Sunday Gospel Reflection (Luke 9:51-62)
In today’s Gospel, Jesus sets the bar high for his followers. Not everyone is called to follow Christ in the same way. But we are all called to “Put on the new man in Christ.” That is, to live Christian perfection and holiness according to the circumstances of ones own life.
Jesus rebukes James and John for suggesting that they “Call down fire from heaven” to scorch a Samaritan village, because they have not assimilated the Gospel message of mercy, forgiveness, and peace. Because of our human passions and self-interest, we all deserve this rebuke from time to time, e.g., when we curse people in traffic, deal harshly with our spouse or children, spread gossip that threatens our neighbor’s reputation. When we call ourselves Christian, we assume a great responsibility to behave like Christians and treat others as Christ would treat them: “Put on the new man in Christ” (Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 2:10).
Jesus’ response to his would be follower, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head,” means if you want to follow me you have to become like me. Christ’s challenge tests our resolve to move beyond the mere desire to follow him and prove where our heart truly resides. Today’s culture of comfort seeking and pleasure runs contrary to Christ’s call and can be an impediment to following him if we are not prepared to put aside our criteria to live the Gospel.
“Let the dead bury the dead.” In response to a young man who wishes to bury his father, our Lord’s words could sound like a dispensation from the fourth commandment, “Honor your mother and father.” Rather, it is a reminder that the first three commandments before this one tell us to love God above all things. We must also bear in mind that Jesus gives this response to a man who says, “I will follow you, but…” God will never ask of us to take on any more than we can possibly handle. When doing God’s will seems too difficult to manage, the Lord invites us to examine our own expectations and limitations more carefully in order to discern whether we have understood his plans for us. He won’t set us up for failure.
Jesus’ invitation to “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” is a universal call to holiness. Every man and woman is called to holiness according to his or her state in life. What makes this task seem impossible is that no one can accomplish this on their own. This is why Jesus tells his followers, “If you want to be perfect, follow me.”
Being holy is not measured by how much we do or even how much we pray, but rather the extent to which we identify our criteria and ourselves with Jesus Christ within the circumstances of our ordinary everyday lives.