Imagine you set out to drive to Dublin or Cork but instead of watching the road in front you kept looking in the rear view mirror or wondering what was over that hill, or down that road on the left or right. Even if you somehow managed not to crash or drive into a ditch surely you would soon be lost? Having the end of one’s journey in mind and keeping one’s eyes on the road is essential to getting there in one piece and on time, safe and sound. That’s what our Lord is saying to us today.
He has set His face for Jerusalem, the home of the Temple, the holy city, the heart and symbol of all the Jewish hopes and dreams. He is going there to suffer, to die and to rise again. He knows He will face rejection and that His own people will be the ones to hand Him over to the pagan Romans to be murdered on the Cross. He does all this because it is His mission, His task from the Father to be the bridge between heaven and earth, to be the Father’s love and mercy made visible for and to us. On the Cross at Calvary He opens heaven to us and unites us with the Father. Every good thing comes to us through Him upon that Cross and He is determined to see it through.
He begins though by sending out His disciples to preach ahead of Him. People are to be informed of what is coming, to hear the Good News of God’s saving plan. They themselves are to undergo rejection and trial in the future so this is a training program to toughen them up for what is to come later in life. They are to learn how to remain at peace and not lose heart because of difficulties. This is something we need to learn as well. We must never give up, never lose our trust in the love and mercy of God.
The Samaritans reject the Gospel because Christ is on His way to Jerusalem. Such are those who can only see this world and think that the only important matters are those of this life: politics, power, wealth, fame etc. By their foolishness they lose what God has to offer. For us it is a warning not to let our fallen nature overcome us and so replace the will of God and His plan with the hunger to be in control, to use others, to have more and more beyond what we need, to always be the centre of attention. Such shortsightedness has done so much damage to the world we live in and, worst of all, deprives us of the blessed joy of life forever with the Lord.
Then there are those who think that religion is a way to enrich themselves such as with the man who says he will ‘follow Christ wherever He goes’. Christ has not invited him to such a path; he puts himself forward. Christ does not come to build a merely earthly kingdom or to enrich his followers. His kingdom is not to be like that of this world. There is a deeper meaning, though, in the reference to the foxes’ dens and birds’ nests. The great St Cyril of Alexandria sees here a reference to evil spirits and sinful habits. How can Christ find a welcome in our hearts and in our lives, he says, if we allow what is evil to have a home in us? We must get rid of the vermin in our lives so that Christ will have room to be King of our hearts, our families, our nation and our world.
Then there are those who though invited to follow Christ make excuses about family and other concerns. There is no greater offer than the call to follow Christ and serve Him. It is a shame that there are those who lack the faith or courage to serve Him in the priesthood and religious life as well as those who lack the generosity to encourage and nurture vocations in their families. Our Lord tells the bereaved man that the Kingdom of God outweighs even our duty to our dead. He is not telling the man not to bury his father but to not use his dead father as an excuse to avoid doing God’s will! In fact the Kingdom and Kingship of Christ is so important that it must affect everything and every aspect of our lives. That is why one cannot be a Christian in private and something else in public even if you are a councillor or a TD. We cannot compartmentalize our lives, we cannot be a Christian in one part and someone else in another part and still be a true Christian, a true follower of Christ. God wants all or nothing.
So He gives us the image of the man ploughing a field. Back at the time of Christ there were no tractors or machines for ploughing. The plough was made of wood and usually it was drawn by oxen. It was slow, hard work and if the ploughman did not keep his eye on where he was going then he could find himself tearing up ground all over the place wasting valuable time and energy and damaging the plough as well. Our Lord offers us this lesson: do not waste the time you have been given, keep your eyes on what is really important, not this life but the eternal life that God offers you. Put God’s will and the Gospel first and then you will plough straight, you will not wander from the right path, you will safely get to your journey’s end, life with God for ever.