By: Sharon Nelsen
Waiting for inspirations on this Sunday’s scriptures gives me a deeper appreciation of the process our priest celebrants go through in preparing homilies for each weekend. It’s easy to go all over the place; yet, in the midst of so many choices, all are called to trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in each of us, struggle as we may, to break open God’s Word in our place, in our time.
My reflections on Sunday’s gospel, rise out of other readings from this month’s liturgies-- readings that struck my heart--especially the gospel from June 27th, (Matthew 7.21-29) and from June 29th, (Matthew 16.13-19) the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul.
In the latter, Peter is given the keys to the Kingdom because he hears, values and acts on the voice of God— Jesus says that hearing the Father is “The rock” on which “I will build my Church.” (Matthew 16.18). It’s tempting to become so focused on the headship aspect that we forget the introduction of this “rock” image by Jesus, given to us earlier in the week in Matthew 7.24: “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” This analogy has a physical meaning, obviously, but there is a deeper meaning if we connect the image with Jesus’ words to Peter: Listening to the word of God and acting on it is the rock on which the whole church is built, living stone by living stone. This is not exclusively about headship, but about “everyone who listens.”
What does all of this have to do with today’s scriptures which thematically are about following? Elisha is called to follow Elijah (1Kings 19.16b, 19-21) and the disciples and others are called to follow Jesus (Luke 9.51-62). Following God is about keeping an open heart, a listening heart, to God’s Word within and as God’s Word comes to us from others. “Holy Spirit, make my heart be open to the Word of God, that my heart be open to good, that my heart be open to the beauty of God every day”--a challenging prayer from our dear Pope Francis given to us on Pentecost this year.
We follow Jesus when we are open to doing good, when we become the beautiful, “How beautiful are the feet of the one who preaches good news.” (Romans 10.15). God is “located” in goodness and in beauty everywhere, even in our daily encounters. That is what Jesus shows his followers and shows us in the incident with the Samaritan village in Sunday’s gospel from Luke.
Jesus does not judge or condemn those Samaritans who have refused hospitality because their village was not his destination, but just a stopover on the way to Jerusalem. Furthermore, he rebukes his own followers who want to be like Elijah and “call down fire from heaven to consume” those who have rejected them. Hospitality is about acceptance; the lack of hospitality is about rejection, and in Jesus’ culture, such behavior carried a “mandate” to defend honor. Jesus teaches out of the religious tradition of his disciples, pre-empting cultural “rules.”
What the Lord teaches us to set aside, to dismiss, to not be tempted into, is “getting even.” When one is justice-oriented, it is an easy slide into getting even, making “it” right. Jesus is teaching His disciples, and teaching us to build and grow on our foundational principles, principles that have formed our inner faith voice.
The foundational principles make us living stones, an authentic part of the entire church. The voice of God within for those early followers of Jesus, would be those who had internalized Leviticus 19.18: “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” By forgiving, not by grudge-bearing and revenge, will others recognize true disciples of the Lord.
How do we apply the foundational principle of forgiving everyone to those who have explicitly rejected us? What does Jesus teach us specifically about forgiveness in this brief Samaritan-Non-Samaritan episode? Forgiveness, he tells us by his own actions, is sometimes just letting it go, overlooking it so to speak, moving on. Notice the absence of trying to convert “those sinners,” of attempting to make them understand, or even of making efforts to rebuild relationships.
Following Jesus often means working on “our stuff,” and trusting with St. Paul, that “The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly Kingdom.” (2Tim 4.18) That evil threat is not exclusively from the outside. That evil outer threat has power over us because it touches our inner power center – get even, call down that fire! We are freer to act on the Word of God we hear when we allow God to touch and heal the source of our wounded reactions or responses.
As we truly resolve to follow Jesus, to “Come to him, (believing that each of us is) a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God,” (1Peter 2.4), we grow in honoring the movement of the Spirit within us. We blossom into wisdom, building on that solid inner stuff with hearts open to the beauty of God every day, allowing ourselves to “be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood.” (1Peter 2.5). Yes, indeed: “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock,” (Matthew 7.24) and will stay with the Lord, hearing Him say, “Follow me,” and freely able to leave to God the things of God.