Memorial of Saint Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church
Finding the commitment required to be a true follower of Jesus
Jesus said, “Do not be afraid.”
Reading 1 NEH 2:1-8
when the wine was in my charge,
I took some and offered it to the king.
As I had never before been sad in his presence,
the king asked me, “Why do you look sad?
If you are not sick, you must be sad at heart.”
Though I was seized with great fear, I answered the king:
“May the king live forever!
How could I not look sad
when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins,
and its gates have been eaten out by fire?”
The king asked me, “What is it, then, that you wish?”
I prayed to the God of heaven and then answered the king:
“If it please the king,
and if your servant is deserving of your favor,
send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves,
to rebuild it.”
Then the king, and the queen seated beside him,
asked me how long my journey would take
and when I would return.
I set a date that was acceptable to him,
and the king agreed that I might go.I asked the king further: “If it please the king,
let letters be given to me for the governors
that they may afford me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah;
also a letter for Asaph, the keeper of the royal park,
that he may give me wood for timbering the gates
of the temple-citadel and for the city wall
and the house that I shall occupy.”
The king granted my requests,
for the favoring hand of my God was upon me.
Responsorial PsalmPS 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
By the streams of Babylon
we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the aspens of that land
we hung up our harps.
R. Let my tongue be silenced if I ever forget you!
Though there our captors asked of us
the lyrics of our songs,
And our despoilers urged us to be joyous:
“Sing for us the songs of Zion!”
R. Let my tongue be silenced if I ever forget you!
How could we sing a song of the LORD
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand be forgotten!
R. Let my tongue be silenced if I ever forget you!
May my tongue cleave to my palate
if I remember you not,
If I place not Jerusalem
ahead of my joy.
R. Let my tongue be silenced if I ever forget you!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I consider all things so much rubbish
that I may gain Christ and be found in him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 9:57-62
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.”
Jesus answered him, “No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
This “let the dead bury the dead” remark is one of those passages that has troubled many Christians. It is one that we have to look at spiritually, and not so much in the physical realm. Honoring ones father, we would assume would include burying him after he has died, but the body no longer contains the spiritual essence of who the father was, and the person we were to honor in life. This is very similar to the way the Hebrews killed many of their prophets because they didn’t like their message, and then built shrines to them later on. And this is one of the reasons that Jesus lamented over Jerusalem as we are told in Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34.
Matt 23:37 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.
The shrine did not truly honor the prophet; it just was a way of a future generation to try to appease their guilt for scapegoating an innocent person. This kind of action and response shows a spiritual deadness in the people, which is key to our understanding the passage before us.
When we look at the situation surrounding our passage, as recorded in Matthew 8:18-23 and Luke 9:57-62, we see that people are seeking the “glamour” of following Jesus or there were other things thing that came before their desire to follow Him, for which Jesus gives several responses. All of which were designed to show the degree of commitment that is required to be a true follower of God.
“Let the dead bury the dead”
Commentary on Luke 9:57-62 From Living Space
Today’s passage has to be seen in the light of yesterday’s. Jesus has reached an important stage in his public life and mission. He is now irrevocably on his way to Jerusalem and all that that means for him – and us.
But he does not want to go alone. His whole purpose is to have people go with him. Already there are his disciples but there will be more. Today we see three “candidates” coming forward with a lot of good will but Jesus makes them aware of what following him really means. Their responses to Jesus’ remarks are not given so we do not know whether they became followers or not. The point Luke is making is to show what following entails.
- The first says very generously that he will go wherever Jesus is going. Jesus answers: “Foxes have their lairs and the birds of the air their nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
These words of Jesus indicate not poverty or indigence but freedom. To follow Jesus fully one needs to be free, not to be tied down by anything and not to be anxious about having or not having things.
There is no evidence that Jesus was poor in the sense of being deprived of the necessities of life. He did not own a house but it is never even hinted that he had to sleep out in the open air. He belonged to a group of people who more than willingly shared what they had with him.
