February 19, 2023 “The Journey To Jerusalem.”
This evening, tomorrow, and Thursday, we are going to make a pilgrimage, a journey to Jerusalem along with Jesus and his disciples. Chapters 9 to 19 of Luke’s Gospel are a single unit in which Luke has Jesus gather about him those who closest and most faithful; those he would now instruct in a very direct and personal way. Jesus has finished his mission to the crowds, and he sets face toward Jerusalem knowing fairly well what would happen there. As yet, the disciples do not know, and perhaps that is better since they listen more openly without any great anxiety about what is going to happen at the end of the journey.
While we are together these three evenings, I am going to read those ten chapters to you, and we will imagine that we are walking along on the way to Jerusalem, which for us these days is Holy Week. The verses of these chapters will come up again during the summer months of this year, and perhaps having listened and prayed our way through these chapters now, they come alive like never before when you hear them in the summer.
What Jesus does is propose some virtues that are necessary for being faithful followers and for remaining his disciples. In some of the episodes, those virtues are very obvious, in a few it will take some reflection to understand what he proposes. As I have lived with these verses and preached from them for 45 years, I have come up with a list of 19 virtues or characteristics by which we can identify disciples of Jesus Christ. At the end of the evening, I am going to pass out a list of them, and you can use that list to guide yourself and to listen to these chapters on your own. I would suggest that you will get more out of this mission if your read those ten chapters with the list at your side tomorrow and the next day while you are at home. Just to get you started, the characteristics I see that Jesus proposes and the virtues he would want in his disciples are: Poverty, Joy, Mercy, Hospitality, Persevering, Rich Fearless, Zealous Saved Humble, Prudent, Watchful, Wise, Aware, Dutiful, Grateful, Persistent, Justified, and Repentant. Let’s get started and watch how this unfolds.
Read 9: 51-62.
Now those who would follow Jesus are a people called to poverty. They are not called to take on a second job, but rather to make following Jesus everything so completely, that it reorders all other duties. “I will be your follower wherever you go.” Says that man who speaks for us, and the response of Jesus proposes Poverty. Now the “poverty” that Jesus commends to his followers is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved. Poverty in the Gospel is not a social problem, some ill to be solved, cured, and wiped out by an economic system that is “just” The poverty that makes us uneasy, stirs our passion, and calls into question our economics, laws and our consumer culture is an issue of Justice. Poverty that Jesus commends to his followers is a way of life, not a problem to be solved. One is the consequence of injustice, the other is a consequence of a life style and a new way of relating to things and to others.
There is a test of poverty. It has nothing to do with annual income. It has to do with what can be shared. If your car is too expensive to let someone use, it’s too expensive. If your computer is too delicate for anyone else to use, it’s too good. If your sweater is too good for your sister to wear, it’s too good. The point is not that you have a certain make and model of car, or computer, or designer named sweater. The point is, if any of it separates you from your neighbor, it is a violation of poverty. This has nothing to do with what you may own or how much, but the moment it become a problem, you’re in gospel trouble. You see, it’s not about justice, it is about poverty.
It might be “just” to say that someone doesn’t have the ear to use your stereo because they do not share your refined taste. It might be “just” to think that someone is too fat to look good in your sweater, and all that may be true. But, you are not poor at that point, you are just truthful. The moment you start finding reasons for not sharing what you have, you are no longer living the virtue of poverty which Jesus proposes is essential for those who would follow him. You may have good taste. You may have good sense. You may be law-abiding, honest, and truthful, but you are not poor, and you are in trouble with the Gospel. We are not called to be caseworkers making decisions about who should have what, who deserves what, and what will help someone and what will not. That is what social agencies do. What is asked of us is compassion which is an expression of poverty. God is poor; God shares the sun and the rain on good and bad alike.
Life today is complicated, but the Gospel is not complicated for those who believe. Jesus still looks for some to follow him, to live the mystery of poverty. Let’s keep moving along with Jesus.
