13 Sunday of the Year C
1 Kgs 19:16b, 19-21; Gal 5:1, 13-18; Lk 9:51-62
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’, Cycle C, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2009 and republished in Viet Nam 2012. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable. That might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
Not everyone who wishes to follow Jesus is satisfied. The three would-be followers of Jesus in today’s Gospel attempted to give different excuses. The first man is afraid of unwarranted future (Lk 9:57). The second asks to go home and bury his father first (v.59). The third asks to go home and say good-bye to his family (v. 61).
To follow Jesus for being his disciples, one has to pay a certain price, as Jesus said: The Son man has nowhere to lay his head (Lk 9:58). To follow Jesus to do the mission work in a mission land for instance might be uncomfortable, possibly poor and hostile, persecuted, dangerous to one’s life. A missionary must learn customs of the native, adjust him to food and drink which one might not like and learn the language of the native.
The price Jesus asked the second man for being his disciple is: Let the dead bury their dead; come away and proclaim the kingdom of God (Lk 9:60). Therefore, if the proclamation of the Gospel and the pastoral ministry are necessary at a particular time, then a burial of a beloved could be postponed or left to others to take care of. To follow Jesus, the disciple may not have time to say good bye to family members or to visit them as Jesus said: Whoever puts his hand to the plow but keeps looking back is unfit for the reign of God (Lk 9:62).
At a certain time, the apostolic work of teaching, preaching and caring must take precedence over a family visit. Did we ever bargain with God like: Oh God, if I follow you, if I practice my faith, what would I get? This Sunday I would like to be excused for not being able to attend mass because I have to visit a friend of mine, I need to go to a party, I need to go shopping, and I need to stay home to entertain my friends. Let me take care of a few things at home first, and then I will go back to church to worship you and do apostolic work.
When we try to bargain with God for a cheap price for being his disciple, or for keeping the minimum requirements for the practice of faith, how can we expect God to transform our mind and heart and life? To bargain as such is similar to a child who says to his/her parents: Mom, Dad, if I do this or that for you, what reward should I get from you. If parents do not like that kind of bargain from their children, then how could God like that kind of bargain from us? Unfortunately, some parents educated their children to do things that way.
From the first book of Kings today, we learn that Elijah, the prophet did allow his disciple Elisha to go back and say farewell to his parents. Thus, does it mean that Jesus want us to abandon our obligations towards our parents and children? Not necessarily so. Jesus upholds the fourth commandment: to honor our parents. In addition, he teaches us to love our neighbor by quoting the book of Leviticus: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lv 19:18).
In today’s Gospel, Jesus just wants to let his disciples know that they must have greater love for God and his work. Jesus invites all Christians to be his disciples, not just the clergy or religious men and women. The way we follow him to be his disciples depends mostly on each person’s social circumstance and position. He does not require everyone to become a priest or religious. Most Christians follow Jesus in their lay state of life: a wife, a husband, a father, a mother in the family or a single in the lay state of life.
Each Christian or each Catholic if you prefer, through baptism and confirmation is called to be Jesus’ disciple. The faithful might be misunderstood and discriminated just for their faith in God. The faithful might be persecuted for being Catholics. To practice discipleship is not a work done unwillingly, in a mechanical way and in a routine fashion. To be a disciple of Jesus, the faithful must be ready to pay a certain price to be different: different in thought, word and deed, different in evaluating different values in life. To be a serious Christian is to be his disciple. Discipleship comes from the Latin verb discere, i.e., to learn. Discipleship involves a process of learning and discipline. Only when we discipline ourselves, can we become disciples. When we make a mistake, we try it again and again until we succeed.
To live our faith also involves learning and discipline, lest we become neglectful. Many Christians have complained that religion had not done any good for their lives even they they had been baptized as infants and had been Catholics for years and years. The reason religion has not done any good for our lives because we try to keep the minimum requirements of the church law and we perform religious acts in a mechanical way and in a routine fashion.
The grace of God, which we received at baptism, was stifled by obstacles: sins and vices in our life. In order for the grace of God to be activated in our life, one must open the lid, that is, to remove obstacles from one’s life, so that the grace of God can be permeated in our life, and change our lives.
A prayer asking for the grace to remain faithful in discipleship:
Oh Lord Jesus Christ!
You are ‘the way, the truth and the life’.
Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation,
we have been called to be your disciples.
Teach me to understand the meaning of discipleship.
Grant me perseverance and courage
so that I may overcome difficulties and temptations
as to be faithful to follow you. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong