The biblical passage: Lk 9, 57-62
As they were going along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But he said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Let us establish first the circumstances under which Jesus utters these words. He is on His way to Jerusalem, and has already twice announced His forthcoming passion and crucifixion. He meets on His way crowds of people, who having once heard of Him, seemed eager to imitate Him. The Saviour then in a very matter-of-fact way presents the conditions of this imitation. One may even get the impression that the harsh words could not possibly have come from Jesus. It seems odd that Jesus, whom we remember as a gentle man, could have been so callous as to deny those who wanted to work for Him not only the burial of the father but also a farewell meeting with the closest family. Did not these words deter the people who wanted to serve Him? Might not they have discouraged even the most determined ones? One cannot avoid asking such questions. We know that these people wanted to follow Jesus, wherever He might go, and they met with such a disappointment!
It appears, however, that Jesus sees the whole situation differently. From experience he knows perfectly well how hard it is for men to break all the ties which here on earth bind us with our home, family, professional career, friends and acquaintances. That is why His answer is so definitive: “Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God”! One can easily guess what these words may mean for any prospective disciples: do you realize what step you are about to take? Do you know what is in store for you? Are you aware of the hardships to which you will be exposed? Are you ready to accept the fact that the future might turn out to be different from what you have known so far, from what you are expecting? These questions may well be translated into the following affirmative proposition: let all those who live by their past, who are satisfied with their past, stay at home; let all those who would like the future to resemble the past stay at home.
Jesus was then so radical and merciless towards those who declared their intention to follow Him, because He was a practical man and knew that whoever goes first to say farewell to their family will be implored by them to stay at home. Afterwards he or she might lack the strength to break away from their home, family, occupations, style of life or habits; they might no longer wish to follow Jesus! Jesus reserves the symbolic act of farewell or burial of the father for those who wish to stay at home and live in the past!
On the basis of the passage from the Gospel of St Luke we once again realize that it is not Jesus’ aim to provide us with a safe haven in our earthly life, which is how our Saviour is often misinterpreted. Meanwhile Jesus gives us something else: He offers us the certainty that with Him we can already now live in the future. It is He who introduces us into this unknown future and helps us adapt to it.
That is why our imitation of the Saviour should consist in imitating the trust that Jesus has in God the Father. Jesus did not follow His own script of salvation but pursued the mission of His Father. It is this kind of strong support that we need nowadays – in our times when the pace of life has become so very fast. One may even get the impression that nothing is certain today, that there is nothing to hold on to. We may think sometimes, or else others may try to convince us that all norms in life tremble, or even undergo a process of gradual degradation. Yesterday’s belief becomes today an object of doubt because it has failed to work, to meet our expectations. What we deemed good and right yesterday appears false and harmful today.
Yet today’s Gospel reminds us that the conviction that whatever is old must be good for us today is an illusion. Jesus teaches us to look forward into the future, not to look back. We must never think that we have already found a perfect form of social structure, that we have come to know the best solutions to human problems, that our faith, our way of living and working are as good as they possibly can be, that we can rest fully satisfied.
And yet, do we not at times yield to such thoughts? Do we not at times hold fast to our past, because it is easier to live in the past, remembering old times, when we are too scared to look forward into the future, to break away with the past? This does not at all mean that we should thoughtlessly reject our past! The point is that we should not rely on stereotypes repeated over and over again, that we should not harbour old grudges which poison our life and overshadow our relationships with neighbours. Jesus encourages us to move forward and to proclaim the Kingdom of God, which may be interpreted as sharing Christ with others, showing Christ who acts among us, who makes His future come true together with us, reinforcing our trust in God the Father.
There is no doubt that, to borrow the language of the biblical passage, the disciples of Christ may not demand any compensation for the separation from their family, for their hard and perilous service. The same holds good for us, we must not think that we deserve some kind of damages for the time we have offered God. Jesus unequivocally excludes the possibility that we might make any demands on Him, though every now and again we might easily feel tempted to do that!
Certainly there is no other way to imitate Jesus but to do it disinterestedly; without expecting any payment, without counting on special rewards and distinctions, offering freely one’s time and sometimes one’s money to others. This approach means building the future – building important bridges of understanding in the name of Jesus Christ. This approach means developing solidarity between people. It means at the same time giving by one’s life testimony to the fact that the Kingdom of God is present among us already now! Amen.
Rev. Dr Dariusz Chwastek, translated by Dr Joanna Teske