Read 10, 1-12 and 17-20
Notice how Jesus sends them out – with nothing: poor. With nothing to worry about, nothing to lose, nothing to pack, carry, or slow them down, they are free. And that quality of freedom from worry and the possessive concerns that seem to weigh down the rich whose stuff is too good to loan and share is called JOY. Notice that attitude in the disciples when they return. It says, “they returned rejoicing.” Then, lest they think that the joy has something to do with what they have done, Jesus goes on immediately to say: “Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” You see, it is who they are that matters, no what they do. This was for them, and is still for us a constant challenge. We keep getting the WHAT mixed up with the WHO, and so we shape our identity by what we do rather than by who we are. This starts a bad cycle of thinking. We measure our worth or the worth of another by what we earn, where we work, what we have accomplished, what we drive and how big the house is.
This thinking is at odds with the Gospel. Discipleship is not so much what we do as who we are. Being a disciple is what we must become, and that happens first by what we are not by what we do. If it’s just a matter of doing something, then discipleship is just another job, one more thing on the list of what have to get done. The doing comes from the being.
Not too long ago I was listening to a eulogy at a funeral home in Norman, and someone was speaking about the deceased. On and on it went about what the man had done, where he worked, for whom, and for how long. I began to think I was going to be the next on dead before he sat down! I was groaning inside because that was not who that man was, all that talk was what he did, and the man we were honoring was far more than where he worked. To me that was all insignificant since I never knew the man until he had retired. He was a holy man, a just man, a kind man. Those things had nothing to do with his work and what his job accomplished.
Disciples of Jesus are full of joy sent on a mission as emissaries of God. What Christ wants is that others will see him in us. But what does the world get? It is a troubling question. A world that longs for a loving, forgiving God of mercy too often gets a God of judgment, revenge, and punishment. A world that longs for a God of patience and understanding often gets intolerance and impatience. As disciples we re called to be poor, and the consequence of that poverty when we embrace it is Joy. We have Joy because we are free of anxious concerns and worries about things that have nothing to do with who we are; that have nothing to do with the wonderful news that our names are written in heaven. Poverty and Joy are the first two attitudes by which the disciple lives in this world.
Read 10, 25-37
Poverty, Joy, and now Mercy. Disciples of Jesus know this quality deep within their being. It is a quality of generosity and compassion. It is not just exceptional moments or a response to disasters, but a quality that is consistent and present all the time. The disciple of Jesus does not just show up when a tornado blows through. Nor do they just learn the name of a neighbor when their house burns down. They are always aware of human need, and never measure out limits to their compassion, concern, and assistance. “Take care of him. If there is more cost I will repay you upon my return.” It is never a matter of whether or not those in need deserve assistance. The disciple of Jesus is not a social worker concerned with the solutions of social problems. The disciple of Jesus knows Mercy, and can see the face of God in another human being, and they will not pass by. Mercy is that quality of love and compassion when there is every reason for there to be none.
Random acts of kindness can generate a tidal wave of goodness. There is a story told about a woman who drove up to a toll booth and handed the attendant the money for seven cars instead of just her own. “I’m paying for mine and the next six cars.” she said. As each car pulled up to the booth, the attendant announced, “The lady in the red car paid your toll. Have a nice day.” That is simply samaritan love at work: Mercy. The lady had no idea who was behind her. It did not make any difference. The story of Samaritan Love offers a challenge to all who believe in Jesus Christ and would be his disciples to make the practice of random acts of kindness their routine, not an occasional exception; the rule of their lives, not just at toll booths, but hour by hour on the phone, at the desk, in the car, at the table, in the classroom, or in the kitchen, wherever there is another in whom we may see the face of God. Mercy is indiscriminate, or it isn’t Mercy at all. It does not measure or limit. It is never exclusive nor reserved for someone special. Mercy for a disciple of Jesus, is something very near, already in our mouths, and in our hearts, and it simply waits to be carried out.
Read: 10, 38-42
Disciples of Jesus are poor, joyful, merciful, and hospitable. They never forget that they are perpetual guests of a loving and divine host. As guests, our possessiveness and proprietary attitude toward this world’s goods and resources are kept in check. As disciples we are clear in our minds and hearts that it is the Word of God that really provides nourishment for us, and a life devoted to hearing that word is the first of all concerns. In some ways, Martha and Mary might be seen as one person – the disciple who received Jesus Christ. There is a balance proposed here between doing and being, the disciple knows the difference.
