We pray to have ears of our souls in preparing to celebrate the liturgy
with such direct readings. We will hear of decisive and indecisive responses
from those who are called to follow God’s invitations. Jesus and Elijah have
precious little time to get done what is at hand. They both ask for immediate
responses as they themselves have responded in their lives.
We can pray with the reality of the many invitations we receive to accompany
him in the works of our hands. We have our excuses and personal plans; they
are good ones. We can ask for the grace from the Caller to help us find generosity
and trust in being Jesus’ disciples. We might also pray for the grace of fidelity
to follow Jesus no matter what; this is not easy or cheap Christianity.
The prophet Elijah has had a rough time of it in his life. He is near his
death and God has told him to find Elisha and convey the spirit of prophecy
upon him. As usual in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, those who are called
are doing their thing, like tending sheep or Sycamores or fishing, or collecting
taxes. Elisha is plowing his fields when Elijah comes upon him, and throws
the mantle of prophecy upon him. Elisha makes a proper response, running
after Elijah he says that he will be right with him, first he must kiss his
parents good bye. Elijah says that Elisha should forget it all, because Elisha
has forgotten or ignored what the gesture of the "cloak" meant.
Elisha understands the call a little bit more and runs to slaughter the
oxen who have been pulling his plow. He renders the plow into fire wood and
cooks the oxen and gives it all to his people in a gesture of freedom and
takes off to follow Elijah and his own personal call.
The Gospel has several elements to it as well. It follows last-week’s narrative
about carrying the daily cross with Jesus. Jesus is "resolutely determined"
to head for Jerusalem. To do this he and his apostles pass through the territory
of Samaria whose people are separated from the Jewish traditions. Pilgrims
would usually pass around this area, but Jesus has come for us all. James
and John would cast fire upon them to consume them, but Jesus’ journey to
Jerusalem will result in the Spirit’s being cast like fire upon the apostles
who will in turn be sent to all the nations.
The remainder of the Gospel has three conversations between those who hear
a call and Jesus. They will follow, but first they have to do something else.
Jesus remains resolute and asks that same determination of his followers.
The call seems harsh, but the mission of proclaiming the kingdom is urgent.
Family, former labors and interests are all important, but Luke presents Jesus
as intently committed to not tending the dead, but giving life; not plowing
the earth, but saving it.
This evening I was conversing with a young man who will enter the Jesuit
Novitiate this fall. He is a college graduate and highly motivated. We spoke
of his fears about trusting that the Superiors will take good care of him.
I smiled. He didn’t. We spoke of the American and human cultural necessity
for clarity and security. Going on any kind of trip demands we know exactly
which roads and turns to take. The computers can print these maps out to the
We are so addicted to knowing the future which makes following Jesus that
much more difficult. He did not have a map or Global Positioning System to
give to those he called, or his beloved disciples. He offered them the clarity
of a relationship.
Security, being taken care of, seems to be an entitlement. Will we be taken
care of? Will everything work out just right? Will we look good and feel good
about ourselves? I can not find the answers to these very human, Americanly-conditioned
questions in the Gospel. It seems so right and natural that we would want
security of our bodies and egos. Jesus’ response to our condition is the reminder
that he himself had no place to rest his head. He rested his heart and spirit
in the hands of the Father who kept calling him.
Maybe it was easier in times past to up and leave everything, because everything
wasn’t too much. At least here in the First World of our culture, these days,
everything is quite a lot and it all gives a sense of clarity and security.
We have lights so that darkness does not exist. We have communication so that
we never feel lost. We do not have to venture much and so we swim in the
shallows of this same cultural pond. We have our excuses and they are good
ones too. Jesus keeps calling and keeps heading us towards the freedom which
faith provides. When trusting is not natural to us, then following God’s
call in the various states of life within Christianity, then trusting, really
trusting God, is, of course, unnatural. So it is.
Oh, the young lad left saying that I had, again confused him. That’s a good-night’s
work, I’d say. I think Jesus was doing the same thing with his young band.
"You are my inheritance o Lord." Ps. 16