JULY 1, 2002, HOMILY: Genesis 18: 16-33; Mt. 8:18-22 

FOLLOW ME AND LET THE DEAD BURY THEIR DEAD. St. Matthew’s Gospel has any number of passages that depict a side of Jesus that is demanding in the extreme on our human nature. This text is one of many such sayings. It is not easy to harmonize such an exacting command as this which involved refusing a son permission to arrange his own father’s funeral and take part in it with such passages also in Matthew as ‘Learn of me for I am meek and gentle of heart’ (11.29). Perhaps only someone who meets the Lord in person can appreciate how he could be at once so approachable, understanding and accepting and yet convey an awesome sense of authority and dignity that brooked no reserves, no hesitation but demanded full and prompt obedience. In this instance the point he makes is not that we should have no piety toward our natural parents- his concern for his mother’s care at the hour of his death shows that such loving concern is important. Rather, his message is that nothing must interfere with following the impulse and call of grace. Delay is dangerous and must be avoided. Nothing must be allowed to compete with the voice of God.      

The apostles and the holy women who followed after him, ministering to him, leaving behind their other concerns knew how to reconcile these two polarities in our Lord’s personality. They understood that the absolute demands Jesus made, his insistence of recognizing his right to require total acquiescence in his words and ways was but the expression of his inmost self. They recognized that his requirements were not arbitrary but flowed from his life with the Father. To obey him is to obey the Father; to know him is to acknowledge his right to make the same kind of demands that God alone sets forth. As they got to know the Lord better after the resurrection they came to understand that his authority was that of a divine person and so is absolute, stronger than death itself. 

If we would know the Lord Jesus, we too must take seriously the requirements he sets out for those who would follow him.  He speaks to us as surely as he spoke to those who heard his voice in Palestine during his life on earth. We are confronted with that same challenge to take seriously his absolute authority and to conform our natural propensities, desires, no matter how good, to his plan for us. Love of family is one of the strongest in all of us but there are times when we must refuse the usual ways of expressing that love in order to respond to a divine command or an order made in God’s name. 

We will be able to do this only if we truly know the Lord Jesus in person. This means meeting him at that place within our heart where his words manifest to us both the authority of his divinity and the love of his humanity. The love of God casts out servile fear but it intensifies that awesome fear that is but the response of love to the dignity and great worth of the beloved. The Eucharist we offer is given us as a pledge of such love in a communion with the glorified Lord whose divinity become for us a saving presence. May we prove worthy of such a great gift by preferring nothing to the love of Christ.          

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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