30th June, 2013. 13th Sunday of Year C.
1 Kgs 19:16,19-21. Elisha immediately answers his call; leaving all he follows Elijah.
Gal 5:1,13-18. They must resist the flesh which draws them back towards sin and slavery.
Lk 9:51-62. Jesus resolutely takes the road to Jerusalem, calling others to follow him.
Theme: Paul affirms our Christian freedom and yet warns against abusing this freedom by self-indulgence. We should reflect today on the freedom we have and on those who are still denied it.
First Reading: 1 Kings 19:16, 19-21
The Lord said to Elijah, “You shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.” So he set out rom there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?”
He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.
Second Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-18
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.
Gospel: Luke 9:51-62
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
The Cost of Discipleship
A renewal of personal loyalty to Jesus and to his teaching seems to be the obvious theme today. One might begin by talking about decisions or choices. Few really important decisions are made without some regrets or hankerings after the alternatives which had to be foregone, particularly if the choice made leads to difficulties or hardship. Some decisions are made once for all (e.g. to eat this cake) ; others have to be reaffirmed constantly (e.g. to love one’s spouse.) Our decision to follow Jesus is never without such hankerings after the alternatives, and it must be constantly reaffirmed. Seldom do we really slaughter our oxen like Elisha; seldom do we co-operate fully with the Holy Spirit so as to be free from slavery to our weak humanity.
The following points seem to be suggested by the readings:
(1) Renouncing old ways, i.e. sin and the hankering for it. Seeking conversion, turning back to God and beginning again. Stress the use of the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass for this purpose.
(2) Personal commitment to Jesus, to put him first. Rediscovering his values so as to seek in them our real happiness and fulfilment. If we consider that all the fun and enjoyment is on the side of the impure, all the advantages on the side of the dishonest, we have not begun to see Jesus’ values as the best ones. Following Jesus requires a decision, easy to make but hard to persevere with, to pay attention to him for ten minutes each day in prayer.
(3) Witnessing to Jesus, proclaiming the Kingdom with our lives. Paul knows that the most practical way we can do this is by loving our neighbour. This requires a serious attempt to live in harmony with those about us. There are plenty of would-be Christians who have not imbibed the spirit of their leader, like James and John in today’s gospel. They want God to “sort out” those who oppose them, and believe they have “cornered” God for their side.
(4) Persevering with Jesus;. keeping the hands to the plough, looking ahead and not back. By ourselves we will not be able to do it. We must not neglect the Spirit who has been given to us by the risen Christ. As Paul says, we must be “led by the Spirit,” guided by him. Perhaps it is because he is so conscious of the gift of the Spirit that Luke can make such demands on the disciples throughout his gospel.
The Challenge of Vocation
In the Gospel we have the advice given separately by Jesus to three individuals who wanted to follow him on his religious wanderings. Far from pressuring them to join his group, he even seemed to discourage them. The first was advised to count the cost before joining, as Christ had no fixed abode. His words to the second seem quite harsh. “Let the [spiritually] dead bury their dead,” the man heard. Perhaps his father was not yet dead, and the eldest son would not leave the family home until after his father’s death. The lesson is that if we are faced with a radical option and do not take it at once, it is less likely that we will do so later. His reply to the third was also uncompromising: “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is the right kind of person for the kingdom of God.” The fragile wooden ploughs of that time were in danger of breaking if they struck any of the stones that littered the fields. Therefore the ploughman had to keep his eyes on the ground ahead at all times. The commitment to his task by the disciple of Christ should be total at all times as well.
All through our lives, God is also calling us, whether we respond or not, even as he called Abraham from his homeland, Peter from his nets, Matthew from his tax office, Elisha from his farm. But, how many of us answer the call? Referring to the Jews, Jesus said, “Many are called but few are chosen (Mt 22:14). The almighty God, speaking through Moses to the Israelites, seemed almost to rejoice and take delight in the small numbers who were following his call. “It is you that the Lord your God has chosen to be his own people out of all the peoples on the earth. If the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, it was not because you outnumbered other peoples; you were the fewest of all peoples” (Deut 7:6f).
This was again echoed by Christ before his disciples, “Fear not little flock, for it has pleased the Father to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32). But the sad thing, not only in the Old Testament, but throughout the history of Christianity, is that God’s generosity has been often met by a lack of gratitude, faith, holiness, truth and fidelity. It is a great mystery why one person follows the call of God and lets it give direction to his/her life, and another does not. We do not know why this happens, but we cannot blame God for it. “As I live, says the Lord God, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked should turn from their evil ways and live” (Ezek 33:11). “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost, but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). This reassures us that there is no lack of love on God’s part for each and every person that ever lived. It is in the manner of their response to God’s love that people are found wantig Nor can there be room for complacency, taking our salvation for granted. Even so great a saint as the apostle St Paul said, “I treat my body hard, and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, having preached to others, I myself should become a castaway” (1 Cor 9:16). We should always bear in mind that we are children of God, called to live in the light of Christ, and not dwell in the darkness.
Invitation to Share his Adventure
We may wonder whether Jesus was trying to attract or to discourage followers. He was so forthright in specifying his requirements. His words and actions offer criteria for assessing the quality of our response. How do we measure up? The question is relevant because we are baptised.
On his own initiative Jesus has called us. His ‘Follow me’ should be regarded as a frequently recurring refrain. It is not just an unrepeated invitation. The call is renewed day by day. He calls us into a personal relationship with himself. We are invited to share in his life and in his interests. Discipleship and mission go hand in hand. Precisely because it is his mission it has to be carried out in his way. James and John were zealous but they wanted to do things their way. Jesus rebuked them. A fire and brimstone approach even towards opponents, was unacceptable to him. He had come as a saviour not as the leader of a punishment squad. ‘The anger of man docs not work the righteousness of God’ (Jam 1:20). We can be forgetful. Sometimes followers of Christ appear to be more like followers of the ‘sons of thunder’. We need the guidance of the Spint to help us to clarify and to refine our understanding of discipleship.
Disciples do not have to sleep rough, but they should break free from all forms of false security. The apostles abandoned the security of an established lifestyle in order to be with Jesus. In his day Elisha set aside his security as a well-off farmer to become a servant to Elijah the prophet. ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me… ‘.Have the words a familiar ring about them? How often that response could be our own? ‘I will follow you but on my own terms.’ ‘I will follow you, if the cost is not too high.’ We can hardly criticise those would-be followers. But Jesus conveys a sense of urgency. There is no time to haggle over terms and conditions. Our consent must be unconditional. We have to say a Mary-like ‘Yes’. If we do that we can experience the joy of the Spirit which St Paul calls a “pledge,” a first instalment of heavenly joy.