In an age and culture that glorifies the workaholic, and rewards with high praise (and usually low wages) t hose who revel in 60 and 70 hour work weeks, there is a serious challenge deep in this story. Work becomes an idol because it can produce the much sough-after prized of comfort, pleasure, and success. In the meantime relationships disintegrate, not just the relationship with God, but between parents and children and between spouses and neighbors as well.
A call to integrate work and play, or action and prayer is what disciples of Jesus hear in this Gospel walking with Jesus to Jerusalem. Having just told the story of Mercy in the Good Samaritan parable, Jesus quickly reminds us that this discipleship is not all about doing, it is also about being. In this case, being hospitable, being good guests, and gracious hosts. So often in other places in the Gospels, Jesus arrives as the guest, and ends up acting the host. His disciples living his example can hardly not be the same.
Read: 11, 1-13
Poverty, Joy, Mercy, Hospitality, and one more for tonight. At first glance you might want to think it’s prayerfulness, but that’s too easy, and that is something to be presumed. I do not think the disciples are asking Jesus to give them words. They know how to pray. They all grew up in a synagogue. They want to know the secret of successful prayer. They have seen it at work in Jesus, and they want to know the secret, and that secret is perseverance. The real secret to effective prayer is not using the right words, the right formula, or the right sequence of days and dates. It is perseverance in the relationship no matter how things are going.
Everything in our culture and this age would make this look foolish. Throwing away relationships that fail to make us feel good all the time, a relentless search and demand for perfection in others, and a growing sense of entitlement that makes us impatient and intolerant of anything that is slow or a pleasure that is not instant make the disciple whose life is formed around perseverance loo oddly out of place. But so it shall be for those who have set their face on Jerusalem and chosen to be formed by Jesus Christ along the way.
Those who say, “Lord, teach us to pray,” are not seeking a repetition of words, but a breakthrough to the one thing necessary to keep them on their journey. It is the one unique element of Luke’s lesson on this issue, and constant theme in his whole Gospel: the Holy Spirit. That is what will be given to those who ask, the very Spirit and Life of God. It won’t be a matter of the little things with which we all sometimes clutter up our prayers: with passing wants, needs, and fears. It will be the Spirit who can and will sustain us through all temptations, trials, and fears. This is what Jesus has ultimately come to give us, to teach us, and share with us. Perhaps the best prayer of all, and the most sincere prayer is not, “Our Father who art in heaven….” but, “Come Holy Spirit.”
Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament now takes place
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Read: 12, 32-48
Fearless is the disciple of Jesus, and this stop on the Jerusalem journey with Jesus gives us the next attribute I want to talk about with you. If you did some reading on your own, you may notice that I skipped one from the list, “rich.” Three nights will just not get through every one in great detail, but if you read the Gospel text, you know that just before this passage in chapter twelve, there has been a lesson through a great parable about a man whose life is empty in spite of all his accumulated things. He is a fool because he can think about is how to hang on to it. The disciple of Jesus knows how to set worthy priorities. Disciples know that they are recipient of many gifts, none of which is their own possession; that everything belongs to God and simply on loan for a very short time for the sake of completing the mission of Jesus. What we carry into the next life is what we have done with what we have been given. The disciple uses what they have not to get more, but to be more: more faithful, more generous, more like God, more concerned, and more responsible for the needs of an another.
So now we come the next attribute of a disciple: fearlessness. If we observe the earliest human behavior in the youngest of children, the first fear deep in the human psyche is the fear of abandonment: the fear of being alone. It prompts the first human cry, and it is soothed only by the reassurance of touch. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to remember our own early and lasting fear. That fear of being alone quickly causes other fears. If I’m alone, then no one is going to take care of me. If I’m alone, no one is going to feed me, give me shelter, protect me. Behavior, then begins to address the fear.
If I am alone or might be alone, then I had better take care of myself. The fear that once alone there might not be enough of whatever I am needing triggers the hoarding, the possessiveness, and all kinds of aggressive behavior and attitudes. These are addressed by Jesus in the verses we just heard. Sell and Give are the directives easy only for those without fear. The confidence that,a even if we feel alone, the master will return, calms the anxious disciple with the assurance that there is always plenty. An “inexhaustible treasure” is the way Jesus refers to what awaits those who will live without fear.
