Sunday, June 27, 2010

Year C 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kings 19:16b.19-21; Ps 16:1-2.5.7-11; Gal 5:1.13-18; Lk 9:51-62

The point of today’s Scriptures is simple: follow Christ! Further, our readings today tell us that following Christ is more important than anything else; it is nothing less than the reason for which we exist. Christ is the way to true happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction. In our first reading today, we see this illustrated in a particularly dramatic way.

After having Elijah quite literally lay the prophetic mantle across his shoulders, thereby calling Elisha to follow after him, both right at that moment and to take his place after he was called to God, Elisha runs and catches Elijah, pleading with him to "Please let me kiss my father and mother goodbye"(1 Kings 19:20). Elijah lets Elisha know in no uncertain terms that he cannot go back to bid his parents farewell. Getting the old prophet’s point, the young man goes and slaughters the twelve oxen that were pulling his plow and uses the plow to light the fire on which he cooks the oxen, after which he distributes the meat freely among the people. With this gesture, Elisha gives everything away to follow, not just hearing God’s call, but responding to it wholeheartedly. God doesn’t ask for what Elisha is willing to give, God wants all of Elisha. Note that Elijah does not stop him, or tell him that he is being ridiculous or that with his slaughtering, cooking, and freely distributing the meat Elisha went way overboard. "Then Elisha left and followed Elijah as his attendant"(1 Kings 19:21).

Back in the fifth of chapter of Luke’s Gospel, after being told by Jesus, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men," Peter, James, and John, after bringing "their boats to the shore… left everything and followed him" (Luke 5:10-11). Like Elisha heeding Elijah’s summons, these men left everything and followed Jesus. This is a nice segue into our Gospel for this Sunday. Luke tells us that Jesus and the disciples were going from Galilee to Jerusalem, but instead of walking the normal route taken by observant Jews on their way to participate in Temple worship, which meant walking east, crossing the Jordan River, before crossing it again just outside of Jericho, going through Jericho and up the mountain to Jerusalem, they took the direct route and went through Samaria.

Jesus sent some of the party ahead to an unnamed Samaritan village to make arrangements for the group, but the villagers were unwilling to accommodate Jesus and his companions because they were Jews headed to Jerusalem. For Samaritans the place of worship was not the Temple in Jerusalem, but on Mt. Gerazim. Just as the Jews did not think very highly of the Samaritans, the Samaritans did not much like the Jews, as this story attests. James and John, who are identified elsewhere in Scripture as the Sons of Thunder, want to wreak vengeance on the unwelcoming village by calling "down fire from heaven to consume them," a sentiment that seems to be shared among the Lord’s companions, one that prompts Jesus to rebuke them (Luke 9:54-55). More importantly, the disparity between their response and that of Jesus shows that, despite travelling with Him, they are not yet followers of Jesus, that is, disciples.

To make this disparity unmistakable, Luke has one of the disciples, perhaps James and John again (who knows?), say, in the very next breath, "I will follow you wherever you go" (Luke 9:57). To which Jesus responds, "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head"(Luke 9:58). This is a poetic way of saying, "Oh, really?" Keep in mind that it is earlier in this same chapter of Luke, which we read last Sunday, that Jesus said to the disciples, "whoever wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). Jesus is not only saying that following Him isn’t easy, or that it costs us something, He is saying, as in the cases of Elisha, Peter, James, and, John, it costs us everything! Just in case the first time is too subtle for us, Jesus reiterates this two more times when He says to the would-be disciple who wants to first bury his dead father, "Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God" and then, to another, who like Elisha, wants to go home and say goodbye before heeding Jesus’ call, the Lord says basically the same thing Elijah said to Elisha: "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62).

As far as being called, Christ gives one task to one and a different task to another, but ultimately there is one vocation: to follow Christ, which call you are given in baptism. Freedom enters in and is necessary in order for us to respond to Jesus’ call. In other words, He calls you and leaves you free to respond or not to respond. While we know that Elisha, Peter, James, John, and the rest of the twelve responded by heeding the call, we do not know if the one disciple went and buried his father, or whether the other one went home instead of following Jesus.

The "yoke of slavery" St. Paul refers to in our second reading, is the law (Gal. 5:1). We are slaves, Paul tells us, insofar as we mistake the lesser reality, adherence to rules and regulations externally imposed on us, for the greater reality, God, the Giver of the law, which God gives as a means to accomplish the end for which we are created. Often we mistake means for ends. It would be silly to argue that for Christians there are no "dos" and "don’ts." Keeping it simple, we take seriously that prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are disciplines that, as disciples of the Lord, we must practice. The end to which these disciplines are the means is drawing closer to Him, becoming more like Him. So, mindless and rote practice of these disciplines won’t bring you closer to God. "Only God can bring you closer to Himself. What the discipline is meant to do is to help you get yourself, your ego, out of the way so you are open to" what God is seeking to do in you and through you (James Kushiner).

We hear a lot of talk about the need to find ourselves, it is important for us to recognize what Msgr. Luigi Giussani points out so clearly, namely that "Christ offers Himself as the answer to [who] 'I' am." This is why service of others, what the Gospel writers and St. Paul refer to as diakonia, figures so prominently in all of our readings. Diakonia, which is loving, self-emptying service of others, must be freely chosen. As St. Jerome observed, "Action without a name, a 'who' attached to it, is meaningless." Elisha doesn’t just slaughter the oxen, chop up the plow and walk away, but neither does he go home to kiss his parents goodbye. He provides a feast for others. Jesus calls the disciples to selfless service over and over again, as He does in today’s Gospel. St. Paul very clearly points out that "the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Gal. 5:14). We all know from experience that this is easier said than done, it is a constant provocation for anyone serious about following Christ, but this is what it means to follow Him.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your provocative Summary of today's Liturgy.

    I say Provocative because it does provoke us, it taunts us to Truly Follow Christ!
    Leave it all! It won't be easy! And yes, that's an understatment...

    Now, can WE kill the oxen and make a feast?
    I am trying...failing...but still trying ;)


Heeding the most important call of all

Readings: Amos 7:12-15; Ps 8:9-14; Eph 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13 Like Amos in our first reading, "the Twelve," as the inspired author...