Year C – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Five Simple Lessons

(Kgs.19:16,19-21; Gal.5:1,13-18; Lk.9:51-62)

In 2019, when I last visited the Holy Land, I happily discovered a sculpture called Homeless Jesus near St Peter’s Church in Capernaum.

Made of bronze, this life-sized sculpture shows Jesus covered in a thin blanket, and sleeping on a park bench. You know it’s Jesus by the wounds on his feet, and there’s just enough bench space left for someone to sit next to him.

The sculptor is a Canadian, Timothy Schmalz, and over 100 casts of this work have been installed around the world. [i] Schmalz says this piece was inspired by today’s Gospel, where Jesus says that ‘the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

But why is Jesus homeless? It’s because he has just set out on his Great Journey to Jerusalem. Luke starts this narrative in today’s reading, from chapter 9 of his Gospel, and he ends it in chapter 19 when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We’ll be following this story over the next few weeks, and along the way Jesus will be teaching us how to follow him as his disciple.

In today’s reading, Jesus gives us five simple lessons to get us started in discipleship.

Firstly, we’re told that Jesus begins his own great journey by ‘resolutely taking the road for Jerusalem…’ This word ‘resolutely’ is important, for it tells us that Jesus is totally committed to it. There’s no turning back, despite the challenges, and Jesus wants us to be just as resolute in following him.

Secondly, Jesus makes it clear that he wants no angry thoughts from us; we must always be patient and loving. When Jesus enters that Samaritan village and finds he’s not welcome, his disciples James and John, the ‘Sons of Thunder’, propose revenge. But Jesus won’t have it. He’s a man of peace and forgiveness, and we must be the same.

Then we hear Jesus’ advice to each of the three people who want to follow him.

To the first, Jesus says ‘foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’. Here, Jesus warns that the journey ahead may be inconvenient and uncomfortable, but that’s OK. We must be prepared to make sacrifices if we want to earn eternal life.

Then, when the second person says, ‘let me go and bury my father first’, Jesus makes it clear that there’s nothing more important than being his disciple. This must be our first priority. So, he says, ‘let the dead bury the dead’.

Now, this sounds heartless, but it helps to understand the culture of the time. In ancient Palestine, burials involved a two-stage process. 

Firstly, the body was placed in a cave where it was left to decompose, leaving only the bones. These bones were then placed in an ossuary, which is a stone chest or a special room for the storage of bones.

But the family never personally touched anything. Only trained undertakers did such work. So, there’s no point in this man waiting for his father’s bones to be moved. It’s not his job. It’s better for him to start following Jesus right away.

And finally, to the third person Jesus says, ‘no one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God’.

If you’re a farmer and want to plough your field in neat, straight lines, it’s important to keep your eyes fixed firmly ahead. If you keep looking back, you’re going to make mistakes. This isn’t what Jesus wants. He wants us to keep looking forward – keeping our eyes on the prize.

Following Jesus is the very essence of the Christian life. Deep down, many of us know this, and we promise ourselves that we will follow Jesus one day. But too many of us put it off – perhaps we don’t know how or where to start.

That’s why Jesus offers us these five helpful tips today. Let’s summarise them:

Firstly, make a decision to follow Jesus, and commit to it. Be ‘resolute’, just like Jesus himself.

Secondly, stop being angry towards others. Jesus is a man of peace and forgiveness, and we must be the same. Our hearts must always be filled with love.

Thirdly, be prepared to embrace humility. You might never be homeless, but you could be uncomfortable. Discipleship isn’t always easy, but Jesus is there to help us.

Fourthly, be prepared to leave things behind. Jesus must always come first.

And finally, with courageous heart and firm faith, always look forward and never look back.

We’ll hear more from Jesus in the coming weeks as we follow him on his Great Journey to Jerusalem.

May this be our great journey, too.