Saint John Berchmans – Readings

Commentary on 1 John 4:1-8; Luke 9:57-62

The Gospel reading from Luke describes three people who had a desire to become followers of Jesus. The passage begins with “As they were walking along the road…”
‘They’ presumably refers to Jesus with his disciples. The ‘road’ occurs frequently in the Synoptics, especially Mark, and can also be translated the ‘way’. In other words, it is the road or way that is bringing Jesus to Jerusalem and all that that means for him. And, of course, in John’s gospel Jesus tells his disciples that he is the Road or the Way (Greek, hodos, ‘). Those who want to be followers of Jesus will also have to walk this Way.
The first man who approaches Jesus says he will follow Jesus wherever he goes. It seems to be an unconditional offer. But Jesus tells him that, while foxes have their lairs and birds their nests, the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. Jesus had absolutely no property, the only clothes he had were those he was wearing and lived from day to day, even from hour to hour. And yet there is no evidence that Jesus suffered from destitution, that he had to sleep outdoors at night or that he suffered from malnutrition. He had the basics; he had what he needed and nothing more. His words to the man were a challenge to live in the same way. Whether he accepted the challenge or not we do not know. But it is a challenge being made to us also.
In the second case, the initiative comes from Jesus. He says to a man, “Follow me”. But the man answered, “Let me go first and bury my father.” This does not mean that his father has just died but more likely that he did not want to be a disciple of Jesus until after his father was dead and buried. To which Jesus replied, “Let the dead bury the dead but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” When it comes to following Jesus, it has to be done immediately; it cannot be postponed. The kingdom of God has to be live and proclaimed at once and for always. Of course, when the time comes, a man will go and bury his father but what Jesus is pointing out is that we cannot wait for uncertain events to get in the way of making the Kingdom a reality in our world.
The third agreed to follow Jesus but asked to be allowed to go back and say goodbye to his family first. Jesus’ reply is not unlike what he said to the second man: “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
One is reminded of the time that Elijah called Elishah to be his successor as prophet. Elisah replied, “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye and then I will come with you.” To which Elijah replied, “Go back.” But it is also worth noting that Elishah then slaughtered his 24 oxen and burnt his ploughs to cook the meat and gave it to the people. He then followed Elijah with nothing (cf. 1 Kings 19:19-21).
The message of Jesus is clear, one cannot compromise with following Jesus. John Berchmans made his unconditional commitment to follow Jesus all the way.
How committed is my following? What baggage do I insist on having with me?

The First Reading from the First Letter of John can be divided into two parts. The first part expresses the writer’s concern with Gnosticism which was a problem in the Church at the time the letter was written. Gnosticism tended to deny the fullness of the Incarnation, namely, by saying that the material body of Jesus was only a mirage. The passage then speaks of the way in which we can distinguish between those who are true Christians. Deception is possible in spiritual things and may be tested by its relation to Christian doctrine. Therefore, says the Letter, those who fail to acknowledge Jesus Christ truly to be in the flesh are false prophets and belong to the antichrist. Even though these false prophets are often well received in the world, the Christian who belongs to God has a greater power in the truth.
It is a question, then, of discerning which spirit one is following – the Spirit of God or a false spirit emanating from a false prophet. And so the passage states how one can recognise the Spirit of God: “every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God”. Anything else comes from the “antichrist”.
Obviously, the young John Berchmans did not have problems with Gnosticism. But, as a young Jesuit, he would have been familiar with the central place that “Discernment of Spirits” has in the spirituality of St Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. It is through this discernment that one can evaluate whether what one does is in accordance with God’s will or not.
The last two verses of the passage are the beginning of the next section of the Letter which speaks at length about the nature of Christian love. Love – the Greek word is agape (’) – is at the very heart of Christian living. This love, an unconditional reaching out for the good of the other, comes directly from God and to be without it is to be separated from God. As the Letter concludes: “Whoever is without agape-love does not know God, for God is Love”.
And it was this Love which was the motivating force in all the John did in his short Jesuit life.

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