As one of three sisters growing up in a family of all girls, it’s not surprising that we were always thinking up creative, dramatic, or silly projects to undertake. Once we had an idea, we’d get right to work, looking through our scrap boxes or find a way to re-purpose anything that we could use toward the big idea. Every summer, we’d invite neighborhood kids to come to our little “store” filled with all the projects we had made. These weren’t much to look at, but the process taught me that once we had a plan, we had to get to work right away. If we talked about an idea for too long, we’d talk ourselves out of it. We had to jump on it if we hoped to finish it.
I was reminded of this when I heard today’s Gospel reading. When I was younger, I struggled with the harsh words of Jesus until I learned of the Jewish fondness for hyperbole. Rabbis used exaggerations to startle their listeners into a change of heart or mind. Think of Jesus saying, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away” (Mt 5:30). He didn’t mean that literally, of course, but his listeners readily understood the seriousness of sin.
So I thought long and hard about today’s Gospel. What was going on when Jesus invited a man to follow him, and the man said he’d catch up when he could, but he first had to bury his father. “That sounds reasonable and right,” I thought. But Jesus responded, “Let the dead bury their dead.” Really?! Please tell me that’s hyperbole! And another man first wanted to say goodbye to his family, when Jesus replied, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” I realize that some folks don’t like long goodbyes, but no goodbye?
Hoping for some clarity, I read over the Gospel again and was struck by the opening line: “When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem . . .” I thought I was beginning to understand. For Jesus and his very purpose for coming, the time was now. Another translation reads that Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem.” No turning back. He was going to Jerusalem to be crucified, to die, to be resurrected, and to ascend to his Father―so that we might be saved. Like my sisters and I with our projects, he knew that it was important to act when the time was right.
If we want to follow Jesus, (and who else would we follow?), we must be willing to act with his timing. We must be where he is, do what he does, say what he says, go where he goes. And even when he tells us it is time to go up to Jerusalem, that’s exactly what he means. There is no room for distractions of any kind―even ones that may seem right or reasonable.
Father God, I ask for the grace to keep my eyes on your son―to follow him so closely that there is no room in my heart for wanting to look back or to be distracted by a new or different idea. Jesus is my way to your house; he is truth; he is life. Only Jesus. Purify me with the fire of your Holy Spirit that I might stay with him at all times and in all circumstances. Let my life be according to your timing, Lord, not mine.
You will show me the path to life, fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever (Psalm 16:11).