Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lord, You It Is Who Hold Fast My Lot. You Will Show Me The Path To Life.

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I
1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21
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.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 16
You are my inheritance, O Lord.
Keep me, O God, for in you I take refuge;
I say to the LORD, “My Lord are you.
O LORD, my allotted portion and my cup,
you it is who hold fast my lot.”
You are my inheritance, O Lord.
I bless the LORD who counsels me;
even in the night my heart exhorts me.
I set the LORD ever before me;
with him at my right hand
I shall not be disturbed.
You are my inheritance, O Lord.
Therefore my heart is glad
and my soul rejoices,
my body, too, abides in confidence
because you will not abandon
my soul to the netherworld,
nor will you suffer your faithful one
to undergo corruption.
You are my inheritance, O Lord.
You will show me the path to life,
fullness of joys in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever.
R. You are my inheritance, O Lord.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Reading II
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
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.
Luke 9:51-62
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.”
Today’s gospel begins with a very significant moment in the life of Jesus. “As the time for him to be taken up to heaven came near, Jesus resolutely took the road to Jerusalem.” In Luke’s gospel, Jerusalem is the focus of Jesus’ public life, the center from which the redemptive mission of Jesus unfolds. After Jesus returns to his place at the Father’s right hand, it will be in Jerusalem that the disciples will form a new community to continue the mission of Jesus, and it will be from Jerusalem that it will spread to every corner of the world.

Jesus sets his face “resolutely” toward Jerusalem, because he is ready to undergo whatever is necessary for his mission to be accomplished. In doing so, he sets an example to his disciples – then and now – to join in his work, and to be prepared for whatever comes in our accepting our part in his mission.

On the way from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus and his companions pass through a Samaritan village, where the people would not welcome them, because they were going to Jerusalem. Apparently, their motive was religious bigotry, but the purpose of Jesus’ going to Jerusalem was to put an end to such divisions, to knock down all the barriers dividing people, and to bring peace and reconciliation. When the Sons of Thunder, James and John, want to call down fire from heaven to consume the village and its people, Jesus rebukes them, and they continue their journey toward the Holy City.

There is a further irony, since it will be to Samaria that the early Christians will flee when persecution begins in Jerusalem, and it will be from there that the infant Church will begin its mission to the four corners of the world.

Now we come to the core of today’s Mass theme: our response to Jesus’ invitation to join him. As Jesus continues on his way to Jerusalem (and all that will happen to him there), several people express the desire to join him. Clearly, they do not fully understand what “going to Jerusalem” truly means for Jesus, and for whoever chooses to follow him. Let us look more closely at these three would-be disciples, since one or another of them represents me – and you.

The first one says, boldly and generously, “I will follow you, wherever you go!” He is very enthusiastic, but he may not be aware of the realities facing him. Jesus pulls him up short: “Foxes have dens, birds have nests, but the Son of May has nowhere to call his own.” He has no house, not property, no money. As Winston Churchill told the British people at the beginning of World War II, he has nothing to offer but “blood, sweat and tears.”

We have to be aware of what is expected from a disciple. Am I ready to let go of people and things, of strings and props that are obstacles to following Jesus wherever he leads? Or do I carry all of that baggage with me, when I decide to follow him?

The second one also wants to follow Jesus. He starts by making what seems to be a reasonable request: “Let me go first and bury my father.” The reply of Jesus sounds harsh: “Let the dead bury their dead. You, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” Yet we should not conclude that this would-be disciple’s father was already deceased. He may have been saying that he would be ready to follow Jesus only after he had fulfilled his duties to his father during his lifetime.

Of course, Jesus is not way that we shouldn’t love and respect the members of our family. Rather, he is asking where our priorities in life really are. He is saying that, if we wish to be his disciple, we can’t make our own arrangements first, and then, only when we are ready, go and follow him. The Kingdom of God, the world of truth, compassion, justice, freedom and peace, which we are called to build, comes first.

The third fellow says that he wants to follow Jesus, but first, he wants to say goodbye to his family and friends. This is not unlike the second case. I want to follow Jesus, but first I want to live my own life. As Saint Augustine wrote, “Crastina, Domine”. [Tomorrow, Lord.] But, to be a disciple of Jesus, I cannot hesitate, or delay. The call is NOW, today, and the response must be now, today. As Jesus reminds us in the last verse of the gospel, if you put your hand to the plow and keep looking back, your furrow is going to be anything but straight.

Jesus’ mention of the plow is clearly a reference to the First Reading, the call of Elisha to succeed Elijah as prophet in Israel. Elisha also wanted to say goodbye to his parents. “Go back”, Elijah said. But then, Elisha thought better of it. He slaughtered his two oxen, took his plow and used it to make a fire, cooked the meat, and gave it to his men. Now, empty-handed but totally free, he followed Elijah.

We do not need to take these images literally; they are intended to help us reflect on the various influences – material, emotional, intellectual – that may be obstacles to our answering the call of Jesus to follow him. There are many desires and attachments in life, many anxieties and fears. We may be moved to regret or to feel nostalgic about what we have done in the past, or worry about what might happen in the future. Much of the time, we may be living only half a life, or even, living someone else’s life and not our own.

That is why Paul, in today’s passage from Galatians, emphasizes freedom so clearly. “When Christ freed us, he meant us to remain free.” Some of the Galatian Christians were Jewish converts, and it seems they were being urged to go back to their former religious customs. The irony is that, like many people today, they were afraid of really being free.

I am a fully free person not when I defy authority, or take drugs, or blow clouds of tobacco smoke into other people’s faces, or turn up my radio or my hi-fi to ear-shattering volume, or drive my car aggressively with no respect for other users of the road. I am truly a free person when I really care for my neighbor, seem him or her as my brother or sister, and when my neighbor’s needs become my needs.

To be free, as Paul reminds us, is not an excuse for self-indulgence, although some seem to think that freedom is expressed by doing whatever I please, without regard for anyone else. To be free is not to escape from the realities of life, but to face up to them. It means not clinging to external props and securities like money, property, status, success, and the like. To be fully free is to take full responsibility for one’s own life. It is to be – or to become, one day at a time – the person that God wants me to be.

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