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For the last four Sundays our gospels have been from St. Luke’s journey narrative. From chapter 9 to Chapter 18 Luke’s gospel describes the journey Jesus takes from Galilee to Jerusalem where he will suffer and die and rise again. This is not an ordinary journey. He gathers disciples on his way. He’s not making this journey alone. On his way to Jerusalem Jesus calls people to follow him and he teaches them how to follow him, so that they may be taken up into the mystery of his death and resurrection.
We learn as we listen how Jesus called people then and what following him means. We learn how he calls people now.
For one thing, we see that some of those Jesus met then didn’t seem eager to follow him at all. For example, two weeks ago our Sunday gospel was about the teacher of the law who asks Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells him to love God and love his neighbor. But Luke says the teacher of the law, “wishing to justify himself” says “Who is my neighbor?” You get the impression that this fellow is a self-assured teacher who knows everything. He’s one of the scribes, the Jewish teachers whom the gospels say were hostile to Jesus. He’s there not to learn or to follow but maybe to compete, to show off what he knows or to discredit Jesus as a teacher.
Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, which seems to silence the teacher of the law. You wonder if the meeting challenged him and eventually changed him. We don’t know. What we do know is that Jesus met people on the journey to Jerusalem who didn’t respond immediately to his call, like the teacher of the law.
Matthew’s gospel has a similar story, about a rich young man who approaches Jesus on the journey and asks him “ What must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus tells him to love God and his neighbor and adds the challenge to “Go sell what you have and give to the poor and come follow me. But the young man “went away sad, for he had many possessions. ( Matthew 19, 16 ff.)
Again, we wonder if the young man ever reconsidered later? We like to think so. But the story doesn’t say. It only says that he resisted the call of Jesus. In the case of the rich young man, it looks like his life style got in the way.
Today’s gospel is about another person who doesn’t seem to answer Jesus’ invitation to follow him. “Someone in the crowd said to Jesus “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” You can see what’s mainly on his mind– money and maybe getting back at his brother. Not an unusual story, by the way. A lot of family fights are about money.
Jesus tells the man “I’m not here as your lawyer or financial mediator.” In fact, he cautions him about greed. “Life does not consist of possessions.” Then he tells the story of a rich farmer feverishly building barns for storing his wealth and thinking, “This will do it! I can rest, eat, drink and be merry for the rest of my life.”
“You fool,” God says. “You and your wealth can be gone in a night.”
It’s another story of Jesus’ call on his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem going unanswered.
As we listen to these stories, it’s evident that some then didn’t answer the call of Jesus to follow him and we see some of the reasons why. In the teacher of the law, it seems to be pride. He knows everything. In the rich young man, it was his life style, the good life. In the man in today’s gospel, it was money and greed and maybe anger with his family. The things make them deaf to the call that can bring them so much; they can’t hear.
It’s the same today. The journey of Jesus goes on in our time and in our lives. He calls us now and we may resist him, for many of the same reasons we’ve mentioned. We can be just as deaf as some were then.
But there’s something else we should remember as we read the gospel narrative of Luke about the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. The journey is a favorite theme in Luke’s gospel. It occurs over and over. A key to its meaning is found in the journey reported in the last chapters of Luke’s gospel when Jesus, risen from the dead, journeys from Jerusalem to Emmaus with two of his disciples. They don’t recognize him, but he keeps walking with them unrecognized, patiently continuing to challenge their unbelief and reluctance, waiting for the moment when their hearts burn and they recognize him. He stays with them, the gospel says. The journey is a journey of mercy and patience. He will not leave them.
That’s what we should remember as we hear these stories from the past and see them also in stories of the present. Certainly we should learn to avoid what we see in these stories. But what about the teacher of the law, the rich young man, the man fighting over money? Did they only get one chance and that was it, or did Jesus keep walking with them and challenging them.
Luke’s Gospel teaches that conversion is a lifelong gift. All through our lives Jesus calls, even though we resist him, even though we fail. At the end of St. Luke’s story of the passion, Jesus’ last words are to a thief who failed. He calls him again, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”