- The second man was actually invited by Jesus to be a follower. But he asked first to be allowed to go and bury his father. This does not mean that his father had just died and he wanted to attend the funeral. It is more likely that he wanted, as a dutiful son, to wait for his father’s death before going off with Jesus.
But that is not good enough. The call of Jesus transcends needs of family, tradition and culture. The needs of the living outweigh those of the dead. His father might not die for years; what was the man supposed to do in the meantime?
Once we are aware of Jesus’ call the only time to answer is now. In spite of that, we should not read these lines too rigidly. Clearly, for example, there would be times when one would want to be present at the death of a parent, especially to provide support for the grieving spouse. That would be in total harmony with respect for parents and love for the neighbour. But the man in the example is in a totally different situation. He is talking about an event in the future whose time and place are not known.
- Another would-be follower asked first for permission to go home and say goodbye to his family. It was similar to a request made by Elisha when he was called to succeed Elijah as prophet. Elijah’s answer was, “Go ahead.”
- So what we have here seems a very reasonable request but it is rejected by Jesus who says, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, looking back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Like Jesus himself turning his face towards Jerusalem and all that it means for him, once the decision has been made to serve God and his people, there can be no turning back. Again, the words of Jesus should not be taken literally.
Read in that way, they would be totally at variance with the loving and compassionate quality of Jesus’ character. The point that is being made in all three examples is the absoluteness, the unconditionally that is required in the following of Jesus. It is a theme which is emphasised more than once in Luke’s gospel. We cannot be fence-sitters, to have our cake and eat it. Being a follower of Jesus can never be a part-time affair. It is all or nothing. At the same time, the demands of agape-love are always there. It is a matter each time of discerning where the truly loving act lies.
If we are honest, a lot of us are like these men in our following of Christ and in the living out of our faith. We do have our material wants (distinct from needs), we feel we cannot live without “our little comforts in life”.
Let us pray today for a high degree of freedom in being able to accept unconditionally God’s will for us. To have that freedom is one of the greatest blessings and graces of our life.
When Jesus calls, our response must be immediate and total.
Art: Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler by Heinrich Hofmann
In the Gospel: Jesus invites us to follow Him. But he makes it clear we shouldn’t get bogged down by the customs and work and goodies of this world.
“Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”
My priest friend says, “The devil wants us thinking about the past and ourselves. God wants us thinking about others and the future.”
So why do we over eat?
We want to feel good.
We want to consume the abundance of our modern abundant world. The entire American economy is based upon “consumer spending.”
Americans consume more food, electricity, water and just about everything else more than just about all people on the globe today.
And we make more trash than any civilization ever on this earth. And that’s not even counting all the trashy Hollywood films we churn out…
We are all users, takers and consumers. And I’m not leaving myself out here: I am as bad as any other American from what we used to call “White Middle Class.”
We are “the feel good people.”
And we want no pain or suffering — for ourselves. We are always first thinking about ourselves.
And if pain knocks on our door: screw that. We have drugs for that.
Drugs for anxiety. Drugs for depression. Drugs for “I just don’t feel right.”
It is almost as if Americans feel entitled to take more and more of this world and its resources — and without feeling any pain, guilt, anxiety or anguish.
Here’s what Wikipedia says about anguish:
Anguish is a term used in philosophy, often as a translation from the Latin for angst. It is a paramount feature ofexistentialist philosophy, in which anguish is often understood as the experience of an utterly free being in a world with zero absolutes (existential despair). In the theology of Kierkegaard, it refers to a being with total free will who is in a constant state of spiritual fear that his freedom will lead him to fall short of the standards that God has laid out for him.
In the teachings of Sartre, anguish is seen when an utterly captured being realizes the unpredictability of his or her action. For an example, when walking along a cliff, you would feel anguish to know that you have the freedom to throw yourself down to your imminent death.
“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (1 Cor 6:19)
In the Bible, neither Jesus nor the God of the Old Testament ever says you will feel no pain. We invented that for ourselves.
