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.”
13th Sunday Ordinary Time
June 30, 2013 (Year C) on Being Truly Free
All of today's readings consider individuals' responses to God's call in their lives. They invite us to reflect upon the fact that answering 'yes' to God's call is the only path to freedom and joy. Elisha was a prophet in the northern kingdom f Israel in the 9th Century BC, who as we see from the 1st reading, was chosen by God to be Elijah's successor, so that the Jewish people would be assured of the continued proclamation of God's word among them. The twelve yoke of oxen which he slaughtered and with which he fed his people, indicates that Elisha was fairly prosperous and that he gave up a great deal to follow Elijah. And the fact that he burned all his plowing equipment indicates that he wholeheartedly chose God as his inheritance and God's work as his future.
It is this kind of total commitment, and even more, that Jesus is asking of would be followers, as he journeys with His disciples toward his own destiny in Jerusalem. Jesus has 'set his face' to make this journey because He has been called to do so. Justas his Galilean ministry began with a rejection in the Temple, so his journey to Jerusalem begins with a rejection too, this time from the Samaritans, and in both cases, Jesus simply moves on, for in the Christian way of life there is no room for violence and getting even, despite that fact that He, the most peaceable person in all of human history will suffer the most violent death. Later along the road to Jerusalem, to the one who proposes to follow him "wherever he goes", Jesus promises nothing but hardships ahead (nowhere to even lay His head, no place to call home, nothing to count as possession), as if to say that "wherever" the journey takes us, it is a destiny that even He cannot control.
Jesus' strange reply next, to the man who wanted first to bury his father before following Him, indicates the urgency to get on with proclaiming the reign of God and that it is not a matter of first we'll do this and take care of that, and then, we'll concentrate on our relationship with God and what it means for our life. Jesus' very point is that it is in the very midst of ours and our neighbors grieving and tragedies and sufferings that we're called to give witness to the hope found in a loving, provident God. Whereas Elijah allowed Elisha to say his family farewells before following him, Jesus' answer to the man in the Gospel who wanted to do the same is that "no one who puts their hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God"
This unsettling reproof of Jesus' illustrates the point that discipleship is a commitment that supersedes family obligations and goodbyes, and that Jesus said long before this, that "my mother and brothers and sisters are all those who hear God's word and obey it." The exchanges between Jesus and these three would-be disciples remind us of the cost of discipleship, and of the readiness we must have to accept rejection, poverty, the sacrifice of our previous priorities and a break with our pasts. The Gospel doesn't tell us if any of these three individuals ended up following Jesus. Like us, they had intellect and free will and could choose for themselves what they would do.
Freedom is commonly understood as "I am free to do anything I want, when I want to do it, and how I want to do it and nobody is going to tell me what to do. After all, it's a free world, isn't it?" No doubt that in the coming week, most Americans will celebrate our freedom from English rule, our 1776 Declaration of Independence, with that concept in mind. But Paul speaks in the 2nd reading, of an entirely different concept of freedom, indeed our greatest freedom--i.e., the "liberty by which Christ has made us free." [Gal. 5:1] -- it is both the gift and the goal of our lives. The gift is that we are freed from the demands of the Old Law, the tyranny of sin, and the power of death itself; the goal, is that we are set free in order to love as Christ did.
That's why Paul reproves the Galatians to stop "biting and tearing one another to pieces", pointing out that freedom does not mean giving 'free rein' to our physical and emotional cravings. Rather, to live in true freedom is to live, 'guided by the Spirit", in harmony with God's will for the Good. In Paul's vision of humanity, we are either slaves to self (working for wealth, status, or pleasure-- none of which last beyond the brief span of our lives anyway) or else having responded to God's grace, we desire only to love as Christ did.
The wonder of God's grace, is that as I meditate consistently on the enormity of God’s love in relation to my nothingness on my own, a miracle takes place—the Spirit makes my heart fill more and more with gratitude to God such that I more and more desire only to share God’s love with others. The more I live my life focused on the amazing grace of God, the more the Spirit motivates and empowers me to live a lifestyle of self-giving love.
The result is that when we act in accordance with a sense of the true and the good that God has put in our hearts, we actually grow in inner freedom. Paul knew such liberty while waiting to be executed. Regarding himself as a 'prisoner of Christ,' he used his incarceration to help other inmates discover what it means to be an eternally forgiven, dearly loved member of God's family (Philem. 1:10). Barred windows and doors represented his kind of confinement. For us, it might be physical paralysis, terminal illness, inescapable poverty, or prolonged unemployment. Whether we are on the cusp of life or in its twilight, we will all endure imprisonments on our life journeys--Will we be able to live lovingly and freely in the midst of them???? Will we remember that true freedom is not aright, but a grace?
Reverend Mary Wagner
St. Valentine Faith Community
"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)