That church Luke is writing to at first was surely troubled and anxious about the absence of Jesus. Slow to believe, slow to trust that Spirit which could settle their fears and their sense of Christ’s absence, this story give us Luke’s counsel to those who have coming anxious in the waiting, and are troubled by doubt and fear. The disciple without fear attends, waits, watches for the Master’s return, confident that it shall happen, and that all will be well.
The life Jesus calls us to would certainly be frightening if we were to be in it alone. But he never asks that. The community he builds with his words is not based in this world of fear and hoarding, but in the one true home to which he calls us. In that place we do not need all the things we are told daily we must have out of fear that we will have to take care of ourselves because no one else will, or stockpile more and more stuff because there’s not enough to go around. We are given the gift of freedom — freedom from fear. Embracing that gift, we can look ahead not for something bad to happen, but for the master to return and treat us as friends, not as servants.
Read: 12, 49-53
To get the attribute of a disciple in this text, you have to look closely at Jesus to see what it is about him disciples are to imitate. It all it ZEAL, but not in the sense of a fanatic, but rather in the sense of one whose life has meaning, purpose, and destiny. It is living with a focus and firm sense of one’s identity and purpose in life. Someone who can say: “I have come to set the earth on fire.” knows what they are about, who they are, and what purpose they have life. that is the virtue one must find and cultivate as a disciple. Those who zeal in their lives are people who a purpose, who know who they are, where they are going, and what they have to work with.
No aimless drifting, no going after this or after that one day after another, no shopping around for religion, nor picking and choosing in an effort to justify oneself or avoid the challenges of doctrine, truth, or conversion in one’s life. Zeal is a virtue rooted in an expectation that something is asked of us, that there is a purpose for our lives -each of us, and a destiny to which we are all called. The zealous are focused on the direction of their lives, their future, their purpose and their goal. For the disciple of Jesus Christ, that destiny is the Reign of God for which they are headed with a sense of urgency and purpose. They know how to get there, and they know what gets in the way. There is something vibrant about them that is eager and expectant, vigilant and ready for the Lord’s coming. This is not the “jesus is coming….look busy syndrome or frantic do-goodism that is often vague and guilt-driven. It is rather a devotion to the tasks of prayer, ministry, and service consistent with one’s relationship to Jesus it is a life driven by the glad and certain anticipation that just as the Lord Jesus has already come bringing changes in every dimension of human existence so he will return to confirm and resume the royal rule of God.
Not many people are convinced that Jesus is coming soon even though you might see a bumper sticker now and then that says so. Few are inclined to reflect upon the second coming of Jesus at all, much less do it with glad eagerness. But those who live with zeal find meaning to their lives, read the signs of the times, and are always in the presence of God. They know who they are and where they are headed.
Read: 14, 1,7-14
Now those of you who are picky and watching the list should give me a break. I am passing over another on the list I gave you. It is virtue I called “Saved.” Before I push on, let’s simply remember that the word “salvation” is linked to the word “salve”, a healing ointment. In other words, disciples are saved, meaning they are those who are healed. Saved disciples are healed from all that holds them back. Salvation sets one free. Think of it this way: the Israelites were “saved” from the Egyptians — they were set free from all that kept them from God. The saved are people coming home to loving gaze of God. They know that only God can save, and they can do nothing to save themselves, and that leads to this virtue we now find in Chapter 14: Humble.
The protocol from the Banquet of Heaven is being set here, and the way Jesus sees it, there is to be a radical departure from the typical system used in the ancient world, and certainly not done with in our world. Guests would be seated according to their status or importance in our society, and it was a highly stratified society where places at table carried great social weight, and it was a serious matter if one judge their place incorrectly. Rank and status were based upon comparisons with others. The Kingdom protocol that Jesus announces on the way to Jerusalem clearly marks a shift from the Mediterranean world’s custom of reciprocity and social standing.
