THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C

1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21

Galatians 5:1, 13-18

Luke 9:51-62

There is something we need to understand as we listen to the readings this Sunday.  The readings have to do with discipleship.  My dictionary defines disciple as a pupil or follower who helps to spread the master’s teachings.  What the first reading and the gospel tell us is that to be a disciple in our tradition is a vocation, a calling that begins with God and is a result of the Spirit’s movement in the one who is called.  That’s fine as far as it goes, but what is also clear is that God expects a wholehearted response from the one who is called.  Maybe, or, later just won’t do.  Remember what Jesus said last week to his disciples?  If you are going to be my disciple, pick up your cross every day and follow me. We could probably translate that differently.  Isn’t Jesus saying, before you say yes, know what you are getting into, what is expected of you?  Jesus defined his own ministry as doing always the will of the One who sent him.  The disciples must strive to say the same thing about his life in reference to Jesus who called him to ministry.

In the first reading we meet the prophet Elijah, the great prophet who spent himself in trying to keep the Israelites faithful to God and helping them to avoid the false gods that others worshiped.  Now he is coming to the end of his days and there needs to be the selection of his successor, the one who will continue to tell the people what God wants them to hear after God has taken Elijah home.  God directs that that one be Elisha who is talented and apparently comes from well-to-do parents.   12 yoke of oxen says he is not from paupers.

If there were any words proclaimed by Elijah in calling Elisha, they are not quoted.  In stead, Elijah simply walks up to Elisha and throws the prophetic cloak on Elisha’s shoulders.  The cloak is the symbol of authority.  Was he stunned for a moment as he pondered and then came to understand what this action meant?  There is nothing in what follows that would indicate hesitation on Elisha’s part.  He runs after Elijah and asks for permission to say a proper adieu to his parents.  Elijah’s words are poorly translated in the text.  In essence what he says to Elisha is that he should do what he needs to do but recognize the importance of what Elijah has done to him.  Elisha shows that he accepts God’s will in his life.  He slaughters the oxen and with the plough and the yoke builds a fire so that he can make for his parents a meal from the meat of the oxen.  That is the end of Elisha’s former life.  That is over now.  The text doesn’t say that he kissed his mother and father goodbye, but I’d bet that he did before he ran after Elijah to take up his new vocation as Elijah’s attendant.

Why Elisha?  God has placed in Elisha those gifts and talents that will enable him to be successful as Elijah’s successor.  He will be strong, powerful with words, and able to preach effectively.  That make-up is part of the grace that inspires his immediate and whole-hearted response.  His yes seems natural to him. How could it be any other way? Everything with which God has gifted him, Elisha will in turn place at God’s disposal.  That is the response God expects.  So does Jesus.

From this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is bent on journeying to Jerusalem, as we heard last week, there to suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders…and be killed and on the third day be raised.  Jesus is single-minded in his determination and totally responsive to his vocation.  There is an indication that the disciples who are with him still have much to learn.  They didn’t get the point of the lesson he had just taught them.  As they near a Samaritan village, Jesus sends representatives ahead to prepare for his reception there.  But remember that there is strong antipathy between the Samaritans and the Jews.  Jews would incur ritual impurity and be unfit to enter into temple worship were they to come into contact with a Samaritan.  The Samaritans refuse to welcome Jesus.  And James and John are furious.  (They are aptly named sons of thunder.) They want to severely punish the Samaritans.  It sounds like they would be open to the idea of slaughtering them.  But Jesus rebukes them.  There’s that word of strong castigation again.  We don’t hear what Jesus said.  But you can imagine.  The incident is over.  They go on towards Jerusalem.

The theme of call to discipleship recurs now.  There are various responses.  One person, bursting with enthusiasm, rushes up to Jesus and says that he will follow Jesus wherever he goes.  Jesus knows that flashes of enthusiasm can be just that, flashes that are short lived and perish when reality sets in.  So, he puts his poverty before the individual lest he have any misconceptions about Jesus.  Is this one thinking about Jesus as the mighty one who will set Israel free the way Peter used to think?  We don’t know whether this is the end of the line for the person, or whether, altering his perceptions about Jesus, he embraces the poverty and follows Jesus as a disciple.

