13th Sunday Reflection: Beyond The Ashes Of Tradition
Franciscan Reflections From The Hermitage – Beyond The Ashes Of Tradition – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time – (Luke 9:51-62) –
Fear and self-indulgence bind us to the past, clinging to the ‘good old days… to privilege… to tradition’. Yet there is a way beyond this fear.
In today’s readings, we hear how Elisha abandons the plough that represents food security and tradition to follow Elijah.
St Paul warns the Galatians that the freedom won in Christ can be used as an opening to self-indulgence. This is linked to the “snapping at each other and tearing each other to pieces… destroying the whole community.” This binding we do on each other robs us of freedom.
The Samaritans fall into this trap. They misinterpret Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and so reject ‘the one’ previously welcomed. Moses directed them to protect Mount Gerizim as a sacred mountain and worship on it by making pilgrimages to it three times a year. Jesus has turned his face towards Jerusalem. How can Jerusalem be greater than their place of worship on Gerizim? It is for this tradition that they turn their faces away.
Jesus turns these traditions on their head. Tied to the honouring of God as ‘birther and first ancestor’, the fifth commandment demands the honouring of our fathers and mothers. The ritual cleansing and burial were integral to this honour. A follower of Jesus wants priority to first bury his father, but Jesus rejects this delay due to adherence to the Law, “let the dead bury the dead.” Inwardly we also feel the same horror and consternation of Jesus’ followers. So many clever interpretations and manipulations to get back to our comforting traditions. This is however a comfort, a self-indulgence that stifles innovation, growth, and development.
The Gospel has the power to renew the Church and bring new life to the world. It can indeed ‘restore life to dry bones’. As a river flowing from Christ, the Gospel brings abundant life to the world of men and cultures: ‘Flowing into the sea, it makes the waters wholesome. Wherever the river flows, all living creatures teeming in it will live’ (Ez. 47:7.9). Our Franciscan brother, Eloi Leclerc reminds us that “the world of men is a battlefield. The messenger of the Gospel must not appear as a rival or a competitor in the scramble for riches and power.”
The time of rebirth is with us now.
Pope Francis warns that tradition of the global church over the centuries is not a container for preserving objects, but is instead the roots to be drawn on for future growth. He calls us out of our comfort of ‘safeguarding the Ashes of the past’, those who have a nostalgia for returning always to these ashes. Tradition is the guarantee of the future that gives us nutrition to grow:
Tradition is the guarantee of the future and not the container of the ashes… Tradition is like the roots [of a tree], which give us nutrition to grow. You will not become like the roots. You will flower, grow, give fruit, and the seeds become roots for other people. The tradition of the church is always in movement. The tradition does not safeguard the ashes.
In 2017, the Franciscan family asked Pope Francis to allow them to elect brothers to leadership positions, including those with authority over ordained priests. This would overturn the tradition of centuries and allow the Franciscans to live the order’s ideal of leadership, which should challenge the friars, whether ordained or not, to ‘minority, to not going up, but going down’. This is the opposite of clericalism, which is ‘a drive upward as if upward mobility offered some security and guarantee of fidelity, a way of controlling people so they remain faithful to the truth.
As Franciscans, we don’t see it this way. Rather than the view of the pastor as set apart, we see this as a servant position at the centre of the community.
‘The Joy of the Gospel,’ affirms that ‘a missionary heart never closes itself off, never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness. It realises that it has to grow in its own understanding of the gospel and in discerning the paths of the Spirit, and so it always does what good it can, even if in the process, its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street.’
Choosing a life beyond our comfort zones to develop the river of compassion and love for all of God’s creation will take courage.