"When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them.
Then they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone 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, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead 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 a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
- Luke 9:51-62
If we were to ignore the traditional understanding of this passage in favor of self-interpretation we may assume that Jesus is being extremely insensitive and rather callous by dismissing someone's grief and someone else's family devotion. But the wisdom of the Catholic Church calls out another, potentially more revealing interpretation.
I've emphasized the word "First" in both of the encounters between Jesus and the would-be disciples. Jesus is able to see deeply into the hearts of those he meets and many theologians and scholars believe that Jesus is seeing deeply into ulterior motives or "excuses" coming through the words of these followers.
- When the first follower says: "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." Jesus may well have discerned that what was really being said was: "Lord, first let me go home and wait for my father to die before I come and follow you."
- Then when the second follower says: "Lord, first let me say farewell to those at home." Jesus may well have discerned that was was really happening was an outward display of enthusiasm that was hiding a prolonged procrastination that would result in no real commitment on the part of this individual.
The challenge for us, as modern day listeners to this passage then, is to look for opportunities every day where we can place God's priorities above our own. Not necessarily in "big" moments of life - but in our everyday encounters and personal exchanges - minute by minute our transformation of character should be happening.
It's all a matter of focus.
In this seemingly difficult and challenging passage it can be seen that Jesus is demonstrating a practical application of his teaching from the Sermon on the Mount.
"But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things (day to day needs that you worry about) will be given to you as well."
In the ancient teaching wisdom of the church it is to be understood that the words of Jesus are beyond mere philosophy or opinion - they are the words of absolute authority in life matters.- Matthew 6:33
The kingdom of God has come near - we should be about living in it moment by moment.