Discipleship is a costly commitment. It requires putting priorities instead of people and commitments. It may be family, friends and the security of a place to call home; all these count less. Discipleship is not a part-time job, it demands everything including life.
First reading: 1Kings 19:16, 19-21
This reading presents Elijah returning from his hiding in the desert and his theophany at Horeb. God had ordered him to anoint Elisha as his successor whom he fortunately found immediately and handed off his hairy mantle. From that moment Elisha began to speak for God. The seamless transfer of prophetic power from Elijah to Elisha assures the continuity of God’s communication to the Israelites. The fact that God ordered this transfer affirms that Elisha’s call was a result of divine initiative. Elisha was free to respond or not, chose to cooperate with the grace or to reject it. Unlike the ecstatic and frenzied ‘sons of false prophets,’ who camped on the outskirts of villages and demanded a fee for their ‘divination’ services, Elijah and Elisha like Samuel, were authentic emissaries of God.
Elisha’s initial hesitation to accept God’s invitation serves only to make his response more dramatic. With twelve yoke of oxen, he was obviously a wealthy man by his world’s standards. To leave all that and his family behind in order to continue the ministry of Elijah was no mean sacrifice. Nevertheless, Elisha did it enthusiastically. He even made the magnanimous gesture of sacrificing his oxen on a fire made of his farm implements. In his willingness to forego all else in order to keep Israel in touch with God’s will, Elisha sets the standard for the quality of commitment that Jesus would later ask of his own disciples.
Second reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-18
In the early 19th century, a plantation owner was moved by the sobs of a young slave girl who was about to be auctioned. In a rush of compassion he bought her and disappeared into the crowd. After the auction, the clerk handed the girl a bill of sale on which the plantation owner had written ‘Free’. Stunned by such unexpected kindness she begged to know the identity of her liberator. ‘He has set me free’, she exclaimed. ‘I must serve him as long as I live!’ Paul, who gave his voice and his life to preaching the Gospel to the gentiles offers a lesson on freedom. Writing to the Galatians, he insisted that freedom was not about satisfying every human appetite; rather the freedom Jesus won for sinners is something we are to exercise in the loving service to one another. Paul reminded Galatians that the freedom Christ had won for them was to assure them that they were no longer slaves of sin because their faith was a gift of salvation that Jesus had won for them. Through loving service, all law was being fulfilled.
Some within the community misinterpreted what Paul meant by freedom and started giving themselves over to licentiousness that Paul termed works pf the flesh that were opposed to the Spirit. Paul counseled them that immorality, impurity, circumcision and excesses of every kind were not permitted for those who had been redeemed on the Cross by Jesus. Incidentally false teachers were trying to convince gentile converts that circumcision and all that it symbolized completed and even perfected the freedom won by Jesus. Paul regarded such a mistaken notion as submitting again to the yoke of slavery. He thus challenged his audience to recognize God’s call by accepting the Holy Spirit into their lives and to leave behind, once and for all, their attachments to the flesh. In the verses that follow this exhortation, Paul lists the evils of the flesh as opposed to the fruits of the Spirit which are deceit, lust, hatred, fornication, drunkenness, corruption and murder. To the look of things human beings have not changed so much in the last two millennia. Sin is still sin, however it is named. What is even very good is that God has not changed either nor has the power and the availability of the Spirit been diminished in any way. Time is now, convert and believe the good news.
Gospel Luke 9:51-62
In today’s gospel we reflect on what is called ‘the travel account’ which begins with Luke 9:51 and continues until Luke 19:28 sometimes called a gospel within the Gospel. These ten chapters trace Jesus’ travels to Jerusalem. As we follow this progress, it becomes clear that this will be Jesus’ final journey to the holy city and it will not end well. When the disciples traveling to Jerusalem with Jesus tried to accommodate the Samaritans, they were rebuffed. Angry that anyone would dare challenge them, the disciples wanted to see their centuries-old adversaries suffer the fiery of God. But Jesus who was patient and tolerant refused to use his power to punish the Samaritans despite their bad behavior. Instead, he set the example here as a prelude for the instructions he would later give to the seventy others he sent ahead of him: “Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we shake off” Luke 10:11.
We should not understand this action of shaking away the dust as a condemnation of the Samaritans; rather, it means that the disciples’ mission is spurred on by urgency, by the imminence of the reign of God. The Samaritans were not excluded from God’s saving embrace. The ascending Jesus named them in the agenda he set for his followers: “You will be my witnesses throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” Acts 1:8. From Jesus’ response teaches that God does not give up on sinners and is not influenced by human prejudice. Insulted by the hostility of the Samaritans, the disciples wished Jesus to repeat the action of Elijah who called down fire from heaven to destroy two captains and a hundred men sent by King Ahaziah cf. 2Kings1:10-12. Jesus’ mission was of mercy and forgiveness. From his reaction, the disciples were to learn to love and respect their enemies, to do good to those who hated them, to bless those who cursed them and to pray for those who mistreated them Luke 6:27-28. They were to admit that following Jesus required uniqueness.
Jesus underlined the importance of that commitment with the responses he gave to the three would-be disciples who approached him on the way. The first said, “I will follow you wherever you go” Luke 9:57, Jesus responded that traveling with him meant being uprooted from the security and comforts of home. Jesus responded to the second who requested to bury his father first; Jesus sounded quite harsh by informing him to let the dead bury the dead. To the third disciple who requested to bid farewell to his parents, Jesus extends the challenge of perseverance telling him to focus ahead. Jesus was resolute in his decision to carry out the will of God, and his disciples had to be similarly determined. Good teacher and talented author that he was, Luke did not name these three would-be disciples. Nor did he tell us whether they did go and follow Jesus. Their anonymity invites us to see ourselves in them and to hear their questions echoing in our own minds.
If we look back over the major decisions we have made in our lives, we might discover that the most significant ones were made not with long careful discernment but on the spur of the moment. An opportunity comes along, please seize it like Elisha. We meet someone and fall in love, throwing caution to the wind to risk everything to be with that person may be right. We have been set free by Jesus; we have to make sure that our lives are guided by his Spirit. As we journey with Jesus we must be oriented by love and mercy instead of prejudices. Jesus is still passing by; like Elijah he throws his cloak over us and invites us to follow him today.