Photo by Sammie Chaffin on Unsplash

God’s kingdom is not for the half-hearted

  • June 19, 2022

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) June 26 (1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62)

Elijah was looking for a worthy disciple and successor and he had a novel recruiting method.

Elisha was hard at work in the field and Elijah passed by him. He threw his mantle over Elisha, and Elisha knew exactly what this gesture meant. He was called and had to follow, although he had little understanding of what lay ahead. He asked only for an opportunity to bid farewell to his parents. Elijah told Elisha to do whatever he wanted for he was free. Elijah did not impose anything on him.

Elisha slaughtered his entire team of oxen and was able to provide a farewell feast for the people. He knew that his life was going to change radically and that he would not be coming back. It was a momentous decision on Elisha’s part, for he was leaving his parents and the obligations he had to them as well as his livelihood.

Elijah’s method of calling Elisha is mirrored in the calling of the disciples in the New Testament. What motivates people to walk away from their lives and follow a perfect stranger? Today we are so leery of scams and deceptions that most people would run in the opposite direction. But the encounter with Spirit-filled emissaries of God awakened something deep and vital in those who were called. They became aware of their true identity and purpose and were filled with a longing to serve God.

Perhaps we have had those life-altering moments of clarity and new purpose but for most people it is less dramatic, taking the form of a gradual awareness over time. Jesus offers His mantle to all — it remains for us to acknowledge it and be willing to follow Him.

Freedom is a slippery word — it can mean many things to different people. In our own time, the term has been used in some very selfish and unhelpful ways. For some, it means being free of any sort of constraints — living out one’s own desires without a thought to the impact on others.

Some in Paul’s communities were interpreting freedom from the law as a free pass to behave as they wished. Paul insisted that freedom meant being free to love, and love always sought the good of others and the common good. In biblical terms, he contrasted two ways of living: by the flesh or by the Spirit. Living by the flesh is living for oneself, without much regard for others or for God. Living by the Spirit is finding joy and fulfillment in serving and helping others and making a positive contribution to the world.

Paul urged his followers to be led by the Spirit and in that way to be truly free.

The hinge of this Gospel is Luke 9:51. Jesus turned and “set His face towards Jerusalem” and His destiny, and from this point onwards there is a palpable sense of urgency and tension. The demands of discipleship were set at a higher mark and Jesus told prospective followers that it would be a life of uncertainty and challenge.

The Elijah stories from 1 Kings are definitely in the background but with a different twist. The disciples wanted to call down fire on the Samaritan village because of their inhospitality, reminiscent of 1 Kings 1:10 where Elijah did the same to some of the king’s soldiers. Jesus rebuked them; there would be no fire and brimstone on His watch.

Some had what seems to us reasonable requests: saying farewell to family and friends and tending to the care and burial of parents. When Elisha made a similar request, it was not a problem but, in this context, a different set of rules applied. Jesus brushed aside their requests — familial and cultural expectations were not to take precedence over the demands of discipleship. They were to follow Him now, without reservations or exceptions.

No one who hesitates or is half-hearted is fit for the kingdom of God. We do not have the same sense of apocalyptic urgency as the Gospel. But in another sense, our situation is similar. Our chaotic and broken world is in dire need of hope, healing and compassion, and much depends on us. Perhaps we need to revisit the seemingly hard and demanding words of Jesus as He journeys resolutely towards Jerusalem.