Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2:1-10a; Ps 95; Luke 9:57-62
The Gospel reading tells of three people who expressed an interest in becoming disciples of Jesus. All three get very uncompromising replies from him.
The first man seems to make an unconditional offer: “I will follow you wherever you go.” Perhaps he meant it but Jesus makes very clear what becoming a disciple means. Animals have shelters, foxes have lairs, birds have nests but the Son of Man, that is, the Son of God does not have a place to call his own. To follow Jesus means to be ready to go anywhere and to make any sacrifice necessary for the Kingdom to be proclaimed. It is the meaning of the religious ‘poverty’ that Dominic practised. It is not poverty in the sense of not having enough of the essentials of life but rather a life of utter simplicity with only the absolute essentials for life and work. It is a life of repudiating unnecessary possessions or the search for mere pleasure and indulgence. We do not know if this man did or did not follow Jesus but Jesus did not want him to be under any illusions.
It is Jesus himself who invites the second man to follow him. But he replies, “Let me go first and bury my father.” No, replies Jesus, “let the dead bury the dead. You go and proclaim the Reign of God.” This, of course, is the very essence of Jesus’ mission – to make the carrying out of God’s will a top priority in people’s lives everywhere. Jesus’ words are perhaps not to be taken literally, especially, if the man’s father has just died but it is a way of expressing the real priorities. Let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead. It is so easy for someone to think of all kinds of excuses to delay putting the living of the Gospel into practice. The man could also have meant that he was ready to become a disciple of Jesus but only after his father had died. Especially if he was the oldest son, he could have felt that burying his father was a special responsibility expected of him. But his father might not die for years to come. What is the man to be doing in the meanwhile? No, God’s call comes first.
A third man agreed to follow Jesus but first asked to say goodbye to his family. Put like this, it might seem a reasonable request. But what did saying goodbye mean for this man? How long would it take? The man must realise that commitment to the work of building the Kingdom of God is absolute. It means a commitment to a new family, the human family. Further on in this gospel, Jesus will tell the crowds who are following him enthusiastically, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” The word ‘hating’ here cannot be taken literally because it would violate Jesus’ command for us to love everyone, even enemies, unconditionally. But it does mean that our bonding to Jesus and his mission must be absolute and no one and nothing can get in the way. It is a theme which runs especially through Luke’s gospel – to follow Jesus means all or nothing. At the same time, no other gospel speaks more touchingly of the compassion and readiness to forgive of Jesus, for example, the parables of the caring shepherd, the lost coin and the lost son. They are the two sides of Jesus and they are not incompatible.
Clearly, Dominic was filled with this spirit. He was totally committed to the following of Jesus but his community also preached the love and compassion of Jesus. We, too, must combine these in our own lives.
In the First Reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians Paul says that his preaching is not based on intellectual concepts but only on the message of Jesus on the Cross. The Dominicans became famous for their preaching and their academic ability but, in the long run, it was not through this that they led people to Christ. It was not a human wisdom that they preached but rather God’s wisdom expressed by Jesus suffering and dying on the cross, something which many of the Jews and Gentiles of Paul’s time could not understand or accept.
For all of us, it is the Way of Jesus that is the true Wisdom.