Today we honour the memory of Saint Jerome, the Church’s first biblical scholar who translated the Bible into Latin – known as the Vulgate and is still used today by serious scripture scholars. After spending his early years in Rome as a lawyer and a priest, Jerome spent the last 34 years of his life as a semi-recluse in the Holy Land where he translated many important documents which are still in use today. He died around the year 419 and his remains are preserved in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome.
Today’s Gospel is something of a puzzler. On the journey to Jerusalem with Our Lord, the disciples are given some instructions that seem harsh to modern ears. One could infer from the first instruction that Our Lord tells his followers they are to have no homes; or from the second that they have no responsibility to their loved ones who have died. Or finally, that Our Lord’s disciples have permission to rudely and abruptly leave their families of origin. Scripture scholars tell us that these words of Our Lord are deliberate exaggeration used to drive home a point. Hyperbole is a tool of good rhetoric, and Our Lord used it to get his point across.
And the point Our Lord is making is easy to understand: his followers are not to live the high life of kings: the Gospel is a gift that the poor are closest to already. Our Lord had absolutely no problem with the proper care of the dead; what he is saying is that putting off the liberating message of the Kingdom of God is a bad idea. The kingdom is breaking in right here, right now; it is urgent and important business. Finally, Our Lord makes the point that you can’t move forward while looking back. Of course he didn’t expect his disciples to abandon their families. But there is a certain focus needed if Christians are to live the life to which Our Lord calls them.
Modern farmers have merely to keep the wheel of the tractor in the last furrow ploughed which will help to keep him driving a straight line. But farmers handling a plough behind an ox or a horse have to be careful that they don’t stray off course. In a similar way we need to focus on following God’s will. No matter what our vocation, it is important for us to keep looking ahead and staying vigilant.