We have all grown up in the art of being politically correct which teaches that we should bend or skirt the truth in order to avoid conflict. We have learned the lesson that we establish our identity and measure our worth and success by comparing ourselves with other: the more you have, the better you are. The more power you wield, the stronger you are. The more control you have, the more successful you become. The radical and revolutionary character of the Kingdom of God sees wealth and possessions as gifts of God, not privilege or right of status or family.
Disciples of Jesus know that humility does not mean being a doormat in relationships, at work or in public. It means knowing one’s rightful place in the reign of God and it means knowing that it is a gift. The humble disciple finds their sense of self and their identity in God, not in comparing themselves with others. This kind of humility leads to service, not power. The humble then are free, free from fear, free from clinging to fame and fortune that stifle depth and development.
Part of this parable is addressed to guests and part to hosts.
In speaking to guests, Luke suggests that humility is not a matter of pretending that one is “not worthy”. but rather facing the truth that all is gift, and the only proper attitude is to be grateful. The proud think they are worth more because of their achievements, status, wealth, or power, all of which they may well have. Yet they miss the point: all these things they have are for the service of others – for no other purpose whatsoever.
In speaking to hosts, the message comes from a different perspective. Inviting the right people to dinner is crucial. For the host humility calls for a guest list that includes the hungry. The people around the table are those who in truth need to be there.The host does not invite them because of what they can give to the host with by way of favor or by way of being looked upon as a “saint.” Rather, the humble host knows the truth that what worldly possessions they may have are in their possession not because they are better than anyone else, but because they have been chosen to be instruments of God’s love….and where there is love, there is God.
Read: 14, 25-33
At first hearing of these verses, we might think it’s about renouncing all things and taking up a cross; but I don’t think that is what Jesus is leading up to. The later verses are the most important when it comes to digging deeper into this text. Remember, first, discipleship is about being something, then, from that comes doing something. The disciple is always asking: “What kind of person should I be?” rather than “What should I do?” The doing will take care of itself once the being is in place.
So these verses take us back to the principal and Jesus suggests that a disciple must be prudent. Now, those of us who learned our catechism the old way may remember the “Cardinal Virtues”: Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude. They come to us from the Book of Wisdom Chapter 8 where it says: “If one loves justice, the fruits of her works are virtues; for she teaches moderation and prudence, justice and fortitude, and nothing in life is more useful than these.” Ancient Greeks, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, and Bernard of Clairveaux all developed though about these virtues as central to good moral living.
When Jesus puts this ancient wisdom into his formation program for disciples, he suggests that his disciples will be people of action, not cautious, timid, frightened, mediocre, and inactive. These are not qualities of Prudence. In fact, they are just the opposite. Prudence seeks the best way to do the right thing. The point is the Doing! This is a virtue of action, not passive caution.
The obstacles to Prudence are what Jesus confronts in his formation of disciples: procrastination, negligence, hesitation, inconsistency, rashness (like the people in the examples of the gospel) and rationalization. All of these are excuses for doing nothing or for doing the wrong thing.
In terms of the Cardinal Virtues, Prudence if first. Prudence enables us to avoid acting against justice because of greed or favorites. Prudence prevents us from acting against temperance by keeping good desires, like food and sex from running wild and taking control of our lives or controlling wrong desire, like revenge. Prudence presents one from acting against fortitude by finding a way between excessive fear and blind recklessness. We are called to be Prudent which always means being a people of action: wise, accountable, reasonable, and responsible. This is a serious issue for disciples. Prudence guides and motivates the prophet. It always sees the big picture of life rather than just the little stuff. Prudent disciples ask questions, inquire, probe, wonder, and pray
Read: 15, 1-32
Watchful is the disciple of Jesus. The watch, the hope, the wait is important. The man looking for lost sheep doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. Never mind leaving 99 in danger to look for one. Never mind that he has probably done it before. He goes off looking and watching to find. The woman looking for her coin is not concerned about anything except finding that coin. She has one thing in mind – finding the coin. She would have swept anyway, but now she sweeps night and day uninterested in the fact that she has nine others just like it. In the third story, when coupled with the first two, it is the father that matters. He is watchful for that son to return. He has not gone back to business as usual. He has not said to the rest of the household: “He’s always going to be that way, forget it.” He has not closed the door to the future, changed the locks on the house, nor cut off any hope of change or growth or reconciliation in himself, his first son, or the lost son. He is simply watchful, and because of it, he does not miss the chance he gets to have the party. I’ve wondered sometimes about that fatted calf. Was there always one being readied for a party, or was he living in watchful anticipation that it would be used for just such a purpose?