Most Americans are fine with abortion: infanticide. Most people in America are fine with sex of all kinds — sex on demand.
The Supreme Court spoke on this very subject on Tuesday, June 25, 2013.
It’s our right. It’s legal.
So that is the Supreme Court.
Supreme for whom?
There will be an accounting. “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.” (Genesis 9:5)
The first book of the bible talks about an accounting.
I used to have a friend who often said: “When you’re standing naked before the Lord…”
When I am standing naked before the Lord, my first thought will likely be: “I should go on a died.”
My second thought will surely be: “I should have done more for others.”
But by then it will be too late. And the devil is the one who wants us thinking about the past — and ourselves.
John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom
(I’ll go wherever you will go, “The Calling.”)
Jesus said, “Do not be afraid.”
● In today’s Gospel the long and hard journey of Jesus continues from the periphery of Galilee toward the capital city. Leaving Galilee, Jesus enters in Samaria and continues toward Jerusalem. But not all understand him. Many abandon him, because the demands are enormous. But others get close to him and present themselves to follow Jesus. At the beginning of his pastoral activity in Galilee, Jesus had called three: Peter, James and John (Lk 5, 8-11). Here also, in Samaria there are three persons who present themselves or who are called. In the responses of Jesus there are the requirements or conditions in order to be able to be his disciples.
● Luke 9, 56-58: The first one of the three new disciples. At that time, as they travelled along, they met a man who said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go”. Jesus answered: “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head”. To this first person who wants to be his disciple, Jesus asks him to divest himself of everything: he has nowhere to lay his head; much less should he seek a false security where to lay the thoughts of his head.
● Luke 9, 59-60: The second one of the three new disciples. To another one he says “Follow me”. And he replied, “Let me go and bury my father first”. Jesus replied: “Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the Kingdom of God”. To this second person called by Jesus to follow Him, he asks him to leave the dead bury the dead. It is a question of a popular saying used to say: leave aside the things of the past. Do not lose time with what happened and look ahead. After having discovered the new life in Jesus, the disciple should not lose time with what has happened.
● Luke 9, 61-62: The third one of the three new disciples. “Another said: I will follow you, Sir, but first let me go and say good-bye to my people at home”. But Jesus replied: once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God”. To this third person called to be a disciple, Jesus asks to break the family bonds of union. On another occasion he had said: Anyone who loves his father and his mother more than me cannot be my disciple (Lk 14, 26; Mt 10, 37). Jesus is more demanding than the Prophet Elijah who allowed Elisha to greet and take leave from his parents (1 K 19, 19-21). This also means to break the nationalistic bonds of race and the patriarchal family structure.
● These are three fundamental requirements as necessary conditions for those who want to be the disciples of Jesus: (a) to abandon material goods, (b) not to be attached to personal goods lived and accumulated in the past (c) to break away from the family bonds. In reality, nobody, even wishing it, can break neither the family bonds, nor break away from things lived in the past. What is asked is to know how to re-integrate everything (material goods, personal life and family life) in a new way around the new axis which is Jesus and the Good News of God which he has brought to us.
● Jesus himself, lived and became aware of what he was asking to his followers. With his decision to go up to Jerusalem Jesus reveals his project. His journey toward Jerusalem (Lk 9, 51 a 19, 27) is represented as the undertaking (Lk 9, 51), the exodus (Lk 9, 31) or the crossing (Lk 17, 11). Arriving in Jerusalem Jesus fulfils the exodus, the undertaking or the definitive crossing from this world toward the Father (Jn 13, 1). Only a truly free person can do this, because such an exodus presupposes to dedicate one’s whole life for the brothers (Lk 23, 44-46; 24, 51). This is the exodus, the crossing, the undertaking of which the communities should become aware in order to be able to carry on Jesus’ project.
● Compare each one of these three requirements with your life.
● Which are the problems that arise in your life as a consequence of the decision which you have taken to follow Jesus?
