Sunday, 30 June 2013

Facing fear: 13th Sunday in Ordinary time.

Today's readings continue nicely the themes of yesterday's blog, and so do today's more of the same then!!

Protomartyrs of Rome

Today we commemorate the First martyrs of the Church (thus the word, Proto, Greek for First), who really come after St Stephen, but as a community they would have been the first martyrs. "Many of them would  suffer death under Emperor Nero (r. 54-68). Owing to  their executions during his reign , they are also called the Neronian Martyrs, and are honored by the site in the Vatican City called the Piazza of the Protomartyrs. 

   These early Christians were disciples of the Apostles, and they endured hideous tortures and ghastly deaths following the burning of Rome in the infamous fire of 62. It's not quite known exactly how many perished, though some would guess the number ranges in the thousands.

Coming off of an 8 day retreat that was enriching and fulfilling, it's almost a buzz kill to be reflecting so much on Martyrs, and yet, here I am doing it and rather willingly. Something about what they did still resonated in us, or at least makes us talk  about this historical moment. Even people who don't know much about it will pronounce themselves:  One of my Atheist friends once stated that he believed that because these people had the option to live and chose to die, they were cowards. They thought death meant being saved from the oppressive Romans and was a guarantee of a place in Heaven... so in other words, they chose the 'easier option'. I imagine that would be a rather popular opinion these days. I imagine that many people would find the choice these men and women made ,as troubling as the whole concept of watching  people  get slaughtered for for sport, for fun and games. And yet, contrary to some of my  contemporaries who are not Catholics, I have nothing but the deepest respect for this community of people so committed to their faith until the end!

 Despite my ability to comprehend this sacrifice of theirs, I still find the language of today's readings somewhat hard.  It's about detachment, and anyone in a religious community is all too familiar with this concept. When we enter, we don't just become detached from our previous life, but from the things and people we love. We are asked to leave them behind as we focus for the greater good of all, by giving our whole being to the labor of building the Kingdom of God. This phase is difficult enough for us to deal with without having to read Jesus' words 'let the dead bury their own dead'. What kind of pastoral response is that to someone struggling with detachment!? It's never made much sense to me, even if I'm living it in my daily life -to the best of my ability!-.

 Thankfully,  my awesome superhero  Pope Francis swooped in to give me perspective. yes, Jesus words are radical today. And do we know why!? 
 Francis reminds us  in his Angelus of today, that as the first verse  of today's Gospel states, Jesus "  set his face to go to Jerusalem."  Jerusalem looms large in the New Testament because, as we know, it's the place where Jesus will face his final hour, where he must "die and rise fulfil His mission of salvation." So when he finally does lift up his face to the city with the intention of entering it, he is facing his own death. He sees things a little more clearly now, and is only expecting those who chose to follow him to understand the complexity of the situation: You're not just following some guy here...Here's a man who is about to offer his life for the good of others, and he expects all his followers to do the same.

 Because as Francis says,  Christ's decision is not his own. It's one taken in union with the father. All those times we read in the Bible how Jesus on a hill to pray alone...he was closely connected to his father's will..and had every intention of fulfilling that will, no matter what the cost. It was a terrifying decision to make, to throw himself in the lion's den, allow himself to be arrested, judged, tortured and crucified, and to receive that fate with grace. But he could not have done this on his own. "In the Father, then, Jesus found the strength and the light for His journey. Jesus was free. His decision was a free one. Jesus wants us Christians to be free as he is."  This explains the difficult language we have today..this 'leave your family behind and follow me' mentality. It's not out of pettiness or jealousy he says this, but out of a desire to form Christians who are strongly rooted in their own freedom, generated by a healthy relationship with God.
   Freedom's a big word here. Our world understands it very differently than Jesus does. For many of us, it's the ability to do whatever the heck we want, when we want. It's kind of Utopian, because we all have to answer to somebody at some point. Nobody is ever 'free' in that sense! But the point is, Jesus'  definition of it is the complete opposite of the first definition. It's not about your will, but God's will...the more open you are to hearing what God's will is for you, and the more available you become to live out that will, the more free you 'truly' are.
  This means, when Jesus calls you to task as a disciple, you don't say 'lemme go say bye to my friends and family first...I'll join in a week..two weeks tops!!'.  No. You go.  Okay...Nope...still sounds radical. But that's what I signed up for when I embarked upon this life of following Christ!! And I recognize it's precisely THAT kind of freedom that lies behind the actions of the ability to say 'I chose death over a life lived as a lie, seperated from the God I know and love'. But don't worry folks...I'm not striving for Martyrdom...I'm merely asking for openess today. I ask it on behalf of all of us who need to be more attentive to the word of God, and to his loving presence in our life.

1 Kings 19:
 16, 19 - 21

16and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel; and Eli'sha the son of Shaphat of A'bel-meho'lah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.
19So he departed from there, and found Eli'sha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing, with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Eli'jah passed by him and cast his mantle upon him.
20And he left the oxen, and ran after Eli'jah, and said, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." And he said to him, "Go back again; for what have I done to you?"
21And he returned from following him, and took the yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Eli'jah, and ministered to him.
Psalms 16: 1 - 2, 5, 7 - 11

1Preserve me, O God, for in thee I take refuge.
2I say to the LORD, "Thou art my Lord; I have no good apart from thee."
5The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; thou holdest my lot.
7I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
8I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
9Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure.
10For thou dost not give me up to Sheol, or let thy godly one see the Pit.
11Thou dost show me the path of life; in thy presence there is fulness of joy, in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore. ------------------------------------------------------------------------

Galatians 5: 1, 13 - 18

1For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.13For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another.14For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."15But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.18But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.

Luke 9: 51 - 62

51When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
52And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him;
53but the people would not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.
54And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?"
55But he turned and rebuked them.
56And they went on to another village.
57As they were going along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."
58And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head."
59To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."
60But he said to him, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
61Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home."
62Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

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