The disciple of Jesus is watchful and alert to any opportunity for finding anyone that is lost. No matter what others may say, no matter that others may come along to replace what has been lost. The disciple knows the loss and watches for the chance to seize and celebrate the return or reconciliation.
Reflecting on this Gospel has done more to develop my attitude about capital punishment than any other of the sayings of Jesus. The realization that killing an offender ends al hope of their repentance, is really something to think about. It takes from them more than life. It takes away any hope or opportunity to repent. Giving up on them with the thought that “they’ll never change” is a sad excuse for our judgments when we know how painful it would be were others to say the same thing about us and take away any chance to grow, change, and repent. It seems to me that if we take away another’s opportunity to repent and change, we take the obligation of doing so upon ourselves.
In the lives of these people in Luke’s gospel, there is no effort to blame or punish the lamb or the son. There is one virtue that marks them all. Watchfulness. They look for and wait for the opportunity to restore the unity that is broken, and they never give up nor do anything to eliminate that opportunity. Always on the look-out, the disciple remains watchful and vigilant for every opportunity to extend the mercy of God and the embrace of God’s reign no only to those deserving, but to those some insist will never change, never be worthy, nor ever find their way home. For the celebration to begin, it takes two movements: one, the return, and two, the welcome. In neither case can there be a heart that is hardened by disappointment, anger, or stubbornness. For this grace we should pray.
Read: 16, 1-13
It is the wisdom of this shrewd servant that Jesus puts before us, not his behavior. This is what he praises, the wisdom. The parable is addressed directly to the disciples. That’s our first clue that we should pay attention. Wisdom as Jesus proposes through this strange story is about vision, a sense of the future and the cleverness to not be caught off guard or surprised. There is nothing naive or passive about a wise man, but rather a kind of far-seeing, focused vision that makes them trustworthy with little things as well as big things. I think this Gospel proposes that for all the dangers in possessions, it is possible to manage goods in ways appropriate to life in the Kingdom of God. To do that takes a kind of Wisdom that is seen in faithful attention to frequent and familiar tasks of each day however small and insignificant they might be. The one faithful today with nickels and dimes is the one to be trusted with big accounts. Yet it is easy to be indifferent toward small obligations while sincerely believing oneself fully trustworthy in major matters, but that is not Gospel Wisdom. The disciple knows what is coming and is wise enough to be prepared.
Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament now takes place.
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Read: 16, 19-31
Like you, I have heard this parable countless times. It is so familiar that any of us could finish the story if it were stopped after a lives of introduction. Over the years, I have come to respect this one in torment, at least to suspect that he was a decent man. After all, when his request is turned down by Abraham, he is at least thoughtful enough to care about his brothers and hope that they might not share his torment. It is important to realize that he is not condemned because he is rich. He finds himself in never ending torment because he never saw Lazarus. It isn’t that he refused or that he did something evil. It is simply that he never saw Lazarus.
One of the saddest aspects of this parable and one of the most sobering is the fact that the rich man raised his eyes and saw Lazarus only when it was too late for him to redeem himself. Insulated as we are these days by our busy lives and the demands of our responsibilities the needs of others rarely enter our thoughts. We justify ourselves by insisting that we’ve done nothing wrong, when the truth is we’ve done nothing at all, which is exactly what put the rich man in such torment. We sanitize poverty and its primary cause – Injustice – by hiding in privatized religion. This age in which we live has reduced religion to worship on Sunday and a very small area of morality – mostly sexual. We teach our children: Be kind. Be chaste. Try to stay married. Don’t quarrel in front of your children Pray. Nowhere do we hear: BE JUST or BE PASSIONATE, or DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE INJUSTICE THAT OPPRESSES MOST OF THIS WORLD”S POPULATION.
