JUNE 26TH, 2016: THIRTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
The LORD said to Elijah:
“You shall anoint Elisha, son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah,
as prophet to succeed you.”
Elijah set out and came upon Elisha, son of Shaphat,
as he was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen;
he was following the twelfth.
Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak over him.
Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said,
“Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,
and I will follow you.”
Elijah answered, “Go back!
Have I done anything to you?”
Elisha left him, and taking the yoke of oxen, slaughtered them;
he used the plowing equipment for fuel to boil their flesh,
and gave it to his people to eat.
Then Elisha left and followed Elijah as his attendant.
Brothers and sisters:
For freedom Christ set us free;
so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.
For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters.
But do not use this freedom
as an opportunity for the flesh;
rather, serve one another through love.
For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement,
namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
But if you go on biting and devouring one another,
beware that you are not consumed by one another.
I say, then: live by the Spirit
and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh.
For the flesh has desires against the Spirit,
and the Spirit against the flesh;
these are opposed to each other,
so that you may not do what you want.
But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
When the days for Jesus' being taken up were fulfilled,
he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem,
and he sent messengers ahead of him.
On the way they entered a Samaritan village
to prepare for his reception there,
but they would not welcome him
because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem.
When the disciples James and John saw this they asked,
"Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven
to consume them?"
Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village.
As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him,
"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."
And to another he said, "Follow me."
But he replied, "Lord, let me go first and bury my father."
But he answered him, "Let the dead bury their dead.
But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
And another said, "I will follow you, Lord,
but first let me say farewell to my family at home."
To him Jesus said, "No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God."
No two biblical calls are exactly the same. Though they contain the same basic elements, each is just a little bit different. In today’s first reading, for instance, Elijah permits Elisha to return home to kiss his mother and father goodbye, something Jesus forbids his prospective disciple to do in our gospel pericope. Perhaps that’s why it’s good to zero in on the elements of the calls that are the same, the elements which apply to everyone, no matter his or her historical situation.
In every biblical call, God (or Jesus) expects the person to change his or her basic focus. What they once thought important, they now relegate to the perimeter of their priorities; what they once kept on the periphery, they now put front and center. At the start of his public ministry, the gospel Jesus labels this turnabout “repentance:” metanoia in Greek. In his mind, it’s an essential personality trait in anyone who would dare follow him; a 180 degree change in one’s value system.
In the situation of receiving a “call,” it includes a demand that one’s relationship with Jesus be more important than other relationships – even those relationships we have with our parents. The classic passage on this topic is part of today’s gospel. When he invites someone to “Follow me,” the man replies, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” Jesus stuns us with the response, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Scholars remind us that most probably the man isn’t on his way to the local funeral home to make arrangements for his deceased father. That’s simply not how people were buried in Jesus’ day and age. Rather, he’s telling Jesus, “I’ll follow you, but because my father wouldn’t understand such a drastic move, let me wait until he dies and I bury him. Then I’ll follow you.” That seems to be why he says, ‘Let the dead bury their dead.” In other words, “Haven’t you noticed that your father – by not being part of my reform of Judaism – is already dead? Let someone just as dead as he is bury him. Nothing, or no one – not even parents - should stop you from being truly alive.”
Jesus presumes that just as we must eventually die physically to enter eternal life, so we must die right here and now to receive life right here and now. And the main way he expects us to die is to undergo a metanoia.
In just what does the life the risen Jesus offers us today consist? In our Galatians passage, Paul states his belief that it’s a freedom we can’t achieve any other way. “For freedom,” the Apostle writes, “Christ set us free. . . . For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters.”
Yet because our basic metanoia revolves around focusing on the importance of others, we’re never free to put others down or use them for our own purposes. On the contrary, we’re called and expected “to serve one another through love.” Other Christs simply can’t go through life doing “what we want.”
We’re to be as free as the historical Jesus was free, free to give himself to those around him, no matter the consequences. Such freedom eventually enabled him to accept death for those others.
Perhaps many of us are willing to follow Jesus in certain areas of our daily lives; those areas which don’t cost us very much. But few of us are willing to slaughter the yoke of oxen around which our peaceful lives revolve. We haven’t quite yet achieved that kind of freedom.