We only begin to be free when we start the process of self-definition called commitment. And our freedom is only realized when we give ourselves away in love. — John Kavanaugh, SJ
Some things never change, and worship wars is one of those. That is what the disagreement between Samaritans and Jews boils down to. Dennis Hamm relates the story of attending a lecture by a Samaritan scholar (Yes, there are still living Samaritans around) at a Jewish university. The arguments we Christians find so amazing and which we have enshrined in John 4 did come up very strongly. The scholar basically told the Jews there present that they were heretics. This news, Hamm reports, was received very matter of fact and in much peace. The accusation is after all over 2,500 years old, so both sides have heard it all before and besides, neither has a properly located temple to go to anyhow.
Jesus is on pilgrimage. He is heading for Jerusalem and he has told his disciples why he is headed there.(9:22 & 44) Crossing through Samaritan land would be no trouble except, well, to them he is a heretic who is heading to the heretic stronghold to practice his heresy at the heretically chosen site by the heretics of old for their heretic temple.
These same Samaritan, Luke reports, will eventually hear Philip preach and they will receive the Holy Spirit at the laying on of hands by Peter and John. (Acts 8) Yet, that is a story as yet in the future; though we know that many Samaritans came to believe in Jesus from John 4, a fact born out in the good characterization of Samaritans in especially Luke. (10:25-37, 17:16) For now, we merely are dealing with a story that might teach us how to deal with disagreement and old hurts that are part of common life. Jesus meets these rejections with quiet grace though he will teach his disciples that not receiving the good news of the Kingdom of God will be a perilous course of action. (10:12) In this story, Jesus merely asks to pass through, he asks a simple human kindness.
There is a second half to our Gospel today, the story of the would be disciples. Not quite of the same cloth, we also read from 1 Kings, the story of Elisha’s call. Both, however, are about following.
In the case of the men in the reading from Luke, one has to ask: If the life promised by following Jesus is somehow right, why put it off? Following will change the one who does so. It seems ludicrous to me that someone enter the Christian Faith but not change their lives one iota other than the occasional hour on Sunday morning.
Elisha made a drastic statement. When Elijah calls him to be a prophet, he goes home not merely to say farewell but to make a clean cut with the life he has led up to that point. He also makes an irrevocable cut. There is no going back to farming. The oxen have been eaten and the plow burned. Elisha will not be back, do not leave a light on for him.
For early converts leaving the faith of their youth and following the Way of Jesus probably asked a cut with much of what they once were. Conversion and Discipleship have a price. (14:26ff) They also have urgency attached to them as this story suggests.
Theophany the Monk, one of the residents at the St. Benedict Monastery in Snowmass Colorado, the home of Centering Prayer, writes a Christian “Koan” in “Tales From the Magic Monastery":
I chanced upon an old monk. I asked him about his life. He spoke kind and simple stories about his time in the monastery. I told him I was struggling with the decision to join the Magic Monastery.
He said: “Make it Now.”
“ I can’t, you see, I have many things to do.”
“Now,” he repeated. “Now!”
Then he picked up a stick and came after me. I ran and he ran after me waving his stick yelling: “Now!’
That was a long time ago. He still follows me always wielding his club and shouting: “Now!”
There is always the question about those who in the end seem to want to follow Jesus but then do not. What will become of them? The wisdom might just be that a life of unfreedom waits for them simply because they will always have to wonder about: “What if . . .?”
That “What if” cuts both ways. 9:62 suggests that one not wonder what life might have been like in ones prior state of faith. There is a difference between just “deciding to follow Jesus” and “committing” to do so. The latter cooks the oxen on a fire made from the plow and does not look back. It is more sever and goes to the core of the person.
Commitment is kind of like changing nations. There was really no home to go back to when my family left Europe. We had purged all but a few bank accounts that slowly drifted across the ocean as they could be pulled. We spoke German with one another as we arrived on American shores. Then, one night at the dinner table, without saying a word about it, the family switched to English and did not go back. I have no idea why or how that happened but I remember it. Maybe it was because our minds had become so overwhelmed with the language around us that this switch became natural. Maybe it was an outworking of the conviction that we were going to make a life here, now, and the idea and possibility of going back had finally worked itself out of our hearts. Whichever it was a spiritual moment.
Faith changes a person. It must otherwise it is not faith at all. I use Faith in the sense of allegiance, commitment to the Lord and Trust in the same. Once you trusted in other powers and followed their ways, now you follow Jesus. (Ephesians 2:11ff) Does it make a difference that you do? If you cannot come up with an answer to “How” maybe that should be the subject of many an anguished prayer or two for you.