Being tidy, temperate, and chaste is nice, but it is not enough to make one fully a good person or a disciple of Jesus. Every generation raises up another church-going Christian who makes a fortune off underpaid workers who have no health care, no rights and no hope. Being unaware of of injustice is not compatible with disciples of Jesus. They will be AWARE of every Lazarus in every generation and nation. Religion of disciples of Jesus is love and justice. Religion is love of neighbor as one’s self. Religion is blessing the food at meals and bringing the blessing of food to those without it. Religion is worshiping God; on one’s knees as it were, but on one’s knees washing the feet of the poor. “The poor you will have always with you” is not an excuse for saying: “That’s just the way it is.” It is a reason for never becoming unaware or ceasing to look everywhere for them. They will always be there, so we must always find them, be aware of them, and never cease being aware of the sufferings of others.
The great abyss of regret and unrealized good intentions threatens us all, and it continues to keep us from one another all too often. Disciples of Jesus hear the master’s words. AWARE of his presence and His Gospel, they become aware of injustice as corporate sin, as evil done by government, business, industry, university, and sometimes by church. They recognize its evil and are not unaware of their share in it and responsibility for it. They do not insulate themselves with a puny, private religion. They are always aware of the gifts of God’s love and mercy they are given to dispense.
Read: 17, 5-10
Almost always we hear this parable from the side of the master, and when that happens, we miss the point of this story told as an instruction to servant/disciples on the way to Jerusalem. The story placed as it is reminds us of our role as servants. The story speaks of duty and it proposes that a disciple is not only aware, but dutiful.
From the time of our mythic ancestors called Adam and Eve, creatures and servants have attempted the role reversal so evident in this parable. Faith gives us the insight to see who we are: servants in the manner of Jesus who did not cling to anything godly, but emptied himself and assumed entirely the role of the servant/slave. When the disciple views what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, then the responsible disciple give back what is due – which is what “duty” is all about: giving what is due. It is not something extra, nor is it something for which congratulations should be in order. It is simply a matter of recognizing what is due. Discipling, in this sense, is done the, not because God deserve it, but because a disciple recognizes that God is God and we are servants. That is the way it has been since the beginning.
So being a faithful disciple provides no grounds for triumphalism or feelings of moral superiority, no should it anticipate special honor or appreciation. A servant serves the maser. That is what a servant does. It is the servant’s duty, because the master is due service. This kind of thinking and self awareness is part of the very fabric of the disciples identity. It is rooted in the virtues we have already explored: Humility, Watchfulness, Awareness, Wisdom, and Prudence. They all provide the character that brings one to fulfill one’s duty.
In the disciple of Jesus there is no room for “look what I have done” attitude. In fact, there is no time for such vainglory, because there is always more to do. Created and sustained in every breath by God, we know that we owe everything to God. The cry of the apostles: “Increase our faith” which began this section reflects their awe at the enormity of what Jesus asks of them. Their cry is made all the more intense by verses just before these in which Jesus speaks about forgiveness with his expectation that there will be no limit to forgiveness. Seventy times Seven is what he says there. No limits, no excuse for refusing to forgive such is the duty of a disciple. They know their place, their relationship to God, and they may never assume the divine role.
Read: 17, 11-19
This is certainly a story about boundaries disregarded. It makes no difference that those unclean are to be avoided. It makes no difference that they live across the border, and it makes no difference that they are samaritans. Where there is faith, there is healing. That is the issue here, and faith is not limited to just the “right” people: those who live on the right side of the border or those who are nice and clean. With Jesus Christ, and for His disciples, there are no boundaries when it comes restoring those who have been excluded, but boundaries is not exactly what this is all about, and this story, told on the way to Jerusalem, puts before us a contrast from which we may draw another of the disciple virtues.
Luke proposes a distinction here between the nine and the one: a distinction we might describe as physical healing and spiritual healing. Notice that the healing of physical infirmity did not bring salvation. Although the nine who did not return to Jesus were indeed cured physically, there is no mention at all of their spiritual healing or salvation. On the other hand, the one who returns to Jesus, the one who acknowledges what God had done for him through Jesus Christ is the one who is saved by faith. Because of his gratitude, by which he gave evidence of his faith, this grateful leper was enabled to experience salvation beyond his physical cure.
