1 Kings 19, 16.19-21; Ps 16; Gal 5, 1.13-18; Lk 9.51 to 62
Es 24.3 to 18; Ps 49; B 8, 6-13a; Jn 19.30 to 35
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
1) The final journey to Jerusalem.
In chapter 9 of Saint Luke, the last part of which is read in of today’s liturgy, some important moments in the life of Christ are described.
Let me recall them briefly.
First of all, Jesus sends the Twelve Apostles on a mission. They have heard and received his announcement and then they can spread it (see Lk 9, 1-6). When they come back, he involves them in the multiplication of the loaves that is not only a symbolic anticipation of the Eucharist, but a true and profound revelation of Jesus and of his existence and, therefore, a true revelation of the Eucharistic gesture. For the evangelist St. Luke the distribution of loaves, the Last Supper and the supper at Emmaus are the pillars that show the logic of the existence Jesus: a life as a gift. (ibid. 9.10 to 17).
Then, Peter acknowledges Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah awaited by the people of Israel (ibid. 9.18 to 21). This is a very important moment because Jesus is recognized as the Christ of God. However, in order to discover it completely, his death and resurrection are required. Jesus then begins to announce his own destiny of passion (Ibid. 9, 22- 23). It is a vocation that requires sacrifices. Who wants to follow Jesus must, like him, give up his life in order to find it (ibid. 9.23 to 26).
Furthermore, to support his apostles on this journey, Jesus gives to the three Apostles he likes more, a “taste” of his glory: Transfiguration (Ibid. 9.28 to 36). After he has descended from the mountain, he reveals once again his strength against the evil (healing of the epileptic boy: Ibid. 9.37 to 43) and announces again his passion and death (Ibid. 9.43 to 45). However, the disciples do not understand and they start arguing about who is the greatest among them (Ibid. 9, 46-50).
Here we are at the end of Chapter 9. In this passage (verses 51-62) are described the firm decision of Christ to carry out his exodus going to Jerusalem, and the three answers He gives of how the disciple should follow the Master.
It is worth to notice that, in this final part of the exodus of Christ to the Father, the acts of mercy, miracles and teachings continue.
2) The demands of discipleship.
Jesus takes the road to Jerusalem where -with awareness, courage and determination – he goes to give his life for those who will kill him (Ibid. 9:51). The Son of God walks resolutely towards Jerusalem, strong and determined he turns his face (actually the Greek text uses this expression: “Made his face like stone” and it has been translated as “Jesus took the firm decision “) towards the Easter of Liberation for us. It is a journey made with great effort and firm decision, but it is a free and a freedom journey.
Christ has set us free for the freedom of the children of God. To be free following Jesus, one must walk in the Spirit and keep the commandments given by God for love. The Ten Commandments are not a hymn to a “do not”, they are the “I do” A “yes” to God, the “yes” to love. If I say “yes” to love, I say “no” to not loving, but this “no” is a consequence of the “yes” that is from God and makes us love.
Let’s rediscover and live the Ten Words of God (in the Greek text it is written “logoi” which is almost always translated as commandments but literally means “words”). We say “yes” to these “ten ways of love” perfected by Christ to defend man and guide him to true freedom.
If we want to fully live this ways we must follow Christ in his exodus to Jerusalem, which is not only in the one to the Holy Land but also the one to Heaven.
This following has at least three characteristics.
The first characteristic is that of the detachment from or of the true relationship with material goods.
In fact, in today’s Gospel we see that a man on the road to freedom, asks Jesus permission to follow him. This man is already aware that discipleship involves an itinerant life: “I will follow you wherever you go” (Ibid. 9, 57). But there is something more that he needs to know: required are not just material poverty or the simply fatigue of a pilgrim life. The first gift that Jesus gives us if we follow him in poverty, is that of freedom from things. In fact, if we want to possess them, they possess us, if we make them the objective of our life, we are used as a means of production of things. If they are not goals but means, we can use them and we need them. They are needed to make a human life that is the life of sons and brothers. It is the life of communion, while too often we fight until our death. The first condition for following Christ and be free people that is the first gift that God wants to give us is spiritual poverty. If someone is called, even material poverty is a great gift of God. This poverty means that we are not what we have, otherwise we identify ourselves with things that become our god or, to be more precise, our idol, our goal for which we destroy others and, finally, ourselves.
The second characteristic is the one of the relationship with people so that nothing is to be preferred to God.
Faced with the request of Jesus to follow him to live in the light and in love, the second man in today’s Gospel asks for a postponement. Jesus’ answer is categorical: “Let the dead bury their dead” (Ibid. 9, 59 -60). Certainly it is a paradoxical language. It is not a question of burying or not burying the loved ones. It’s a matter of realizing that a novelty has come and that this novelty makes everything fade.
I hope not to be wrong if I say that this is an invitation to chastity, to which all are called: no person, no duties, no affection is absolute. Only God, whom we have never seen, is absolute. Everything else is relative and above all never to be owned. The relationship of mutual love, that is the same love that God has a free gift for us, it is the same love that we have for each other, mutual forgiveness and donation of self.
