THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2019)
1 Kings 19:16-21
Psalms 16:1-2, 5, 7-11
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
After Lent, a full Easter season, and several weekend solemnities, our return, once again, to Ordinary Time seems a little disjointed. The liturgical flow of the mystery of our salvation, Christ’s Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension, points in a particularly forward direction, and yet our gospel passage from Luke today takes us back to Jesus’ resolute decision to journey to Jerusalem where His mission would find its fulfillment. The disciples left their familiar Galilean territory and entered a Samaritan village to prepare for Jesus’ arrival, but the townspeople were less than welcoming on account of Jesus’ “destination,” Jerusalem. When the “sons of thunder,” James and John, saw the poor reception they were getting, they asked Jesus if they could annihilate the rude people: “do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” What? The disciples are with the “Prince of Peace” and the very “Son of God,” and they ask Jesus for permission to kill the Samaritans? Where were the disciples when Jesus healed the leper and the Centurion’s (a Roman) servant, called the tax collector Levi, preached the Sermon on the Mount (especially the part about “loving your enemies”), and told them “do not judge, and you will not be judged”? Surely, James and John were there when Jesus allowed the “sinful” woman to anoint his feet with oil? Did the disciples think that Jesus was going to say “Yes, let’s show those Samaritans a thing or two”?
Those closest to Jesus so often baffle us, for we would like to think that being in Jesus’ presence, hearing him speak as passionately and lovingly as He did, would make it easy for anyone to know and follow the ways of the Lord. One senses that Jesus, too, is baffled, for the gospel tells us that He turned and gave them a look, and “rebuked” the disciples. More than once in the gospels, most notably with Peter at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus appears frustrated that His teaching seems to have fallen on deaf ears. No matter how close a person might think they are to Jesus, no matter how often they have the privilege of hearing the gospels proclaimed, there is no assurance that they will do, are doing, the will of God, for merely hearing the Word of God is not enough.
The disciples were no doubt as biased and idiosyncratic as anyone of us, and for most of these rough hewn fishermen, getting even or settling disputes had more to do with flexing one’s muscles than with some erudite discussion around a table. Indeed, sometimes, whether you are a bishop, a president, a pastor, or the head of a condo association, you just want to get even. But Jesus subtly reminds us in today’s gospel that getting even or settling disputes with violence of any kind is thoroughly contrary to what the gospel demands of us. James and John were no doubt succumbing to the prevailing attitudes of the day when they suggested annihilation as an appropriate response to people’s rudeness. But living the gospel, which is counter cultural, would have us resist the temptation to respond as most in the world would respond. So much of living the Christian life is a repudiation of the simplistic argument that “everybody’s doing it.” Even were that true, it doesn’t mean that everyone should be doing it.
We are meant to listen to, not just hear, the gospel proclaimed at every Eucharist in a way that makes it become a very part of our being. In choosing to follow Jesus, we must be as resolute as Jesus was in traveling to Jerusalem, with our hearts intent on living the life Jesus taught us how to live. By making the gospel message an integral part of our lives we will be able to resist the prevailing attitudes of the day which tempt us to respond to life in ways that are contrary to the gospel. By us truly living the gospel, other men and women will come to know the overwhelming love of a generous God who has called us to follow in His footsteps.