Homily for 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2007
One of my brothers went off with his wife on a bit of a safari to the western border of Queensland recently. His 4x4 was packed to the hilt with every possible piece of equipment. Like many today he also set up his GPS navigation equipment. Once upon a time travellers had to depend on the observation of stars and some pretty inaccurate time keeping. Now you know where you are within a few meters at the touch of a button.
Not so on the journey to the Kingdom for the disciples of Jesus. We hear today how Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem (luke 9:51). The only point of reference his disciples have is the person of Jesus himself. He gives the direction. They are to follow.
Jesus response to some prospective disciples seem very harsh to us. He tells the man who wants to bury his father to let the dead bury their own dead! What about the requirements of honouring father and mother? Common decency would demand more care. Here Jesus is being presented as a great prophet like Elijah and like Elisha. There are many allusions to the Elijah story in this episode. But his expectations seem even harsher than that of Elijah. Elisah wanted to kiss his father and mother good bye, as we heard in the first reading. For Elijah that was his choice to turn back is to choose not to follow. The word must be proclaimed.
Both the man who wanted to bury his father and the one who simply wanted to say farewell used the word "first". Let me first bury.... Let me first say good bye.... Jesus is not condeming them. But in pursuit of the kingdom commitment to Jesus must come first. Only then will other relationships take their proper place. This is seen when we remember the first man who wanted to follow. He did not make any conditions on his discipleship. He just said "I will follow wherever you go" (Luke 9:57) . Jesus warned him, however, that there would be a cost.
There is an urgency about the kingdom that nothing else can hinder. Jesus is compassionate. But he is also totally committed to his mission. His words need not be seen as urging neglect of our responsibilities to parents or others but as a challenge to us who seek to follow him.
This Sunday is National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday. Unless one is walking in the shoes of indigenous Australians it can be difficult to appreciate the difficulties they face. For me anyway, I can only begin by reflecting that by virtue of my ability even to be here today at Mass, I am amongst a privileged 10% of the world's population in terms of wealth. Our very prosperity can blind us or make us unwilling to recognise the evils that exist in our midst. The focus today on abuse in indigenous communities can help identify that evil more clearly. But we must not unconsciously put all indigenous as being in that abusive category. In seeing them in that way we can make them scapegoats for our own failings. We pray for and with indigenous people today knowing that we share common hopes and that in Christ there is no black and white, no male and female, no Jew and gentile.
There are no easy answers. Jesus had no easy journey to complete his mission. All he had was faith in the Father. There was no sending in the troops to bring about the Kingdom once and for all as rulers so often see as the only option. There was no bringing down fire from heaven on evil doers as Elijah had done (2 Kings 1:10). Jesus makes it very clear that he was not that kind of prophet even though he follows in Elijah's footsteps. The only fire Jesus wants to come down is the fire of the Holy Spirit upon his own that they might be his apostles to love as he has loved.
To be a disciple of Jesus is not, therefore, just a leisure time activity. It is not one lifestyle choice amongst others. We follow, putting aside our need to know where we are and our likely future. We do not have a spiritual GPS. We have only Jesus and his unfailing love for us as guide. Our discipleship and our willingness to follow Jesus is expressed in this Eucharist when we say "Amen" to the Body and Blood of Christ.