If the first characteristic of discipleship is detachment from things and the second is detachment from people, the third is detachment from self, which is not reducible to past history. The human being is structure of demand, desire of infinity, and openness to God’s promise.
In fact, in the third dialogue, we read of another stranger who is willing to follow Jesus but asks for time to say goodbye to those at home. The Greek verb means to say goodbye and leave. Jesus answers with a kind of proverb: “He who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God.” If the farmer wants to plow, goes ahead and cannot afford to look back. In other words, discipleship does not tolerate delays, distractions or nostalgia,
Said briefly: following Christ is a choice of freedom that comes from detachment from things and people and trust in God.
3) The following of the consecrated Virgins in the world.
We understand, with the mind and also with the heart, that following Jesus means to be rooted in his word and accept His Person of Messiah and Son of God without reserve, without putting our thoughts and our family affections before him.
In this regard, the consecrated Virgins in the world testify that no affection is preferred to God. It is the chastity of the soul and of the body, their being “wives” of a God to love absolutely. At the first place is God. Looking back is regret, hesitation. The choice for Christ is the continuous conversion that virginity makes steady and turns onto an offer and in a sacrifice pleasing to God.
To follow Jesus virginally means to follow him unconditionally. Following Christ calls for fidelity and love that always put in first place God and His kingdom. The result is a fruitful and joyful life. Indeed, the Savior said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his daily cross, and follow me because who would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it “(Lk 9.23 to 24). Therefore, the following of Christ is a way of the cross not because pain and death should be the ultimate call of life, but because, as it was for Christ, the mystical grain of wheat fallen into the earth, from his redeeming death new life was born.
Any sacrifice made to follow the Son of God, does not simply mark a journey of sterile mortification, but opens the way to a life that unceasingly is renewed in grace and makes the person able to walk the path of true freedom, one that is given to us in Christ. The Virgins witness it significantly so that all Christians may respond to this vocation: “You, my brothers, were called to freedom, as long as this freedom is not as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love you may be servants of each other … I say then, walk in the Spirit.”
Therefore, the vocation of each of us to follow Christ is a call to authentic freedom that is a gift of the Father in the Son through the Spirit that enlightens and leads to the fullness of life.
Saint Augustin of Hyppo
On the words of the gospel, Lc 9,57 etc., Where the case of the three persons is treated of, of whom one said, “I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest,” and was disallowed: another did not dare to offer himself, and was aroused; the third wished to delay, and was blamed.
- Give ye ear to that which the Lord hath given me to speak on the lesson of the Gospel. For we have read, that the Lord Jesus acted differently, when one man offered himself to follow Him, and was disallowed; another did not dare this, and was aroused; a third put off, and was blamed. For the words, “Lord, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest,”1 what is so prompt, what so active, what so ready, and what so filly disposed to so great a good, as this “following the Lord whithersoever He should go”? Thou wonderest at this, saying, “How is this, that one so ready found no favour with the Good Master and Lord Jesus Christ, though He was inviting disciples to give them the kingdom of Heaven?” But inasmuch as He was such a Master as could see beforehand things to come, we understand, Brethren, that this man, if he had followed Christ, would have been sure to “seek his own things, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.”2 For He hath said Himself, “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.”3 And of such was this man, nor did he know himself so well as the Physician knew him. For if he saw himself to be a dissembler now, if he had known himself at this time to be full of duplicity and guile, then he did not know with Whom he was speaking. For He it is of whom the Evangelist says, “He had no need that any one should testify to Him of man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”4 What then did He answer? “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His Head.”5 But where hath He not? In thy faith. For in thy heart foxes have holes, thou art full of guile; in thy heart birds of the air have nests; thou art lifted up. Full of guile and self-elation as thou art, thou shalt not follow Me. How can a guileful man follow Simplicity?
