Lectio Divina: Matthew 8:18-22
1) Opening prayer
guide and protector of Your people,
grant us an unfailing respect for Your name,
and keep us always in Your love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 8:18-22
When Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other shore. A scribe approached and said to him, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus answered him, "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head." Another of his disciples said to him, "Lord, let me go first and bury my father." But Jesus answered him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead."
• From the 10th to the 12th week of ordinary time, we have meditated on chapters 5 to 8 of the Gospel of Matthew. Following the meditation of chapter 8, today’s Gospel presents the conditions for following Jesus. Jesus decides to go to the other side of the lake, and a person asks to follow Him (Mt 8:18-22).
• Matthew 8:18: Jesus gives orders to go to the other side of the lake. He had accepted and cured all the sick whom people had brought to Him (Mt 8:16). Many people were around Him. Seeing that crowd, Jesus decides to go to the other side of the lake. In Mark’s Gospel, from which Matthew takes a great part of his information, the context is varied. Jesus had just finished the discourse of the parables (Mk 4:3-34) and said, “Let us go to the other side!” (Mk 4:35), and, once on the boat from where He had pronounced the discourse (cf. Mk 4:1-2), the disciples took Him to the other side. Jesus was so tired that He went to sleep on a cushion (Mk 4:38).
• Matthew 8:19: A doctor of the Law wants to follow Jesus. The moment at which Jesus decides to cross the lake, a doctor of the law comes to Him and says, “Master I will follow You wherever You go.” A parallel text in Luke (Lk 9:57-62) treats the same theme but in a slightly different way. According to Luke, Jesus had decided to go to Jerusalem, where He would have been condemned and killed. In going toward Jerusalem, He entered the territory of Samaria (Lk 9:51-52), where three people ask to follow Him (Lk 9:57,59,61). In Matthew’s Gospel, written for the converted Jews, the person who wants to follow Jesus is a doctor of the law. Matthew insists on the fact that an authority of the Jews recognizes the value of Jesus and asks to follow Him, to be one of His disciples. In Luke, who writes for the converted pagans, the people who want to follow Jesus are Samaritans. Luke stresses the ecumenical openness of Jesus who also accepts non-Jews to be His disciples.
• Matthew 8:20: Jesus’ response to the doctor of the law. The response of Jesus is identical both in Matthew and in Luke, and it is a very demanding response which leaves no doubts: “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests but the son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Anyone who wants to be a disciple of Jesus has to know what he is doing. He should examine the requirements and estimate well, before making a decision (Lk 14:28-32). “So in the same way none of you can be My disciple without giving up all that he owns.” (Lk 14:33).
• Matthew 8:21: A disciple asks to go and bury his father. Immediately, one who was already a disciple asks Him for permission to go and bury his deceased father: “Lord, let me go and bury my father first.” In other words, he asks Jesus to delay crossing the lake until after the burial of his father. To bury one’s parents was a sacred duty for the sons (cf. Tob 4:3-4).
• Matthew 8:22: Jesus’ answer. Once again the response from Jesus is very demanding. Jesus does not delay His trip to the other side of the lake and says to the disciple, “Follow Me, and leave the dead to bury their dead.” When Elijah called Elisha, he allowed him to greet his relatives (1Kings 19:20). Jesus is much more demanding. In order to understand the significance and importance of Jesus’ response it is well to remember that the expression “Leave the dead to bury their dead” was a popular proverb used by the people to indicate that it is not necessary to spend energies in things which have no future and which have nothing to do with life. Such a proverb should not be taken literally. It is necessary to consider the objective with which it is being used. Thus, in our case, by means of the proverb, Jesus stresses the radical demands of the new life to which He calls and which demands abandoning everything to follow Jesus. It describes the requirements of following Jesus. Like the rabbi of that time Jesus gathers His disciples. All of them “follow Jesus.” To follow was the term which was used to indicate the relationship between the disciple and the master. For the first Christians, to follow Jesus, meant three very important things bound together: a) To imitate the example of the Master: Jesus was the model to be imitated and to recreate in the life of the disciple (Jn 13:13-15). Living together daily allowed for a constant confrontation. In “Jesus’ School” only one subject was taught: The Kingdom - and this Kingdom is recognized in the life and practice of Jesus. b) To participate in the destiny of the Master: Anyone who followed Jesus should commit himself to be with Him in His privations (Lk 22:28), including persecutions (Mt 10:24-25) and on the Cross (Lk 14:27). He should be ready to die with Him (Jn 11:16). c) To bear within us the life of Jesus: After Easter, the light of the Resurrection, following took on a third dimension: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20). It is a matter of the mystical dimension of following and the fruit of the action of the Spirit. The Christians tried to follow in their life the path of Jesus who had died in defense of life and rose from the dead by the power of God. (Phil 3:10-11).
4) Personal questions
• In what way am I living the “following of Jesus”?
• The foxes have their dens and the birds of the sky have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. How can we live this aspect of discipleship today?
• In what ways and how often do I tell Jesus to “hold off” and wait while I do my own thing at the moment, rather following always and everywhere?
• In what way is living a conventional life like telling Jesus to wait? If He calls us radically like He called the disciples, and we say “yes”, how is it that we continue to live “like everyone else” still?
For further study
The Church of the first few centuries saw the beginnings of asceticism and monasticism in the Egyptian hermits. These early monastics took these words of Jesus literally and left everything to follow Him. This was the foundation for Eastern Monasticism, and through Saint Benedict, Western Monasticism. Some of the more visible modern monastic communities are the Benedictines and the Cistercians, or Trappists. Take time this week to read about the early Desert Fathers as they are called, as well as the the monastic orders that have resulted. Their lives are modeled after the early Christian communities and this advice from Jesus. The writings of the Desert Fathers, Saint Benedict, Saint Bernard, and others give insight on spiritual growth in this way.
5) Concluding Prayer
Fix your gaze on Yahweh and your face will grow bright,
you will never hang your head in shame.
A pauper calls out and Yahweh hears,
saves him from all his troubles. (Ps 34:5-6)