And to another Jesus said, "Follow me."
But he replied, "Lord, let me go first and bury my father."
But he answered him, "Let the dead bury their dead.
But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
And another said, "I will follow you, Lord,
but first let me say farewell to my family at home."
To him Jesus said, "No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God."
At first reading, these words of Jesus may seem dismissive of the importance of love and mutual caring within the family; especially for us now in light of the recent Vatican Synod on the Family and the great importance the family is given. Some context here will help with an explanation.
In Jesus time the Jewish burial customs where strict and place a serious obligation on family members, especially on the eldest son. When a person died they would be entomb that same day. This would be followed by a month of mourning. Then after one year, the bones of the deceased would be gathered up and placed in an ossuary (a small box) and reburied. After this second burial the son's obligations would be fulfilled and he would be free to carry on with his life.
At this point there were two main viewpoints as to what all this meant. The Sadducees believed that death was the end of the story. There is nothing more, other than to recall with fawned memories those now gone. The Pharisees believed there was to be a "coming-back-to-life-again", a resurrection of sorts, back to this life, in this world. These old bones would take on new flesh and live again.
No doubt Jesus is fully aware of the Fifth Commandment, "Honour your father and your mother." Jesus considers this obligation to honour the deceased to be fulfilled after the first burial, thus freeing one to come and follow him. Waiting for a whole year would directly conflict with the urgency to proclaim the gospel now. [ link to a commentary on this subject ]
At the heart of the gospel is a new and profoundly different understanding of human existence - of who we are, why we are here now, and what is our destiny. There is a future. There is to be a "New Heaven and a New Earth", but they will be a wholly new creation and preparation for this new life begins now. Already now, through the Holy Spirit, this new and eternal life begins in us.
Knowing this and understanding it will begin to reshape the way we live our lives now. Now we see through the eyes of Jesus. Now we shape our lives and model them on the vision we see through Jesus' eyes; not as the world sees, not as we used to see. To him Jesus said, "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God."
What vision of reality is shaping our world today? Clearly, one is a secular, atheistic world view that professes that "what you see is what you get". That's all there is, nothing more. The question put to us in today's gospel is, "what and who is shaping your mind and heart. Are you looking only on what has passed, or is your life full of great expectation of what God has in store for those who love and follow him?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In 1969, singer Peggy Lee won an award for her recording of a song entitled, "Is That All There Is?" The following is the link to the song and a link to the background of the song.