Concepts get us there, but not quite. We can have images of a certain person or place, but when we arrive at the place or finally really get to know the person, images are dissolved by the real. We do have concepts of God, but God is “unknowable” as God. Whom we can grow to know is not the concept of the Word Made Flesh, but Jesus Who is sometimes, more than we want to know of God.
We prepare to celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in the Eucharist this weekend. The amazing encounter with Jesus in the liturgy is that we are also invited to move beyond false concepts of ourselves by hearing the Word and entering into the “Central Mystery” of our faith.
We can pray these days of preparation by reflecting upon concepts we have of ourselves and of God. A false image of God will eventuate in a falser image of ourselves. Jesus is constantly correcting false images and concepts of both God and ourselves.
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. 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 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 exact footage. 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.
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