My Dear People,
Thank you, all the ones who participated in the procession on Corpus Christi, especially all the ones who prepared for it. It went well due to your efforts.
Significant events in Jesus’ life happen at the appointed times in accord with God’s plan. Here a turning point occurs when the days for the events regarding his exodus from death to glory (Luke 9:22,31, 44) begin to unfold. These events are described now as his being taken up, a reference to his ascension to heaven. The phrase recalls how Elijah—who just appeared with Jesus at the transfiguration—was himself taken up to heaven. Elisha then received a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, and Jesus after his ascension will similarly grant his disciples a share in his Holy Spirit when the day of Pentecost is “fulfilled.”
Jesus resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem (literally, “set his face”). A verse from the third servant song of Isaiah provides key background: “I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.” He is firmly setting out on his journey toward Jerusalem, aware that it is the place where he will die, like prophets before him. Another related meaning of setting one’s face is the prophetic resolve needed to preach judgement: “Son of man, turn your face toward Jerusalem: preach against its sanctuary, prophesy against the land of Israel.” (Ezek. 21:7)” As Ezekiel prophesied regarding the destruction of Jerusalem (586 BC), so Jesus will prophecy against the city and its temple, foretelling its destruction, which the Romans carried out in AD 70.
Jesus sent messengers ahead of him (literally, “before his face”), thus echoing the phrase in the previous verse. In a sense, these messengers are continuing the ministry of John the Baptist:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you. He will prepare your way before you” (Luke 7:27; see Exodus 23:20; Mal. 3:1), and “Prepare the way of the Lord” (Luke 3:4; Isa. 40:3). The messengers indeed go to prepare for his reception.
Setting off from Galilee going south toward Jerusalem, they cross the region of Samaria and enter a village. However, the Samaritan villagers do not welcome Jesus, because the destination of his journey is Jerusalem. They do not accept him since they consider Mount Gerizim to be the proper place to worship. Hence, the rejection is not directed against Jesus personally but rather motivated by the general enmity between Jews and Samaritans. That the Samaritans do not “welcome” Jesus at the beginning of this central section also recalls how Jesus was not “accepted” in Nazareth at the beginning of the Galilean section. However, Jesus does not reject the Samaritans and will indeed display a positive attitude toward them. Eventually, with the disciples’ mission, Samaritans will accept the gospel.
Filled with indignation at seeing Jesus rejected, James and John ask whether they should fall down fire from heaven to consume them. John the Baptist had spoken about the Messiah as one who brings fire. Now that John has been killed, these two disciples—aptly called “sons of thunder” for their impetuous zeal—may want to take upon themselves his role of going before Jesus “in the spirit and power of Elijah.” Elijah had indeed called down fire from heaven to consume his enemies, sent against him by the king of Samaria (2 Kings 1:9-12).
However, their suggestion shows that they misunderstood Jesus’ mission yet again, perhaps like John the Baptist himself. Jesus is indeed like Elijah in many ways, but he is also greater that Elijah. He thus rebuked them. If even Jewish leaders will reject him, it is to be expected that Samaritans will reject him, so he counsels forbearance, allowing for the possibility of their turning later to the gospel. Jesus had also instructed his disciples to love their enemies and be merciful. He will soon teach in parable form that such love and mercy extend even to traditional enemies such as Samaritans. Therefore, a warning is acceptable, but a violent response is ruled out. Jesus and his disciples simple leave and journey to another village.
In the first dialogue someone tells Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” In reply to this idealistic but perhaps naïve statement, Jesus challenges the person to be aware of the sacrifices involved in being his disciple. If the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head, the disciple should likewise be prepared even to give up house and home. In contrast, even foxes and birds have their home in dens or nests. Jesus certainly does not preach a prosperity gospel.
In the second dialogue, Jesus takes the initiative of calling someone to follow him, as he earlier did with Levi. Th individual seems willing but delays his response, asking Jesus instead to let him go first and bury his father. Burying the dead was understood to be a religious duty, especially serious for one’s parents. Burial typically occurred the very day of death. It is not stated whether the individual’s father has already died, in which case the delay would be rather brief. If not, the request may be more of an excuse under the guise of religious obligations toward one’s family to delay indefinitely the response to Jesus’ call.
Jesus’ response permits no delay: Let the dead bury their dead. His apparently severe reminder is a way of indicating that following Jesus should be the top priority. Delaying one’s response might indicate failure to appreciate the radical nature of commitment. Even family obligations must be put in proper perspective and at times set aside or left for others who are still “dead”—in other words, those who have not yet answered Jesus’ call to discipleship.
Moreover, one who follows Jesus also shares in his mission: go and proclaim the Kingdom of God. Jesus has just sent the twelve on such a mission, and he will soon send out other disciples. Delaying one’s response would therefore also mean shirking another serious obligation-- that of proclaiming the kingdom.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Vincent Clemente