Luke is the first Christian author to presume Jesus's Second Coming isn't going to happen in the lifetime of his readers. By the mid-80s, many Christians were beginning to regard their imitation of Jesus as a long-term experience. No longer was Jesus' Parousia just around the corner. They would have to live their faith for a lifetime.

That's why Sunday's Gospel (Lk 9: 51-62) is so significant. Luke shapes his next 10 chapters into a journey narrative. Be-tween this passage and 19:28, Jesus and His disciples are constantly on the road to Jerusalem.

Everything that happens to them is important; every reading has something to do with the journey each Christian takes to Jerusalem: the place where we die, rise, receive the Spirit and go out to evangelize others.

Stay in focus

As Jesus begins His journey, Luke tells us that it's essential to be focused. Nothing should distract the Christian from reaching his or her Jerusalem. That's why He first rebukes James and John for being led off course by thoughts of revenge, then gives some perspectives from which to view the journey's cost.

Christians will always be on the road, having no "den or nest." They might even have to sacrifice the security of family relations. "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God."

Some explanation is in order for, "Let the dead bury their dead." The person who requests, "Let me go first and bury my father," probably isn't on his way to the funeral home. Especially in Jewish conversions to Christianity, children often had to deal with parental objections. This prospective disciple seems to be saying, "I'll start the journey after my father dies. Once I bury him, I'll follow you down the road."

Jesus, convinced no one should stop another from experiencing life, states the obvious: "Haven't you noticed? Your father's already dead. Why don't you let someone just as dead bury him?"

Almost 30 years before Luke, Paul also reflects on the demands of discipleship, looking at it from the angle of freedom (Gal 5: 1, 13-18). Many in his Galatian community recently sacrificed their Christ-given freedom for the security that comes from keeping the 613 laws of Moses.

Paul reminds them that Christians follow only one law: loving one's neighbor as oneself. It's a law which demands a continual, unselfish dedication, a law that removes all obligation to follow any other law.

Paying the price

Paul believes Christianity isn't for sissies. It appeals only to those who have such a passion for life and freedom that they're willing to pay the price to achieve both.

But Christians aren't the first followers of God to realize faith's demands (I Kings 19: 16, 19-21). Endowed with a smattering of superiority, some Christians point out that, unlike Jesus, Elijah permits Elisha to "kiss his father and mother goodbye." But they overlook the sacred author's mention that Elisha eventually slaughters the oxen with which he was plowing, "used the plowing equipment for fuel to boil their flesh, and gave it to his people to eat."

Once he starts down the road to discipleship, Elisha can never return to what he did or was before he received "the call."

It's good to remember the historical Jesus had no intention of starting a religion as we know it; He simply wanted to reform Judaism. To accomplish that, He had to demonstrate that many who profess faith deal only with the surface of faith. They adhere to a few externals but never commit themselves deeply enough to experience the life and freedom true faith offers.

Perhaps we should worry less about which is the "true" religion and zero in on our lack of commitment to the faith which lies behind our religion. That's the reform Jesus lived, the reform He expected His disciples to live.

(6/24/04)