Sunday, 27 June 2010

'Let the dead bury their own dead'

(Part of) This morning's homily

Today's Gospel ends with Our Lord’s warning that 'no one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.' We are told twice in today's Gospel reading that he 'set his face toward Jerusalem'. In other words, to do his Father's will he had to steel himself for the fate that awaited him in the city that kills the prophets of the Lord.
‘Looking back’ is very often our answer to the fear we experience in looking ahead to an uncertain future. But it’s clear that we are being told that as disciples of Christ we, too,  have to steel ourselves for what is coming rather than trying to cocoon ourselves in memories of what has been. That’s the meaning, I think, of Jesus’ shocking comment: “Let the dead bury their own dead.”
Obviously the past can be a refuge for us only because it is so easily manipulated by what we think we need now. If only, we think, things were like they were, say, twenty, fifty, a hundred or five hundred years ago and everything would be fine. In a way it’s exactly the kind of manipulation that the two would-be disciples in this morning’s Gospel are trying to exercise - control over events. 'Let me do this first, then I'll join you,' they say to Jesus, ‘not now but when I’m ready.” The problem is we may never be ready, or at least never believe ourselves to be. The call of God can’t be deferred. God’s will - in whatever way he makes it known to us - can’t be just slotted in to our own existing plans and desires. He has a way of changing them.
What the Gospel is saying to us is that we can’t come to God with our own agendas - expecting him to fit in with our clearly mapped out ideas for our own future.
It's our own agendas which so often make us unfit for the kingdom of God.
We want to be part of it, we pray for it to come, but only when we're ready and only when we have the time, and only when it fits in with our own desires. Jesus, the Incarnate Word, who has no agenda but his Father's, doesn’t try to bargain or exercise control over what is going on. His face is already set towards Jerusalem, he knows he hasn't time.
But when we talk of past, present and future, we, as part of the Church, do so in subtly different ways from the culture surrounding us. The past isn’t dead and buried; those who have gone before us live, as we do, in Christ. The Communion of Saints isn’t an abstract concept but immersion in an ever- present reality. That has to make our perspective somehow different. The past speaks to us not as something irrelevant and which has completely passed away, but as something which is always with us. The Risen Christ transcends the limitations of time and space and, so do we, as part of his Body. We have to be on our guard against the modern temptation in society and Church alike to sweep the past aside as if it had no living voice of its own or nothing to say to our present and our future.
As those who are journeying towards the heavenly Jerusalem we need to have a firm grip on the past in order to be guided safely into the future God wants for us. We are part of a living stream of faith, belief and practice - a tradition - however unfashionable that may sound. but it literally means something handed down across the centuries of human experience - the things which have stood the test of time, in our sense things which have stood the test of prayer and lived experience - those things which show us the living face of Christ. We don’t try to preserve the past in ‘a negative culture’ but to take the living past with us into a future in which the Gospel of Christ can be proclaimed positively and without hesitation or subtraction or reservation.
Yet of course it is true that the Kingdom is never behind us, it is never in the past. It is ahead of always and the voice of Christ our Lord calls us on. When we say that the Catholic faith is an historic faith, we mean that something has happened in the past which clearly and explicitly determines our present and our future. In other words God has revealed himself to us in Christ and the consequences of that are inescapable and not conditioned by the passing of time.
The Gospel today has snatches of three conversations between Jesus and those who hear his call. They want to follow him but, as we said, first they ask to be allowed to do something else.
Jesus, though, remains quite unmoved - no, he says come now, nothing else matters. The response seems harsh, but the mission of proclaiming the kingdom is urgent and can’t be put off. He doesn't offer them security or permanence. He offered them the clarity of a relationship; he still does.
Even if permanence is an impossibilty in 'this fleeting world,' some security is important to us. In a way it should be. It seems right and natural that we would want a certain amount of security for ourselves and those closest to us. But Jesus’ response to that is the reminder that he himself had no place to rest his head. He  offers security to our souls and that only through our participation in his death and resurrection.
We all have our excuses and very often they are good ones too. Most of the time we don’t need them anyway because we are called to follow him in tried and tested ways within the boundaries of the familiar - that’s where we find God most of the time: in the ordinary but extraordinarily valuable things of life. But sometimes, just sometimes, in times of crisis or disruption or controversy, when in the course of a generation well-evolved structures of faith and believing, and history and tradition come tumbling down around us, then we are called just to trust, and where Christ leads, to follow.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you: that's very helpful, and miles better than my homily today.


Anonymous comments will not be published