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 9:57-62, RSV)
Our Gospel reading today recounts three examples of would-be disciples who were in the end unwilling to pay the cost of following Jesus. I find these examples particularly challenging, because they highlight temptations which I not only often feel but also often succumb to: the temptations to comfort; to procrastination; and to vacillation.
First, comfort. Jesus stands before us, poor out of love, voluntarily emptied of his divine rights – and he wins our hearts, so that we voluntarily say, “I will follow you wherever you go.” But his reply makes us pause: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Well, we at Manresa House aren’t yet quite at the bottom of the garden with the foxes. But still, we must ask ourselves: Are we willing – with Ignatius – to say, and to mean it: “I want and choose poverty with Christ poor rather than riches”?
Or perhaps we hear Christ say “follow me,” but we put it off to do something else, something reasonable. This is the second temptation, the temptation of procrastination. “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus’ reply sounds harsh: “Let the dead bury their own dead.” And this verse has been used harshly in religious life, reprehensibly, even recently, in the Jesuits, when people were forbidden to attend a parent’s funeral. We should not imagine, however, that Jesus is ludicrously asking a corpse to bury a corpse. And we know that he blamed the Pharisees, severely, for insisting upon manmade rules that effectively obviated the divine commandment to honour Father and Mother (Matt. 15:1-9).
The real point here is that Jesus demands the first place in our hearts. Can we say, and mean it, that we cleave to Him more than to a spouse or a lover, a father or mother, a sibling or a friend – more even than our own lives?
Yet perhaps we do cleave to him in this way . . . most of the time. This is the third temptation, vacillation. We love Jesus best . . . but not always. Our first desire is to do his will . . . but we don’t always act that way. “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.”
These are particularly difficult words for someone like me whose discernment process usually resembles a kind of barn dance: one step forward, two steps backward. Yet in the Scriptures, in reconciliation and in the Eucharist, we meet the God of the second and the third chance, the God who leaves the ninety-nine to seek out the same lost sheep who went astray seventy times seven times already this week. Let us pray that He accepts us as disciples, sinners and yet chosen, and that when he sends us out as apostles we reflect however imperfectly the infinite mercy of his heart.