Sunday, June 30, 2013

6 Pentecost

June 30, 2013
1 Kings 19.15-16,19-21; Galatians 5.1,13-25; .Luke 9:51-62

+ As we all know and have heard  about ad nauseum, we, of course, got some water in our undercroft this past week. For me, discovering it on Wednesday night before Mass, I had I guess what could be called a bit of a delayed reaction. Actually that might be the understatement of the year

On Wednesday, as I came down the stairs, I looked it for a few moments, not quite realizing what I was looking at. And then, as I looked around in kind of dull shock and saw more and more water soaking and saturating things, my first reaction was:

“Run! Just leave! Deal with it this later.”

It was a moment of feeling so completely overwhelmed. After cursing a bit—actually, I cursed quite a lot . And maybe kicked a few things. And felt a very intense moment of despair.  And shook a first at the sky.

I then felt a weird calmness come over me. I thought, “you know what? It’s gonna be all right.”

One way or the  other—in some way I couldn’t at that moment fully realize—I just knew it was going to be all right. Not right away. Probably not all that soon. But ultimately it was going to be all right.

And this—this stupid water and this stupid rain—was not the end of anything. Rather it was a very clear reminder to me that whatever might be damaged—and luckily not a whole lot was damaged—they were things. Just things. Not lives lost. Just things.

In our Gospel reading today, we find Jesus making a comment that I wish I could’ve used on Wednesday night regarding the water in the undercroft.

Let the dead bury their own dead.

Talk about resignation. It’s  an unusual statement.  It almost boggles the mind when you think about it. And yet….there is beautiful poetry in that phrase.

We hear this saying of Jesus referenced occasionally in our secular society. It conveys a sense of resignation and putting behind oneself insignificant aspects of our lives. Still, it is a strange image to wrap our minds around.

Let the dead bury their own dead.

What could Jesus mean by this reference?

In our culture—in our world we embalm or cremate our dead, we care for our dead and dispose of their bodies in a fairly quick but respectful manner. I’ve had three funerals in this past week and a half, and I can tell you: WE bury our dead. The case was not so for Jews in Jesus’ day. Well, yes, they also buried their dead, but not the same way we do.  

When we find this man talking about having to go and bury his father, and Jesus’ response of “let the dead bury their own dead,” we might instantly think that Jesus is being callous.  It would seem, at least from our modern perspective, that this man is mourning, having just lost his father.

The fact is, his father actually probably died a year or more before.  What happened in that culture is that when a person died, they were anointed, wrapped in a cloth shroud and placed in a tomb. As Jesus himself would later be. This tomb was actually a temporary interment. They were probably placed on a shelf near the entrance of the tomb. About a year or so after their death, the family gathered for another service at which the tomb was re-opened. By that time, the body would, of course,  have been reduced to bones. The bones would then be collected, placed in a small stone box and buried with the other relatives, probably further back in the tomb. A remnant of this tradition still exists in Judaism, when, on the first anniversary of the death of a loved one, the family often gathers to unveil the gravestone in the cemetery. Which I think a very cool tradition personally.

So, when we encounter this man in today’s Gospel, we are not necessarily finding a man mourning his recently deceased father. What we are actually finding is a man who is waiting to go to the tomb where his father’s bones now lie so he can bury the bones. When we see it from this perspective, we can understand why Jesus makes such a seemingly strange comment—and we realize it isn’t quite the callous comment we thought it was.  As far as Jesus is concerned, the father has been buried. Whatever this man does is merely an excuse to not go out and proclaim the kingdom of God, as Jesus commands him to do.

Now to be fair to the man, he could just be making an excuse, which really under any other circumstances, would have been a perfectly valid excuse. Or he could really have felt that his duty as his father’s son took precedence over this calling from Jesus. It doesn’t seem as though he doesn’t want to follow Jesus or proclaim the Kingdom. He doesn’t flat-out say no. He simply says, not now. In a sense, he is given the choice between the dead and dried bones of his father or the living Jesus who stands before him.

Jesus’ response, which may sound strange to our modern, Western ears, is actually a very clear statement to this man. He is saying, in a sense: “You are attached to these bones. Don’t worry about bones. Break your attachment, follow me, proclaim the goodness and love of God and you will have life. Follow me TODAY. NOW”

How many times have we been in the same place in our lives? How many times have we looked for excuses to get out of following Jesus, at least right now? We all have our own “bones” that we feel we must bury before we can go and proclaim the Kingdom of God in our midst by following Jesus. We all have our own attachments that we simply cannot break so we can go forward unhindered to follow and to serve.

And they’re easy to find. It’s easy to be led astray by attachments—to let these attachments fill our lives and give us a false sense of fulfillment. It is easy for us to despair when the bad things of life happen to us. We could easily have despaired when we heard about the undercroft and the water. Trust me, there was a moment of despair inside me when I first realized what I was looking at one Wednesday night.

But the fact is, even when these awful things happen, even then, we need to realize, it is not the end.  Despite these bad things, the kingdom of God still needs to be proclaimed. Now. And not later. Not after the water is cleaned up. Not after everything has been restored. Not after we have calmed down.

The Kingdom needs to be proclaimed NOW. Now. Even in the midst of chaos.  Even when those crappy things happen, we still need to follow Jesus. Right now. Right here.

Our faith in God, our following of Jesus and our striving to love and serve others doesn’t change just because we have setbacks. Rather, when the setbacks arise, we need to deal with them and move on.  But if those setbacks become an excuse not to follow Jesus, then they too become a case for  letting these dead bury their own dead.

So, in a sense, we find ourselves confronted with that very important question: what are we, in our own lives, attached to? What are the “bones” of our life? What are the attachments in our life that cause us to look for excuses for not following Jesus and serving others? For not loving, fully and completely. What things in our lives prevent us  from proclaiming the Kingdom of God?

Whatever they might be, just let them be. Let the dead bury their own dead. Let’s not become attached to the dead objects of our lives that keep us from serving our living God. Let’s  not allow those dead things to lead us astray and prevent us from living and loving fully. Let us not become bogged down with all the attachments we have in this life as we are called to follow Jesus. Let us not let them become the yoke of slavery we hear Paul discussing in his letter to the Galatians.

Rather, let us take this yoke, break it and burn as Elisha did, as an offering to our living God.

But let us remember that this is not some sweet, nice, gentle suggestion from Jesus.  It is a command from him.

“Let the dead bury their own dead. But as for you, go, and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

We proclaim the kingdom, as we all know, by loving God and loving each other.

You can’t proclaim the kingdom—you can’t love—when you are busy obsessing about the dead, loveless things of your life. We who are following Jesus have all put our hands to the plow. We put our hands to that plow when were baptized, when we set out on that path of following Jesus.

Now, with our hands on that plow, let us not look back. Let us not be led astray by the attachments we have in this life that lead us wandering about aimlessly. But, let us focus. Let us look forward.  Let us push on. Let us proclaim by word and example the love we have for God and one another.  And when we do, we are doing exactly what Jesus commands us to do.

Now is the time.  Let us proclaim that Kingdom and making it a reality in our midst.



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