yet, within himself, I believe, he had a growing sense of what this Kingdom of God looked like. He also, I think, had a growing sense of the importance of his own role in bringing about the Kingdom of God.
We also know that from the very start of his Mission he was encountering opposition to his message from some of the Religious Leaders, and outright rejection in some of the towns he visited. The opening of today’s Gospel is an example of this rejection as well as an example of the unending patience and tolerance he showed in the face of rejection. On top of this, it seems he was constantly having to avoid traps set for him by his detractors. How extraordinarily stressful this must have been for him. Once again, I think of John 4:6 … And Jesus, tired by the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.”
We all know from our own experience that when we start something new or take on a new project we are enthusiastic and full of energy and zeal. Then, as we encounter the harsh realities of life – problems, tiredness, opposition, misunderstanding, petty jealousies, stress, rejection, and so on – we find our early enthusiasm flagging, and if we are not very careful, our zeal turns to cynicism and pessimism.
Why should we imagine it would be any different for Jesus?
And yet, within himself, the call of God to reveal the Kingdom of God continued to burn bright.
The Jewish people were waiting for, expecting, God’s Kingdom to be revealed (In the Our Father, Jesus prays for it himself). It would be God’s ‘chosen one’, the Messiah, who would usher in the Kingdom of God, making it known to the world.
This Kingdom, it was believed, would finally restore the people of Israel as God’s chosen people and God could then, finally, take his throne as king of the world and ruler of all. The enemies of Israel would be vanquished and the Kingdom of God would be one of peace, justice, and prosperity.
But what if, as Jesus Mission developed, he had a growing awareness that, yes, the Kingdom of God was coming, but it would not look anything like what was expected or imagined?
What if, deep within himself, Jesus had a growing sense that he might be the Chosen One and was sent to reveal the Kingdom of God?
What if he realised that the Kingdom was not just for the Jewish People but for everyone?
And what if he saw that the Kingdom of God would not be one of power and wealth and domination but would be a Kingdom of peace, gentleness, tolerance, acceptance, patience, compassion, and forgiveness?
What if he was coming to know that it was he himself who was to finally reveal the Kingdom of God to his people. His own life…and Death…and Resurrection; the stories he told; the people he healed and fed; the values he presented in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5); what if he realised that this very different Kingdom of God was somehow present in his own life and words and values.
If these ‘what ifs’ are true, can you imagine the sense of responsibility Jesus must have felt as his Mission became clearer to him?
Can you imagine the sense of urgency he must have felt to share this Kingdom with everyone? It was not the Kingdom everyone expected; it was so…so much more…and it was for everyone…and it was happening already.
I think if we try to look at this Gospel from the perspective of Jesus, then we can see, not harsh and unreasonable words but urgent and almost pleading words.
Is Jesus not really saying to us:
“Come, follow me, let me show you the true Kingdom of God. It is more wonderful than you can ever imagine, and it is here, beginning in me.
Don’t waste time on anything else; nothing is more important.
Come, follow me, because I need you to make this Kingdom visible to everyone you meet.
Yes, I’ll be with you, always, to the end of time, and I will send the Holy spirit to guide you, but without you this wonderful, beautiful, awesome, Kingdom of God will be missed by so many people who cry out for the peace, joy, and happiness it offers. Please, come, follow me.”
If you have any comments, questions or thoughts on this scripture reflection, please feel welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Samaritan opposition and the cost of following Jesus
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
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Tags: weekly reflections
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