30 June 2019
1 Kings 19:16, 19-21
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
Luke 9: 51-62
On 23 October 1993, Jackie Hewitt, chairman of the Loyalist / Protestant Shankill Community council in Northern Ireland was driving back to Belfast from a town where he had been at a war memorial ceremony. He was listening to his car radio when the news came in that a bomb had gone off in his area in the Shankill Road. Three people were dead. Blinded by anger he thought to himself ‘that’s it, we need a bomb now in the Nationalist / Catholic area of the Falls Road. As he neared the city he heard another news flash on the radio saying that seven were now dead. And he thought to himself ‘we need two bombs on the Falls Road’. But when he got to the scene, and stood amidst the anger and grief of his community, his own thoughts haunted him’. “When I heard other people saying what I was thinking, it frightened me.” (A total of 10 people died in the explosion, including the bomber).
Over the subsequent years both Protestant and Catholic people came to realise that retaliation, revenge and violence are never the solution. Ultimately it was only the negotiation, courage and determination of people on both sides that brought about a peace deal. But it cost them a lot as their families and houses suffered due to hardliners on both sides.
In the gospel today the disciples of Jesus, James and John wanted to retaliate in a violent way to the refusal of the Samaritans to make them welcome as they were going to Jerusalem. They wanted Jesus to respond by calling down fire from heaven on the entire village. At that time Samaritans and Jews were hated enemies. Here we see the example of tribalism, of great prejudice. To follow Jesus’ teaching of non-violence and non-retaliation requires exceptional strength and a strange kind of love. Evil must be resisted but not by doing further evil. The perfect example for us is Jesus on the cross. The Jewish leaders, the Roman soldiers and others present hurled their abuse and hatred at Jesus but instead of retaliating in like manner he broke the cycle of violence and returned love for hatred.
Are we prejudiced in any way? How do we respond? Do we hold grudges and try to retaliate by like attitudes or actions? Or do we ask for the grace which Jesus won for us on the cross to return love for hatred. It is far from easy. That is why the help of the Holy Spirit is so necessary.
The other key point in the gospel today is the total commitment of Jesus. We are told that Jesus ‘resolutely took the road to Jerusalem’. Jerusalem is the place where Jesus’ journey will meet its goal and completion: his Passion, Resurrection and Ascension. Going up to Jerusalem with determination and commitment expresses the free decision of Jesus to surrender faithfully to the will of the Father and never to give up despite the cost.
In one sense each of us who claims to be a disciple of Jesus has to journey to his/her own Jerusalem. It is a journey to be faithful to whatever commitment we have made in life – be it marriage, priesthood, the religious life or a vocation to the lay state etc. Each of us will meet certain obstacles along the way, certain temptations to face.
The gospel today is a clear call to each of us from Jesus to be his disciple. To be a real disciple of Jesus is not easy especially in today’s world where there are so many voices calling us. It costs to be a true disciple of Jesus.
There is a call to do what we choose without reference to God; there is the voice of pleasure, of making money even if it means bending the rules and being dishonest. We may justify this by saying ‘after all, aren’t many others doing the same thing? Then there is the call to have the latest technological gadgets. These in themselves can be very good. But the danger is becoming enslaved by them. Yet Jesus has a dream for each one of us. He sees our capacity to accept the cost of discipleship, our ability to be faithful despite our occasional failures. He will be with us every step of the way. He knows how hard it is since he has gone the way before us.
St. Paul writes in the second reading today: ‘When Christ freed us he meant us to remain free. Stand firm then and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery’. Some may feel free now of the Church and its calls saying they were enslaved by its rules. Yet cannot many instead become enslaved by all the modern world offers with its consumerism and materialism? We may have tried to live by the world’s value system and found it wanting. It is never too late to turn to Jesus. He is waiting to welcome us with open arms. But since he created us and loves us he is trying to warn us against seeking our security only in what is temporary and passing.
In the first reading we see the total commitment of Elisha who gave up all to follow the prophet.
The three incidents in today’s gospel are not telling us that we have to give up all we possess but that our only real security is Jesus. Neither is Jesus saying that we cannot attend the funerals of our parents or loved ones or that we cannot say goodbye to our family and friends. It is a Semitic or Jewish way of saying that our call to discipleship is not a part-time affair but that it calls for commitment and determination to be faithful. Our relationship with Jesus must be total. Having his values or attitudes should determine how we live our lives.
All this is not easy. At times it is quite difficult especially when we are tempted to seek happiness elsewhere or act selfishly. Why not pray to Jesus to give us the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to the things or relationships in our lives that cannot give us the peace and joy we seek? With this freedom hopefully we will become more sensitive to the needs of others also and care for them. Being a friend of Jesus demands we are truly centred on him, on others and not just on ourselves.
“Lord Jesus, free us of all that would prevent us from being your disciples, your friends and living as such”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA