First Kings 19:16-21; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62
The history of God’s calling to us humans is filled with interruptions of the ordinary. Moses is tending sheep when he hears words from a burning bush. The call of David to be king of Israel is not to his older brothers, but to him, as he too watches his flocks. The Blessed Mother, Peter, Matthew, Paul, all have their little lives made large by the call of God.
In today’s First Reading we hear of Elijah’s being told by God to pass on the torch of the Prophet to Elisha. That’s right, he’s out following his oxen on the farm. You have heard the saying about how some people have greatness thrust upon them. Elisha has the cloak of the Prophet thrust upon him while he is doing his ordinary little-life things. God’s ways are not as straight as the plowed furrows made by Elisha’s oxen. As with the others whose lives were overturned by God’s cultivating call, Elisha responds quite humanly. He will follow the oxen no more, but first must do the reverential thing of saying good bye to his parents.
God’s plowing digs deeply into Elisha’s heart. Elijah says that the time is now and the call is here; the invitation of God seems to supersede even the natural relationships of family. So Elisha immediately burns his plow, cooks the oxen, distributes the meat to his people and begins following Elijah as his attendant.
The Gospel today continues, in a similar way, the theme of being faithful to that which the call of God thrusts upon us. Jesus and His followers pass through a Samaritan district. These inhabitants were not friends of those who made pilgrimages to Jerusalem. The disciples ask Jesus if they should call down destruction on these people, but Jesus has neither time nor interest; He is heading for Jerusalem which is absolutely central to Who He is and what He’s about.
Three different persons are attracted to follow Jesus, but they all have something else to do first. Jesus seems to let them go indicating that proclaiming the kingdom of God surpasses everything for Him. Saying good bye to family and burying the dead are wholesome things and so Jesus comes off as not very compassionate and we can feel less like following Him.
So perhaps after hearing this Gospel we might feel quite distant from having His call thrust upon us. We do not have the faith of Elisha, nor the freedom from family and friends to leave everything and everybody in our lives and go off to proclaim the kingdom of God.
The Gospel today is much more about Jesus than about ourselves. He has embraced the cloak of our humanity and is determined to wear it faithfully until He has the burden of the cross thrust upon Him. He has left his family, His home and everything of this earth to embrace everything and everyone of this same earth. This embrace includes our fears of leaving, our clinging to the littleness and largeness of our lives.
Rather than a condemnation of our weaknesses as humans, Jesus is pictured in today’s Gospel as contrasting our scatteredness with His centeredness. By nature, we do not desire the pains of loss, whether it be of home, ease, family or friends. By nature, we are of the earth and fear emptiness, aloneness, or separation. This is who we are and yet we are called within that human frailty to proclaim the kingdom of God. Jesus, while also being of the earth, does not fear emptiness, as He empties Himself into and onto the earth. He uses His separateness for the kingdom of unity and longs only for our being one with Him which will be achieved in Jerusalem towards which he strides resolutely.
Well then, the Gospel is about us after all, but not about our being faithless and not worthy of proclaiming the Gospel. We hear how of a good natured we are and how difficult it is for us to leave everything to embrace the cloak of the Prophet and the disciple. This is so important for us to pray with; Jesus will always interrupt our ways to make His ways more known in this world. We may be weak and scattered, fearful and weak, but we are loved enough to be at His center as He walked the road to His life-giving death. Our frailty does not cancel His call. Our ordinariness is still our holiness.
“I pray for them; may they be one in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.” John 17:20