If you haven’t yet done so, take a few moments to read today’s readings. Read them aloud. They are truly beautiful, poetic readings with rich and interesting messages for us. The first reading tells us the story of Nehemiah choosing to leave his comfortable position to return to his ruined ancestral city of Jerusalem to help rebuild it – a task that would involve hardship and many risks. He has to take a chance in even asking for permission to do this. Nehemiah throughout the passage, prays to God, and then voices his faith that it was God’s favorable hand that led the king and queen to say yes to his request. What a reminder to us to pray for God’s help and then to recognize God’s favorable hand! And then psalm reminds us that we, like the psalmist, are to always remember Zion – the kingdom of God.
The Gospel at first reading seems to tell us not to care about or take care of the needs of our family. Of course, Jesus is not really telling us to disregard family! There are many other scripture passages that speak of our roles and obligations as family members, and we know that we are called to fulfill these obligations.
Maybe the best way of looking at today’s reading is to see them as reflecting the radical nature of being true to God’s call. All of us at some time have to make a decision about following God. Sometimes it is going to cost us dearly. We will have to give up things that we may value deeply. We have to ask ourselves if this cost is more than I am willing to pay. The enthusiasm for beginning is there, but what are we willing to give up to stay the course? I think we often forget that it is a radical move when we follow Jesus. It’s not the way of the world, it’s not the easy path.
Today’s Gospel shows us that Jesus is calling us to put following him as our top priority. Nothing else, not burying your dead, tending to your crops, or any other task can ever be more important than following Christ. As true disciples we must accept that following Christ requires a commitment that is always our highest priority, and we must be willing to pay the cost.
Mary Lou Butler is a long-time friend and partner in ministry to the Passionists in California.