It is gratitude that Luke singles out as a virtue to be found in disciples of Jesus Christ. The grateful recognition of God’s’ initiative that brings healing and salvation is the surest sign of faith. Faith for the disciple of Jesus is not a matter of rules kept nor prayers said. It is a matter of Gratitude in response to the initiative God has taken on our behalf. Disciples are Grateful. They recognize what God as done for them. They return again and again to the feet of the master and speak his praises as the Gospel describes it. This is a public recognition. Take note. It is not something the leper does quietly in his heart or at home in his room. I want you to make a connection here to our Sunday Eucharist because this is exactly what it is all about. Without gratitude there is believable faith. Without expressing that gratitude like this man in the story, there is nothing assured about salvation. The disciple of Jesus is found at the master’s feet giving praise and thanks. That is a great description of Sunday Mass, and perfect reason and explanation of why we gather.
Gratitude, for a disciple of Jesus, is a way of life, not a passing emotion. It is a life-changing conversion as public as a known leper throwing himself at the feet of Jesus Christ in a Samaritan town. We are not talking about personal, private stuff here. Disciples formed in Luke’s tradition are a people who have known what it means to be accepted, included, healed, saved, and graced by a God who ignores all boundaries, and their gratitude is contagious.
Read: 19, 1-10
We are at the end of the journey. The Luke’s school of discipleship is coming to an end. It began with these words in Chapter 9: “Now it happened that as the time drew near for him to be taken up, he resolutely turned his face towards Jerusalem….” But notice how it ends. This visit to the house of Azcchaeus wass not a delay or a detour on the journey to Jerusalem. This was and is the very purpose of the journey. “The Son of man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke will get Jesus to Jerusalem in another couple of verses; but that city is not where Jesus was going. He was, and he still is headed for our homes to stay with us, be with us, live with us. The final virtue of a disciple toward which so many of the others have pointed is the virtue that brings Jesus, attracts Jesus, draws and invites him: the virtue of Repentance.
Zacchaeus stands before us in sharp contrast to that crowd who can’t quite see Jesus because they are too busy looking at and criticizing Zacchaeus. They have shut him out, and in their righteous critique of his life, they have also shut out Jesus. Zacchaeus unlike the crowd that can see Jesus, wants to see Jesus, and is willing to go to some inconvenience and take some risk to do so. Never mind his dignity, stature, or what he might look like in the eyes of others, he will see Jesus, and he will do whatever it takes; and Jesus will see him. You can almost see the two of them walking over to the house – walking away from the crowd, their backs turned away from the whispering, accusing, blaming crowd who do not hear themselves called “Children of Abraham,” and will find no salvation in their homes.
It is the crowd that is indicted by this story. They were so put off by their supposition concerning Zacchaeus that they failed to “see” that in terms of the righteousness of God they were as “lost” as anyone, and were dierted from “seeing” Jesus and gladly welcoming him to their salvation.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus announces three times that salvation has come.
- At the synagogue when his turn came and he rolled up the scroll and sat down saying: “Today this message of salvation is being fulfilled” That happened in Nazareth and it caused a riot.
- Then he says it in this passage in Jericho. He will say it one more time.
- He is hanging on a cross, and he says it again to a dying thief hanging at his side.
What it takes to experience this “salvation” is seen in these two, Zacchaeus and the thief who are outside the symbolic synagogue: Repentance.
In Zacchaeus we see it best. It is not something he did, but something he became that brought the consequences. He became a “just” man. It is not just feelings of regret. Repentance bears fruit not only for the household of Zacchaeus, but also for the poor who will be beneficiaries of his conversion and, as well, those people whom he may have defrauded. Repentance has more than personal effects. There is a domestic, social, and economic dimension as well. In Luke, salvation is not just a matter of the soul. It touches the whole human family and all human life. In the great story about to unfold of Jesus and the cross, the presence of the Risen Christ makes noble and holy the home and the table of the faithful disciple. It happened in Jericho, it happened in Emmaus, and it can happen here in Union City if we will be his disciples.