Amos 2:6-10, 13-16
Today’s gospel selection is very brief. In the context of Matthew’s narrative, Jesus is establishing his credibility as "Son of Man", as the expected Messiah, as someone whom the people can approach for wise teaching ("Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go."), and for the miraculous signs of God’s favor (the preceding cures, including that of Peter’s mother-in-law).
As a young boy, I can remember my reacting to the harshness of Jesus’ response to the anonymous disciple’s entreaty, "Lord, let me go first and bury my father." It did indeed seem un-caring of Jesus to insist on fidelity to himself against the fidelity one owed one’s own parents. "Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead" seemed too binding a command to be followed by someone with genuine affection for his father."
Even then I could remember when my parents received word that my great-grandmother had died in El Paso, Texas. I was only about 9 years old, but my parents pulled the kids out of school, and loaded up the 1938 Plymouth (leaking gas tank considered a peril to be endured because of the urgency of the trip) with kids and sandwiches and sodas, as we headed east through the desert to El Paso. It was a witness of the family ties that could not be ignored or dismissed.
But Jesus said: "Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead."
My eyes began to open to the meaning of Jesus’ words when later in my elementary education, shortly before graduating from Resurrection School, the father of my Franciscan Sister classroom teacher died in Switzerland. There was never any question but that she would continue teaching us day after day, and her father would be buried without his missionary Sister daughter’s presence. As a matter of fact, I still remember that her family sent her a photograph of her father in his casket, and she shared that photograph with us. It was the first time I’d seen such a photograph.
Long afterwards, as I began to have more contact with missionaries-Passionists and others, I realized how common it was for many family events to pass by without the missionary’s coming home to share in the family grief, or the family celebration. The commitment to the missionary life, the commitment to the community in which one served, the desire to follow Jesus wherever His path would lead one, these are the priorities of the Gospel and of the disciple of Jesus.
The parallel passage in Luke 9:57-62 ends with the familiar admonition, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is worthy of the kingdom of God."
This is the message of today’s Gospel passage: Jesus, who has no place to call his own, calls us to follow him, to take on the mission of announcing the Kingdom, and we are not guaranteed that our life will have the conventional dimensions of one who picks and chooses his engagements. To follow Jesus is to embark on a life-long following of Him who is our life’s purpose and completion. The true disciple does not look back because he has already discovered that life lies in the direction he has taken in the following of Jesus, the Christ. God will not disappoint.
Fr. Arthur Carrillo, C.P. is the director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness for Holy Cross Province. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.