We walk the Spirit's path when we serve others

  • June 17, 2010

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) June 27 (1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62)

Recruiting was a bit simpler in ancient Israel. All Elijah the prophet had to do was throw his mantle over Elisha and his life changed forever — no protests, no excuses and no attempts at evasion. It doesn’t appear that there was a long anguished search for self-identity and his “professional” options were rather limited and clear-cut. Perhaps people were more focused on their life that was right before them and clearer on the reason they were alive.

But Elisha has one request — and it seems eminently reasonable — he wants to kiss his parents farewell. Elijah is fine with that. He basically tells Elisha that he is free — Elijah does not own him and he can do as he pleases. The team of oxen, which represents his livelihood, is sacrificed and distributed to people as food. There was no looking back for Elisha had burned his bridge behind him.

Slavery versus freedom, who in their right mind would choose the former especially after having been set free? But Paul is right on target: many people then and now do just that. Freedom can be a scary thing. With it comes responsibility and if we make a mistake there is no one to blame but ourselves. And things are not always crystal-clear — there is ambiguity and uncertainty at times along with the possibility of making a mistake. Small wonder that many people opt for authority figures and institutions to tell them what to think or how to live. Often ignored is the quiet but firm voice of the spirit within — our personal teacher and guide.

Living according to the prompting of the Spirit is not “getting off easy” as Paul is quick to point out. We are free, but this means free to love and love can be an exacting taskmaster. Walking the path of the Spirit means serving others rather than self and being willing to be taken where we would rather not go.

When Jesus turned and “set His face” towards Jerusalem He entered a new phase of His life’s mission. From here until the end of the Gospel there is a tone of uncompromising urgency. The focus is on committed discipleship and Luke clearly is aiming this at his community towards the end of the first century. In a very few verses, the conduct and teachings of Jesus is contrasted with incidents in the life of Elijah in a manner that demonstrates clearly just how different Jesus is.

The first has to do with the violent expression of spiritual power following the example of 2 Kings 1:10. Stung by their inhospitable reception by some Samaritan villages, some of the Jesus’ disciples beg permission to “nuke” them in retaliation. Jesus is quick and scathing in His rebuke: that is not what He is about and has nothing to do with His message.

The second instance is the example we saw in the first reading — that of responding to a call to discipleship. Elijah was rather liberal and relaxed in his response to Elisha but Luke’s Jesus gave no slack at all.

Potential followers are warned that this will be a life of uncertainty and instability — definitely not for the fainthearted or those looking for an easy ride.

But His harshest response is to two seemingly reasonable requests. One man wants to say farewell to his family while the other simply wants to bury his father. They are practically accused of vacillation and superficial spirituality.

There is no “later,” only the pressing and urgent demands of the “now.” The time was short, the needs were great and the commitment demanded was total.

In one sense, we have lost that sense of urgency for we don’t believe that the world is going to end soon. But we are also confronted with a host of challenges and crises: economic, political, social, environmental and religious. We no longer have the luxury of putting things off for the future, and we live with the possibility of bringing an end to the world as we know it or at least creating immense suffering. Perhaps we really need to let the dead bury the dead and put our hand to the plough and not look back. God — and the world — depends on our response.

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