- And then forthwith to another who was silent, and said nothing, and promised nothing, He saith,” Follow Me!” As much evil as He saw in the other, so much good saw He in this man. “Follow Me,”6 Thou sayest to one who hath no wish for it. Lo, here is a man quite ready, “I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest;” and yet Thou sayest to another who hath no such wish, “Follow thou Me.” “The first,” saith He, “I decline, because I see in him holes, I see nests.” “But then why dost Thou press this other, whom Thou dost challenge to follow Thee, and he makes excuses? Lo, Thou dost even force him, and he doth not come; Thou dost exhort him, and he doth not follow. For what doth he say? ‘I will go first to bury my father.’“ The faith of his heart showed itself to the Lord; but his dutiful affection made him delay. But the Lord Christ when He is preparing men for the Gospel, will have no excuse from this carnal and temporal affection interfere. It is true that both the law of God prescribes these duties, and the Lord Himself reproves the Jews, because they destroyed this very commandment of God. And the Apostle Paul has in his Epistle laid it down, and said, “This is the first commandment with promise.” What? “Honour thy father and thy mother.”7 God of a surety spake it. This young man then wished to obey God, and to bury his father; but it is place, and time, and circumstance, which is in this case to give way to place, and time, and circumstance. A father must be honoured, but God must be obeyed. He that begat us must be loved, but He that created us must be preferred. “I am calling thee,” saith He, “to My Gospel; I have need of thee for another work: this is a greater work than that which thou wishest to be doing. ‘Let the dead bury their dead.’8 Thy father is dead: there are other dead men to bury the dead.” Who are the dead who bury the dead? Can a dead man be buried by dead men? How can they lay him out, if they are dead? How can they carry him, if they are dead? How can they bewail him, if they are dead? Yet they do lay him out, and carry, and bewail him, and they are dead; because they are unbelievers. That which is written in the Song of Songs is a lesson to us, when the Church says, “Set in order love in me.”9 What is, “Set in order love in me”? Make the proper degrees, and render to each what is his due. Do not put what should come before, below that which should come after it. Love your parents, but prefer God to them. Marc the mother of the Maccabees,” ‘My sons, I know not how ye appeared in my womb.’10 Conceive you I could, give you birth I could; but ‘form you I could not:’ hear Him therefore, prefer Him to me: trouble not yourselves, that I must remain here without you.” Thus she commanded them, and they followed her. What this mother taught her children, did the Lord Jesus Christ teach him to whom He said, “Follow Me.”
- See now how another disciple presented himself, to whom no one said anything: he said, “Lord, I will follow Thee, but I will first go to bid them farewell which are at my house.”11 I suppose this is his meaning, “Let me tell my friends, lest haply they seek me as usual.” And the Lord said, “No man putting his hand on the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”12 The East calls thee, and thou art looking toward the west. In this lesson we learn this, that the Lord chooses whom He will. But He chooses them, as the Apostle says, both according to His Own grace, and according to their righteousness. For such are the words of the Apostle; “Attend,” he says, “to what Elias saith: Lord, they have killed Thy Prophets, they have overthrown Thine altars, and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God to him? I have reserved to Myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee before Baal.”13 Thou thinkest that thou art the only servant who is working faithfully: there are others too who fear Me, and they not few. For I have “seven thousand” there. And then he added, “Even so then at this present time also.” For some Jews believed, though the most were reprobate; like him who carried holes for foxes in his heart. “Even so then,” saith he, “at this present time also, there is a remnant saved through the election of grace:” that is, there is the same Christ even now, as then, who also then said to that Elias, “I have reserved to Myself.” What is, “I have reserved to Myself”? I have chosen them, because I saw their hearts that they trusted in Me, and not in themselves,nor in Baal. They are not changed, they are as they were made by Me. And thou who art speaking, except thou hadst placed thy trust in Me, where wouldest thou be? Except thou wert replenished by My grace, wouldest not thou too be bowing the knee before Baal? But thou art replenished by My grace; because thou hast not put thy trust at all in thine own strength, but wholly in My grace. Do not therefore glory in this, as to suppose thou hast no fellow-servants in thy service; there are others whom I have chosen, as I have chosen thee, those, namely, who put their trust in Me; as the Apostle says, “Even now also a remnant is saved through the election of grace.”
- Beware, O Christian, beware of pride. For though thou art a follower of the saints, ascribe it always wholly to grace; for that there should be any “remnant” in thee, the grace of God hath brought to pass, not thine own deserts. For the Prophet Isaiah again having this remnant in view, had said already, “Except the Lord of Hosts had left us a seed, we should have become as Sodom, and should have been like unto Gomorrah.”14 “So then,” says the Apostle, “at this present time also a remnant is saved through the election of grace. But if by grace,” says he, “then is it no more of works” (that is, “be now no more lifted up upon thine own deserts”);” otherwise grace is no more grace.”15 For if thou dost build16 on thine own work; then is a reward rendered unto thee, not grace freely bestowed. But if it be grace, it is gratuitously given. I ask thee then, O sinner, “Dost thou believe in Christ?” Thou sayest, “I do believe.” “What dost thou believe? That all thy sins may be forgiven thee freely through Him?” Then hast thou what thou hast believed. O grace gratuitously given! And thou, righteous man, what dost thou believe, that thou canst not keep thy righteousness without God? That thou art righteous then, impute it wholly to His mercy; but that thou art a sinner, ascribe it to thine own iniquity. Be thou thine own accuser, and He will be thy gracious Deliverer. For every crime, wickedness, or sin comes of our own negligence, and all virtue and holiness come of God’s gracious goodness. “Let us turn to the Lord.”
1 (Lc 9,57
2 (Ph 2,21
3 (Mt 7,21
4 (Jn 2,25
5 (Lc 9,58
6 (Lc 9,59).
7 (Ep 6,2
8 (Lc 9,60
9 (Ct 2,4 Sept.
10 (2M 7,22
11 (Lc 9,61
12 (Lc 9,62
13 (Rm 11,3 etc.
14 (Is 1,9
15 (Rm 11,5-6.