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God's Word on Sunday: We are all called to discipleship

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  • June 21, 2019

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 30 (Year C) 1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62

A calling can come without warning and be expressed in surprising ways. 

Elisha was ploughing the fields and minding his own business. He was blissfully unaware that the divine order had already been given to Elijah to anoint him as a prophet. Suddenly Elisha found himself enveloped in Elijah’s mantle — a symbolic way of singling him out and drawing him into the fold. 

Elisha was willing to follow, but understandably did not want to leave his parents without so much as an embrace. When he asked permission from Elijah to say goodbye to his parents, he got a rather nonchalant response — go ahead, do what you want, I don’t control you. These responses left Elisha utterly free to follow when and if he chose. 

For ourselves, a call might be given but not really heeded until much later. Often seeds are planted but allowed to germinate when the time is right. Sometimes a calling is brushed aside only to return in force years later. God leaves us free with one important proviso: We must obey our heart and conscience. We should not feel compelled against our will. 

Elisha knew that he would never return — he slaughtered his oxen and burned the plough. His life would never be the same. If he was sad, he didn’t show it. He shared a feast with the people before he departed from home. 

All of this calls for interior freedom, which is something lacking in many people. We cling to what is comfortable, secure and fulfilling of our desires and needs. At some time in our lives, we may feel a tap on the shoulder or even a mantle settling on our shoulders. Are we ready and willing to go wherever that leads? Much rests on the answer we give.

Paul was adamant: Christ is freedom! Paul warned his followers not to submit again to a yoke of slavery, something that Christianity has an unfortunate tendency to do. This simple proclamation is often buried or forgotten, turning Christ into a judge with a burdensome collection of rules. 

Our lodestar or inner compass should be love, understood as ceaseless concern for the well-being and happiness of others. Indeed, the whole law is merely a variation on the one fundamental principle “love your neighbour as yourself.”

Some may object that merely appealing to love is a recipe for immorality and self-seeking, but Paul would disagree. Genuine love does not seek self-indulgence, immoral behaviour or domination over others. True freedom is freedom to love and genuine love is not focused on self.

Here is the turning point of the Gospel of Luke: Jesus turned and set His face towards Jerusalem, the city of His destiny. The end of the ages was near, so a focused determination born of apocalyptic expectation governed His words and actions from then on. Discipleship was going to cost and a half-hearted commitment was no commitment at all. 

We can see this in the way that He raised the bar for His followers. Some of the apostles asked permission to call down fire on an inhospitable Samaritan village. Their violent intent echoed an incident in 2 Kings 1:9-10, in which Elijah called down fire on 50 soldiers to prove that he was a man of God. But Jesus rebuked His followers — that was not His way and it would not be theirs. 

Someone asked to follow Him, but Jesus made it clear discipleship would not include security or predictability. Two other individuals made what seems to us perfectly reasonable requests. They wanted to tidy up their affairs first — one wanted to say goodbye to his family, the other to bury his father. 

Jesus brushed them both aside: The call to discipleship is now; the response must be made now. The demands of family, culture, tradition and society cannot take precedence over the call of God. 

Today we do not live in the same apocalyptic, end-time expectation. Bills must be paid, commitments fulfilled and families cared for. But the demands of discipleship are still there — each can be a disciple, even if in simple ways. 

Our response needn’t be spectacular. It is enough to make a difference.  We are all called in one way or another, and much depends on our response.

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