Father Donald Senior, CP

No turning back

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

June 26: 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kgs 19:16B, 19-21; Gal 5:1, 18-18; Lk 9:51-62

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to give some lectures at the University of Dublin in Ireland. While I was there my sister and nephew joined me and we spent a few days visiting our Irish relatives in Roscommon and Leitrim.

One of our cousins shared with us a bundle of letters from our grandparents and great-grandparents and other family members who had left Ireland to travel to a new life in America at the end of the 19th century. They all left home when they were young adults in their late teens and early 20s, driven by acute poverty — there was simply not enough food or work for them and they had to leave.

Leaving then meant you never came back. Their letters were filled with poignant reminders of this permanent departure. One mother wrote of her nightly tears that she would never see her son again “in this life.” Journeys such as leaving home behind and setting out for a new and unknown world mark one for a lifetime.

One of the most well-used metaphors in the Bible is that of the “journey”: the journey of Abraham and his clan from Ur to the land of Canaan; the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land; the journey of the exiles back to their homeland. In the Gospel reading for this Sunday, we find that Luke casts the whole life of Jesus as a “journey” from Galilee to Jerusalem. The Gospel notes that “Jesus resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” As we saw in the feast of the Ascension, the ultimate endpoint of that journey of Jesus is to pass through death and resurrection in order to return to the home of his Father.

This journey of Jesus also sets a pattern for the disciples of Jesus — they, too, are to set out on a life-journey following after Jesus. We can understand why this metaphor is so apt. To set out on a serious journey means having a purpose and destination; it means leaving home and what is familiar and comfortable; it means deciding what baggage you can take and what you have to leave behind; it means some unexpected turns and twists and can sap our energy. All of these qualities fit the realities of our lives as we strive to live as followers of Jesus.

Luke extends this metaphor of the “journey” into the Acts of the Apostles. As we heard throughout the Easter season, the early church, too, began a “journey” that would take them from the familiar circle of their lives in Jerusalem out into the unknown quarters of the Mediterranean world in order to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. The Risen Christ had commissioned them to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, to the ends of the earth.” In fact, the Acts of the Apostles tells us that the first name applied to these followers of Jesus was “the people of the journey.”

In the second reading today from Paul’s letter to the Galatians there is also a reference to a “journey” but it is an interior one. Paul urges his Christians to grasp their freedom and “not to submit again to the yoke of slavery.” They are to set out on a life “guided by the Spirit” and not by the “flesh”; that is, they are to “serve one another through love.”

Jesus warns those who were concerned about taking care of other tasks before committing to this journey — even sacred duties like burying their father or saying farewell to their family — “not to look back to what was left behind” but to make following him the primary commitment of their lives. The story of the great prophet Elijah and his disciple Elisha in the first reading from the book of Kings echoes this: Elisha wants to kiss his parents goodbye but Elijah rebukes him.

The point of these biblical readings is not to discourage love and honor for a parent but to put in starkest terms that our commitment to Jesus should be the fundamental loyalty of our life.


  • scripture