If there is one thing that can be said of today’s readings, it is that they all emphasize the cost of discipleship. Discipleship is not easy. But God calls each and every one of us to be His disciple, and the world today is in desperate need of disciples like us.
Do we understand what God is saying to us, what he is asking of us? It can be difficult to hear Him, especially with all of the distractions we face today: the overwhelming noise of various social media and the so-called entertainment industry, the personal agendas of individuals and groups, and the reality of evil in the world as seen in the tragic events that we or those we love experience. Even today’s scriptures may seem confusing.
At first glance, it might appear that today’s reading from first Kings and the Gospel passage from St. Luke contradict each other. After all, when Elisha asks Elijah if he could kiss his family goodbye, Elijah tells him to go ahead and “go back” to them. Yet Jesus, when asked what seems to be a similar question, admonishes the person with what seems to be a harsh judgment about not be fit for the kingdom of God. So what gives?
Well, let’s start with our first reading. It begins with God telling Elijah on Mount Horeb to anoint Elisha as his successor as prophet to the Israelites. Elijah had fled to mount Horeb because Queen Jezebel wanted him dead for having her prophets of Baal killed and he was ready to give up. He sought God on the holy mountain in order to hear what God had to say to him about that.
God ordered him to go back and continue his mission, and gave him three specific tasks to do. One of those tasks was to anoint Elisha as his successor, which is where we pick up the story today.
Now, Elisha appears to be a fairly well-to-do person, as he has 12 yoke of oxen at his disposal for plowing, and most scripture scholars agree that that would be considerable for the times. To follow Elijah then is going to call for a significant sacrifice on Elisha’s part.
And yet, having been called by God to replace Elijah, Elisha doesn’t really hesitate when Elijah places his mantle over his shoulders. In requesting to kiss his parents goodbye, Elisha honors them in accord with the 4th Commandment, but he’s truly saying goodbye – by burning his farming equipment and feeding the oxen to his people he is severing all his ties and there will be no going back.
Which brings us to today’s Gospel. At this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is beginning His final journey to Jerusalem and His Passion. There is a sense of immediacy – of urgency – in his journey now. His admonitions reflect that sense of urgency:
• “(T)he Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” – don’t expect permanence in your life when following Jesus.
• “Let the dead bury their dead … you, proclaim the kingdom of God” – it is more important to share the message of eternal life, for spiritual life is more important than physical death, as seen in the attitudes of the early church in referring to those who are “asleep” in the Lord.
• “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God” – you cannot look back with longing for the past – or regret – if you expect to persevere in following Jesus.
Notice that in all of his admonitions, Jesus doesn’t tell any of his potential disciples to NOT do what they’ve asked, but he’s pointing out that if they truly want to follow Him, they must be aware of the consequences. He needs committed followers, and He knows that when the time comes for His Passion, almost everyone who says they will follow him will abandon him. He’s telling them – AND US – that the price of following Jesus is our total commitment to Him first.
It is almost ironic that these readings are for this weekend – the last time I reflected on these particular passages was 6 years ago to the day, the last Sunday I served at St. Francis in Frisco before coming to St. Paul’s. I thought at the time that God had a sense of humor, since these readings were set long before I found out I was leaving, yet here it is 6 years later and I am witnessing a similar transition with Fr. Tymo.
And while it is true that he will have new priorities in his life as the UTD chaplain/priest, it doesn’t mean that the gift that he has been to each one of us, as we have been to him, will ever be forgotten. In the past, whenever there are reassignments, inevitably people have said they felt like they were losing a friend. I told them that you really never lose true friends, but that the boundaries of their faith “family” merely expand. So it is with us.
Fr. Tymo’s presence over the last 3 years should remind us of the beauty, the joy, of following God’s Will instead of our own. He goes to continue proclaiming the Kingdom of God to those who need God’s love, and what he has proclaimed to us now becomes OUR responsibility to proclaim to others.
So, what about us? Many of us face major changes in our lives over time – moving for a new job, family members leaving for school or for their own futures, tragic events that change our lives forever. If God is speaking to us – calling to us – how do we know what He is asking of us?
St. Paul sums it up well in his letter to the Galatians, when he echoes Jesus’ own words concerning what is most important next to God himself: “serve one another through love.” If there is one word which sums up our world today, it might be “conflict”. We all face conflicts. Conflicts with personalities, with policies, with the opinions of others. We can easily find something about another person with which to disagree. It was really no different in the time of St. Paul – he cautions about “biting and devouring one another.” Our challenge then, is to overcome the conflicts we face with love.
Ultimately, it is all about attitude. Are we willing to do whatever God asks of us? Can we do it with love? Can we be joyful and at peace with whatever God calls us to?
Speak, Lord, your servants are listening.