Some of the comments made at the recent Asian Bishops' Synod in Rome seem to have been based on Sunday's liturgical readings. According to Catholic News Service reports, the participating bishops "repeatedly recommended that evangelization use a model of a gradual faith journey instead of a dry presentation of Church doctrines. Christian witness means far more than dogma to Asians, who are much more receptive to demonstrations of personal spirituality than to proselytism, representatives told the assembly."

We often overlook one fact: our Sacred Authors weren't Western Europeans. They never experienced the culture which, until Vatican II, epitomized Christianity. More important, if they could have chosen a culture outside their own in which Yahweh/Jesus could best be taught and imitated, they probably would have looked East to Asia, not North to Europe.

Notice, for instance, how in each of Sunday's three readings, discipleship revolves around following a person, not in acquiring a treasury of doctrines or dogmas.

Sole purpose

In the first reading (I Kings 19:16, 19-21), Elijah throws his cloak over Elisha, who initially leaves his twelve yoke of oxen and runs after the prophet. The two discuss what Elijah's symbolic gesture means. Then as a sign that he'll focus his future life on imitating Elijah, Elisha slaughters his oxen, using the plowing equipment for fuel to boil their flesh and gives the meat to his people to eat. "Then he left and followed Elijah as his attendant."

Paul (Gal 5: 1, 13-18), zeros in on the freedom which distinguishes Christians from all other people, a freedom not experienced by those who were demanding that Jesus' followers obey the Mosaic Law. The Apostle believes the only law which brings and presumes freedom is the law of love: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Yet, even in observing this law of love, the disciple of Jesus is following a person. "My point," Paul teaches, "is that you should live in accord with the Spirit....If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law." In other words, those who give themselves over to laws and refuse to follow the Spirit who teaches us how to love will remain slaves throughout their lives.

But no matter how often we Christians insist that we follow the Spirit, the main person we follow is He who taught us how to follow the Spirit: Jesus. It is Jesus, the person, whom the evangelists depict; it is Jesus, the person, whom our Sacred Authors inspire us to imitate.

But only Luke describes Jesus, the person, as actually leading His followers on a journey, a journey which begins in the Sunday Gospel (Lk 9:51-62): "As the time approached," Luke writes, "when Jesus was to be taken from this world, He firmly resolved to proceed toward Jerusalem." From this point until the end of Acts, Jesus' disciples will always be "on the road" -- first, to Jerusalem; then, after Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit, from Jerusalem to "the ends of the earth."

Journey

Luke purposefully begins the journey not only by telling us how demanding this life-long trip will be, but also by depicting the frame of mind which characterizes those who are willing to start down this faith-road.

The attitudes or opposition of others should neither distract nor stop us from pursuing our goal. Jesus first tears into James and John for getting sidetracked from the journey by planning revenge against the inhospitable Samaritans. Then He makes tremendous demands on several individuals who inquire about possibly following Him. They're to rid themselves of any idea of "creature comforts," and to be so focused in on the goal that "looking back" is never an option.

Even the request, "Let me bury my father first!" is met with "Let the dead bury their dead!" (We presume the person's father is still alive. He simply wants to stay with him, an unbeliever, until he dies. Then, after he buries him, he'll follow Jesus down the road. Jesus reminds the man that because of his unbelief, his father is already dead. The dead should never stop the living from experiencing life.)

Many of us certainly will hear these readings differently after the Asian Bishops' Synod than we heard them before.

(06-25-98)