Yahweh, you examine me and know me,
you know when I sit,
when I rise,
you understand my thoughts from afar. (Ps 139,1-2)
Like Nehemiah, we are all called to rebuild the house of the Lord, or in the words of Jesus, we are called to be His disciples of the Kingdom. The call to build the House of God is urgent, whether it was during the time of the prophet Nehemiah, or that of His disciples today. Indeed, we read of the pathetic condition of the Temple. The walls were in ruins, leading to frequent attacks from invaders. The great prophecies of Ezekiel, Second Isaiah and Zechariah about the restoration of the Temple and Jerusalem were fast becoming pure illusion. Jesus too, faced great challenges in proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and was very much aware of the challenges of missionary work, being an itinerant preacher Himself.
The Church today is not much different. In fact, we are under the onslaught, not so much from armies with weapons, but from enemies who are equally hostile to the Church, particularly secularists who oppose the teachings and values of the gospel. From within, we experience the weaknesses of both the religious leaders and members that have resulted in scandals and failures. Living in an individualistic culture that is also materialistic and secularist, it is difficult to preserve one’s faith in the world. All these attacks from within and without have made the Church lose credibility in the proclamation of the gospel. Thus, the call to rebuild the Church by having faithful and committed disciples is even more urgent than ever. But what is required for the disciples or the would-be disciples of Jesus to live the Kingdom life? Three kinds of responses are identified today as being incompatible in realizing the Kingdom in our lives.
Firstly, the response to discipleship cannot be a mere emotional response. That was what happened to the man who wanted to follow Jesus. He told Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus restrained him saying, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” In other words, discipleship is not for the weak and for those who are not ready to make sacrifices. This is a clear warning for those who have converted to the Faith, or joined priestly or religious life because of some spiritual euphoria that they have experienced. Whilst such religious experiences can be the beginning of a conversion experience or a call, yet we need time to sort out the demands of discipleship. For the fact is that emotions and feelings do not last; only commitment lasts. Feelings come and go. No one is high in love always, but what is left are the daily struggles that come from living out our commitment to God and to His people. Consequently, such people easily get disillusioned and discouraged when they are confronted with the harsh realities of Christian living and their own inner struggles. Discipleship cannot be dependent on some feelings of love but a real commitment to live the truth in love and to love in truth. All other motives will not carry us very far.
Secondly, in the face of the offer of the Kingdom, either because of other distractions or because of the exacting demands that come from the acceptance of the gospel, many of us would want to postpone our commitment. Like the second man in the gospel, we seek to delay our response to the invitation, saying, “let me bury my father first.” To bury one’s father means to wait until we have fulfilled all our filial duties, which might take years. Of course, the commandment requires that we honour our parents. However, to allow human beings to obstruct us from answering the call of God is but another form of idolatry.
We must, therefore, in the mind of Jesus, learn to rely not on human calculation but rest on heroic faith in the Lord. We must make a decision to live the life of the Kingdom, the kingdom of love and service. Conversion to the Kingdom life and a life of discipleship is not to be postponed indefinitely but requires an immediate decision. This is true with regard to our desire to change our lives. We pay lip service, consoling ourselves that we will one day live an authentic Christian life. But in reality we keep procrastinating, whether it is a question of deepening our prayer life or living a life of integrity. Unless we make the decision to change now, to be happy now, to live now, then we will never find the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is already here; not a future event that is yet to come. As for the future, things will somehow look after themselves. We need to trust in providence. Right now, we need only to surrender our lives in trust and faith.
The third inadequate response that we can give to Jesus is that of a divided commitment. Like the man who wanted to follow Jesus, but on condition that he be allowed to take leave of his people at home first. He said, “I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say good-bye to my people at home.” This person has the intention to follow Jesus but his heart is torn between giving himself to the work of the Kingdom and to his loved ones. He has a problem of attachment. He cannot let go entirely. And among all our attachments in life, which include things, glory, power, fame, viewpoints, the greatest attachment is to people whom we love. It takes tremendous sacrifice to give up the people whom we love so much because that relationship prevents us from living a life of purity and truth. This is particularly true when it comes to giving up an irregular relationship and physical intimacy with a person whom we love so much. Indeed, there are many who want to serve the Lord and yet unable to let go of such improper relationships because whilst loving Jesus, they also desire human love and affection. Quite often, our past will prevent us from being fully open to the love of God that is coming to us in the present. The tragedy of attachment is that our hearts become un-free for other things in life, and most of all, for the love and service of God and His people.
