1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
What does it mean to be a follower of Christ? It is a question I have asked myself a lot as of late. Today’s gospel provides an answer-put Christ first.
I’ll be truthful. I never liked this gospel. What I mean is, I never could really allow myself to hear Christ’s message because it was just too hard to hear. In the passage from Luke, three men pledge themselves to our Lord: "I will follow you wherever you go." But each of them has something important they need to take care of before they accompany Christ on his journey. One must bury his father, the other would like to say goodbye to his family. These seem like pretty reasonable requests, don’t you think? Our kind and loving Lord surely would not refuse such honorable appeals-to care for one’s dead father especially. But the responsibility of discipleship must come before all else. "Let the dead bury their dead," he tells the man.
I suppose you could think that our Lord was being cruel. (I know I did.) Here is a son devoted to his family, someone who wants to do what he believes is right by his father. But our Lord dismisses the request. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the request involves death of a parent-surely, what could be more significant, more important than this? The answer of course is that if we put loyalty to others before our commitment to Christ, we have already failed. Christ cannot ever come in second, no matter how important the earthly obligation may seem. In other words, are we willing to sacrifice everything to follow our Lord?
Let’s be honest. I am not so sure. I lost my father last year, and I am certain that nothing but God Himself coming down from heaven could have kept me from his burial. That’s what makes it even harder. Our family and friends are here on this earth loving us, caring for us. It is real and tangible and "external," while our relationship with Christ is not anything we can see in such a human, earthly way. Our Lord asks a great deal of us. He asks us to make these sacrifices based on faith.
To the man who asks to go back and bid his family farewell, Christ answers: "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God." Christ is certainly not mincing words today! Don’t look behind. Don’t look anywhere but straight ahead at the goal of eternal life. So many things threaten to distract us from this goal. If we look towards these other things, we lose the path to Christ. The objective of being a true disciple of Christ is not a trifling matter. We can’t just stop along the way and pause while we advance our career, make a million dollars, judge our neighbor, or any of the various other things that divert our attention. Christ did not let anything distract him from his path-the path that ultimately led to his death and our salvation.
Yes the sacrifices are great. Yes, it is difficult and challenging. Yes, we will continuously fail. Yes, our human desires and attachments will get the better of us. What we must remember is that by putting Christ first in our lives, everything else will be better. Chores and responsibilities and stresses, and yes, even people, will find their proper place. All we can do is remember what Christ gave for us and what he promises in return.
Marlo Serritella is a former staff member of the Holy Cross Province Development Office in Chicago.