Jesus invites another person to follow him.  But the man demurs.  Apparently his father has just died and he must tend to the funeral.  Jesus tells him not to let that get in the way of his announcing the Good News.  When Jesus invites another to follow there seems to be a conscious allusion to Elisha’s story.  The man wants to follow, but after he says goodbye to his family at home.  Jesus says, No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God. In other words, disciples cannot be divided in their response, one foot in one world and one foot in the other.

In the early Church, the way she celebrated Baptism attests to this total yes that Jesus wants.  During the Vigil of Easter, the elect were brought to the Font.  At the entrance to the font, they stood in their old clothes, that is, what they wore in the life that is about to end.  After they were questioned about their intent and the firmness of their faith, they were asked if they wanted to enter the font and there to die to all that was in order to rise from the font reborn in Christ.  They stripped off all the old trappings and, naked, were lead into the waters where they were immersed three times – in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Then, as they came out on the other side, they were clothed in the white garment that symbolized their having put on Christ.

What are hard for us to appreciate, perhaps, are the implications the early neophytes had to accept as they became disciples.  What did they have to give up?  In many cases, everything.  If they were converts from paganism, they could never again come into contact with pagan things or take part in their practices.  Sometimes the family rejected the convert and s/he was suddenly alone in the world, except for the community of believers.  Sometimes they had to give up their employment.  Leaving everything of the old order on the edge of the font was more than symbolic.  It aptly described the forsaking of everything that was so that they could live this new life in Christ.  Their entering into Jesus’ dying and rising began their proclamation of the emerging kingdom of God.

In the second reading, Paul urges us not to look back and take up former ways.  What occasioned his remarks were those people who were urging the Christian converts from Judaism to continue the former disciplines.  That seemed to say that they were saved by the Law rather than by the blood of Christ.  Christ sets us free from the Law.  But that does not bring with it the freedom to live licentiously.  The sins of the flesh that Paul refers to involve more than sexual sins.  Pride is a sin of the flesh.  So, too, are envy and greed and all the other capital sins.  None of them should be part of the Christian’s life.

How, then, are we to live?  Paul quotes Jesus in summing up the path we are to follow.  You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself. Love is the new law.  Christian love is imitative of the love practiced by the One who taught it.  Essentially, it is a love of service that, strengthened by the Spirit, empowers us to take up the cross every day and follow Jesus.  It is a love that grows out of the Eucharist that is at the core of our faith life as we renew each Sunday the Lord’s dying and rising.

It is said that when Romans witnessed the behavior of the Christians as they faced a martyr’s death, the pagans said, See how these Christians love one another. I’d like to think that that is an accurate quote in those circumstances.  If it is, that might also be an explanation for why the church flourished during those terrible times, and why the number of converts always surges during periods of persecution.

There are people who represent us and go to distant and desperate lands to minister to the impoverished in Christ’s name.  They live joyous lives in spite of the dangers that surround them and the threatening sword that might claim their lives at any time.  How these Christians love the poor and pour themselves out that the little ones might know that God loves them in Christ!

Finally, wouldn’t that be an amazing grace if the first thing a visitor sensed as s/he entered the parish church for Sunday Mass was how these parishioners love one another.  And the second thing s/he realized was that that love embraces the visitor, too, and those beyond.  That could be a life-altering experience, especially if that one came into that community feeling alone and abandoned, unloved and ignored.  S/he would share in the Bread and drink from the Cup.  You can be sure that it wouldn’t be long before the visitor tells others what s/he found there – and s/he can hardly wait until next Sunday.  The whole week in between will be better, too.

The invitation to discipleship is always there.  The question is, how do we respond?

Sincerely,

Didymus

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