Attachments prevent a person from being open to others and whatever is coming into his life. That is why Jesus makes it clear that the man who puts his hand on the plough and looks back is not fit to live in the kingdom of God. When attachments rule our hearts, we are not free for God’s offer of life and love. It is a situation or ‘either or’. There is no question of having our attachments and the joy of the Kingdom at the same time. Our commitment to the Kingdom must be a single-minded commitment, which is possible only in total detachment. Only then can we live in the Kingdom, which is to live for the moment now, totally and fully. But having recognized this truth, it is not easy. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. The sacrifice of giving up human love for God’s love is perhaps the greatest of all sacrifices, especially if the person whom you are giving up is the dearest love and gem in your life.
Yes, the invitation to live the Kingdom life is urgent. And not only urgent, it requires our total commitment. Anything less will not do. To delay a minute longer would simply mean to delay our happiness a minute longer. But the moment we decide to live in the present and give our whole heart to the present, then we will begin to live the Kingdom which is a kingdom of love, joy and peace. Living in our past and in the future cannot ever bring about happiness. Living in our attachments simply means that God’s love cannot rule our lives. To be His disciples simply means that we live the Kingdom life of love and service in total trust in the Father.
So how can we muster the strength to do what we have to do and make a decisive decision now? We must ask for the grace to love God and His people more than we love ourselves. Truly, to follow the Lord and work in His kingdom demands a magnanimous heart like Jesus who emptied Himself of the glory of His divinity to become one of us to serve us unto death. Unless we have a higher love, we will not be able to give up a lower form of love. The decision to give up our own happiness for the greater good of others demands total selflessness and self-denial. Only a deep love for God can enable us to sacrifice our own personal needs and interests for the sake of His people.
In our dilemma to answer the call of God to give up ourselves for His sake and the people God loves, we can only rely on grace alone. Human effort and human will alone, will break our hearts and can even lead to repression of our human needs for affection and love. This will only make us un-loveable and even bitter against God because we made a reluctant sacrifice. So what else can we do except to learn from Nehemiah, to surrender our emotions to the Lord in humble and earnest prayer? Let us ask God for the grace to see the urgency and the great joy of the Kingdom, and be convinced that we can have it now. Let us plead for a foretaste of the joy and freedom of serving Him and His people so that we will not become discouraged in the face of sacrifices and trials ahead of us. Finally, we pray for the grace to say, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
From Bonaventure’s Life of Francis:
“One day when Francis went out to meditate in the fields he was passing by the church of San Damiano which was threatening to collapse because of extreme age. Inspired by the Spirit, he went inside to pray.
Kneeling before an image of the Crucified, he was filled with great fervor and consolation as he prayed. While his tear-filled eyes were gazing at the Lord’s cross, he heard with his bodily ears a voice coming from the cross, telling him three times: ‘Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.’
Trembling with fear, Francis was amazed at the sound of this astonishing voice, since he was alone in the church; and as he received in his heart the power of the divine words, he fell into a state of ecstasy. Returning finally to his senses, he prepared to put his whole heart into obeying the command he had received. He began zealously to repair the church materially, although the principle intention of the words referred to that Church which Christ purchased with his own blood, as the Holy Spirit afterward made him realize….”
For the record, the moment recounted above took place in 1204… and then as now, the call of the Cross remains the challenge of our time. So as the work continues, on another St Francis’ Day and always, may we all ever just keep on, keep trying and — flaws, faults, warts and all —keep building.
Most High, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me true faith,
certain hope and perfect charity,
sense and knowledge,
that I may carry out, Lord,
Your holy and true command.
Saint Francis Looking Up To God with skull