Homily for June 26, 2016 13th Sunday of Ordinary - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi
At first glance, it might appear that today’s first reading 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. What gives?
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. If we go back and look at the previous chapters in first Kings, we read about Elijah’s contest with the 400 prophets of Baal, and how, after winning, he had them executed. Because of that Queen Jezebel wanted him dead, so he fled to Mount Horeb in fear of his life.
But God had other plans for him. God revealed Himself to Elijah on the mountain – not in a mighty wind, or an earthquake, or in fire, but in a whispering, soft sound. He ordered Elijah to go back to continue his mission, and gave him three things to do, one of which was to anoint his successor, Elisha, which is where we pick up 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 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. 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.
It is ironic that these readings are for this weekend – the last one I will be celebrating with you as your deacon here at St. Francis. I think God has a sense of humor, since these readings were set long before I found out I was leaving. But while it is true that I will have new priorities in my life as a deacon, it doesn’t mean that the gift that each one of you has been to me will ever be forgotten.
As I look back over the years of the journey which led me first to St. Francis and now to St. Paul’s in Richardson, I can understand something about the beauty, the joy, of following God’s Will instead of my own.
I’ve been here 3 ½ years – how quickly they’ve passed. That’s roughly the same amount of time that Jesus served in His ministry. I’ve been blessed to have St. Francis as my first assignment as a deacon. I’ve been blessed with serving with Fr. Larry and all of the other priests and deacons here, and I’ve been blessed with serving with some of the best altar servers I’ve ever seen anywhere. (Don’t let that go to your heads, guys.) And best of all, I’ve been blessed to have developed friendships with so many of you. You’re like family to me – you ARE family.
When other deacons from the class before mine were reassigned last year, many of them said they felt like they were losing their friends. I told them that you really never lose true friends, but that they were merely expanding the boundaries of their faith “family”. It reminds me of a passage from 1st Chronicles, chapter 4, verses 9 and10 – better known to many of you as “The Prayer of Jabez”, from the book by Bruce Wilkinson. It goes like this:
“Jabez was the most distinguished of his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I bore him with pain.” Jabez prayed to the God of Israel: “Oh, that you may truly bless me and extend my boundaries! May your hand be with me and make me free of misfortune, without pain!” And God granted his prayer.’
I’ve always wanted to serve others even before I became a deacon, and I’ve had the joy of serving in many different ministries of my own choosing. I knew that once I was ordained, however, that it would be God guiding my choices and that He would steer me toward wherever He wanted me to serve. Now, I see he’s merely expanding my boundaries again.
So, my final words to you are these: have faith in God’s call, and do not be afraid to answer it, whatever it may be. St. Francis has many, many wonderful opportunities to serve and I’ve been blessed to have been part of several different ministries here, like the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Knights of Columbus, and the 8th grade Confirmation class. But you don’t have to be a deacon to be part of these wonderful ministries. Pick one and get involved, and you too will be blessed. Don’t be afraid.
Like a first love, St. Francis – YOU – will always have a special place in my heart. But love for God HAS to be greater than personal wants, and that means I go where I am called. And my trust in God is great. I have been amazed by the actions of God in my life. Maybe I shouldn’t be – after all, He IS God and I’m just a deacon – but His love for me and His presence with me have been amazing, even in the trials and changes that have periodically arisen in my life – just as He is present in the trials and changes you face, too.
And so, to paraphrase the classic rock song “Turn, Turn, Turn” by the Byrds (actually, the song comes from Ecclesiastes):
To everything, turn, turn, turn.
There is a season, turn, turn, turn.
And a time to every purpose under heaven.
“A time to laugh, and a time to cry;
a time to say hello, and a time to say goodbye. “
Yet, it’s really not goodbye, for goodbye and farewell have a sense of finality about them. I prefer to say, “Hasta la vista". May God bless you all.