Reflection on the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today, as we try to adjust to the ongoing presence of Covid, there are many uncertainties. One thing, however, seems to be abundantly clear: People are ready to move on — go somewhere — take a trip — in spite of high fares, fluctuating schedules and soaring gas prices. Our readings today are also about destinations and invitations to travel.
In the Gospel, Jesus is resolutely determined to go to Jerusalem. This will not be an ordinary trip there and back. This trip is being taken with the single-minded purpose of doing whatever needs to be done to reveal God’s love for humanity. In identifying Jesus as the “Son of Man,” Luke traces his lineage back to Adam, the first human being. In other words, we’re back to the drawing board. Jesus is poised to make a new beginning; to lead us where we have never been before to do what we have never been able to do. “Foxes have dens and birds have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Jesus has no earthly blueprint to follow. This journey, as we know, will culminate in a salvific act of love which will change the trajectory of human history.
As usual, his companions are clueless about the meaning and importance of the journey. One of the first lessons to be clearly understood is that the wielding of power in violence and vengeance by calling down fire on the opposition does not and will never have any place in God’s plan even though it has been used as a devastating weapon from the beginning of time up to the invasion of Ukraine.
To the prospective follower who volunteered to come along, Jesus displayed absolute truth in advertising. The urgency to proclaim the presence of the kingdom of God brooks no compromise and calls for a dedication and a fidelity which are counter-cultural and even runs contrary to natural human instincts for preservation, familial connections, safety and comfort. To the person who asked to first merely say farewell to his/her family, Jesus gave an answer which was swift and blunt: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” The message is clear: Those who choose to follow Jesus can know exactly what it will cost.
There have been some people as we know who have accepted the invitation with radical focus and energy and have streaked across time to an early death. Most people, however, seem to choose to come along in a more deliberate stride. The destination is always the same— a place of priorities, a place of nowhere which is beyond calculations and measurements — a place of trust and surrender—a place of contemplation and action. The first graduates from this school of discipleship teach us a lot about what not to do. They were slow to comprehend, they quarreled about who was the greatest, some deserted and betrayed him, and they all considered the first news of the Resurrection to be “idle talk.” Yet, even though they did not set the bar very high, they did witness to a patient, merciful and loving God.
In his book “Merton’s Palace of Nowhere,” James Finley explores Merton’s understanding of the spiritual journey, and it is less about what I think I should do and more about what I am willing to allow God to empower me to do in the school of contemplation. “We are called to face God alone in the night of our own solitude. We are called to die with Jesus in order to live with Him. We are asked to lose all, to be emptied out, in order to be filled with the very fullness of God.” Finally, our constitutions- entitled I Am the Way, remind us that we, too, are on a journey, and perhaps we, like Merton, sometimes feel like praying his prayer: “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. … I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you. … I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. … I know you will lead me on the right road. … I will not fear for you are always with me. Amen