Mount Calvary Monastery, Santa Barbara, CA
Br. Roy Parker, OHC
Proper 8 Year C, Sunday 01 July 2007
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9: 51-62
The gospel passage begins with an incident of a Samaritan village which refuses to receive Jesus because they saw that his intention was to proceed to Jerusalem. One could call this an early incident of Middle Eastern sectarian rivalry. James’ and John’s proposal of fire from heaven alludes to a similar incident in the life of Elijah: The king sent to Elijah a captain of fifty with his fifty men. He went up to Elijah, who was sitting on the top of a hill, and said to him, “O man of God, the king says, ‘Come down.’” But Elijah answered the captain of fifty, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then fire came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty. This is repeated with another detachment of fifty soldiers, just to drive the point home. Jesus makes it clear that he’s playing by different rules when he rebukes the disciples in an alternate reading of the text, “You do not know what spirit you are of, for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them.”
The rebuke is a correction of the disciples who do not yet comprehend what his mission is about. He refuses to be identified with Elijah as the fiery reformer. He refuses to have anything to do with this sort of reaction of human beings, even when they are hostile to him. In effect, he is exemplifying a teaching of the sermon on the plain. “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other as well. If someone would take your cloak from you, do not hinder the taking of your tunic as well.” Rather than understanding his mission as that of a fiery reformer of the last days, Jesus sees his role as the embodiment of the divine blessings promised to be shed on the unfortunate of human society by Isaiah. John the Baptizer initially regarded Jesus as one who would further what he had begun, “someone more powerful than I,” the “One who is to come.” Jesus now makes it clear that he carries no axe or winnowing fan, cleans no eschatological threshing-floor, and burns no chaff. Instead, he cures, frees, resuscitates; he cares for the blind, cripples, lepers, deaf, and even the dead; and he preaches God’s good news to the poor.
The gospel passage continues with some instructional vignettes for would-be followers of Jesus, pretty much to the effect that adherence and devotion to him is not at all a good retirement plan. “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” My teachers have interpreted this to mean that the holiness and character of Jesus were such as to cause him to be, inevitably, extruded from society. Then there are the, frankly, impossible sayings which state that a follower’s service to the Kingdom of God overrules such works of mercy as the paying of due respect to one’s ancestor, burial of one’s father, and the bidding of farewell to one’s kin and friends. I am inclined to place these latter two in the category of the so-called Semitisms uttered by Jesus which make the point by their extreme way of putting it. Elsewhere in this gospel Jesus says of the cost of discipleship,”Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” I am given to understand that this Semitic style of language rather has to do with preference than despite, which would be consonant with the character of Jesus already described. In other words, Whoever comes to me and does not prefer me to father and mother, does not prefer me to wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and does not prefer me even to life itself, cannot be my disciple. One might be reminded of the devotion of Rumi to his teacher whose eventual going away from him produced the body of love poetry flowing from Rumi’s grief of the loss.
Our story is in part about the conversion of heart and expectation in the disciple, about entering the school of discipleship with a certain set of expectations, obviously, and discovering that somewhere along the line our heart and expectations, perforce, become other than when we began, and probably detected rather by others than ourselves who may tell us that we seem much happier than we used to be.
It’s sort of like how one acquires a black belt in martial arts. You may think that a black belt is a badge of master rank in martial arts, bestowed at the conclusion of years of practice with a teacher. Well, yes and no. Originally the black belt was the condition gained by a student’s fabric belt which became black through years of hanging around the practice hall with what that entailed of learning the moves, cleaning the premises and waiting on the teacher. This is not a bad analogy of Christian discipleship, a lifetime of learning the moves, cleaning the premises and waiting on the teacher. In this case we discover unimagined shades of blackness in our belt which has gone from off-white to gray, to blue-black, to midnight black, to, my heavens, who knows what. In the process it may seem that our heart is being plunged into something like darkness, being wrapped around with a kind of black belt, but so long as it’s God’s darkness, God’s blackness, it’s a band of love and healing, In the process our heart is going from, relatively speaking, stone to something else, thank God, whose destiny is not for us to fathom. It is enough for you and I to continue hanging around the practice hall, perfecting the moves, cleaning the premises and waiting on the teacher.