I love my car, and I love driving my car, but driving has become a near occasion of sins against charity for me. I tend to be a pretty intent driver (sounds better than intense), partly because I have been conditioned so by my parents, and also my driver’s education teacher, who also happened to be the football coach at my high school, so you can imagine he used to be pretty intense. It’s because of those things that it drives me crazy when I’m driving along on the highway and somebody happens to be going 45 mph because they’re trying to forward pictures of cats to their friends on their cell phone! Do you ever see that someone’s car is dented up and as you drive by, they’re brushing their teeth and trimming their beard at the same time? And then do you think, “Oh wow, those dents actually make a lot of sense to me now!” It seems that for some people, the drive is all that matters to them – the music, the e-mail, the beard, etc, and getting to their destination in one piece is kind of a bonus.
Where am I going with this? Well, partly it makes me feel better to vent, but I think it also has a little something to say as an example of priorities. Today, we hear Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, where he just foretold last week that he will suffer and die. On his way, he’s preaching and proclaiming the Kingdom, and gathering followers. But today’s reading focuses not so much on those that followed Jesus, but on those that didn’t and why. First, we have a man who says, “I will follow you wherever you go,” to which Jesus responds, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” These animals set their nests up so that they have somewhere to return at the end of the day to rest and relax. In a way, this man is willing to follow Jesus wherever it takes him, but he wants someplace to return to at the end of the day, and Jesus reminds us that a disciple’s resting place is in heaven. Next, we have a man who tells him, “Let me first go and bury my father,” to which Jesus responds, “Let the dead bury their dead, but you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” The man sees the Kingdom as something secondary, that his family is the first and most important thing, but Jesus is pointing out that for a disciple, the Kingdom is his primary responsibility. The third man says, “I will follow you, Lord, but first, let me say farewell to my family at home,” to which Jesus replies, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God.” The man wants to be sure that his family will be ok, to make sure that they will remember him after he has gone, to make sure that his sons and daughters carry on his legacy. But Jesus says that he’s acting like a person who plows a field and looks behind them to see all the work they have done. He’s pointing out that discipleship isn’t about where we have gone, but where we are going.
Yikes. I guess we can tell why St. Theresa of Avila said, “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so many enemies!” It seems pretty harsh, because all the things that these near-disciples want to do are good things – they want to be good sons and good fathers. They want to be sure that their future is secure, and that their families will be ok. Those are admirable things! I think the Gospel is bringing out these rather harsh examples as hyperbole – to prove a point about what it means to be a disciple, what it costs to be a disciple.
We try in as much as possible to do things so that we are rewarded with something to make our lives better, and more liveable. We want to hand things on to our children better than we ourselves had. And we figure that if we make things well, if we dedicate ourselves well, that when the job is done, we will inherit the just reward that comes from that, so that our retirement in our last days will be in good shape. We’ll have a place to grow old, we’ll have the gratitude of family, so that people will take care of us. We’ll have the legacy we left behind, so that people will remember us. But Christ is showing us that discipleship is that transition from preparing to be rewarded in this life to preparing to receive the reward of the life to come. All the things I mentioned that we work for are good things. They are what good and virtuous people strive for – the love of family, preparedness, a legacy of goodness. But it doesn’t go quite far enough. Sometimes the tendancy is to think that doing good will reap it’s benefits in this life, and that heaven is just circumstantial, that it’s a bonus round or something. It’s like a person climbing to the top of a mountain, and then looking back down the mountain to admire what they had done to get there, rather than being in awe of the view at the top.
But that’s not the goal of a disciple. The goal of a disciple is always one step further. The goal of a disciple is not of this world. You don’t see the saints doing what they did so that they would have nice homes to relax in at the end of their lives. You don’t see them doing it so that they have churches named after them or statues built for them. You don’t see saints doing what they did so that we remember how awesome they were, their legacy, for one day out of the year. They did it for one goal, and one goal only – for Christ. Think of it as a glorious crown. Sometimes we might think that those different accomplishments are all jewels in the victorious crown of life, and that our faith in Christ is one more, even the most prominent jewel. But I think what the Gospel shows us today is that Christ isn’t a jewel – he is the crown. All the other elements of life are valuable jewels and draw even more attention to the crown itself. As the psalm today says, “You are my inheritance, O Lord.” These other things are signs that you love me, and they are worth caring about and loving, but you are my inheritance, O Lord.
Lord, today, give us the grace to be able to put you as the focus and reward of our lives. Help us to have that eternal perspective that places all else into relationship with you. Help us to give thanks for what you have blessed us with, but help us to respond to you as truly God-centered disciples as we respond, “You are my inheritance, O Lord.”