Several years ago I heard the story of the chicken and the pig. After coming upon a hungry man, the chicken suggested to the pig that they give the man a ham and egg breakfast. The pig responded: “For you, that would be a sacrifice. For me, that requires total commitment.” There is no going back after that breakfast. In the Old Testament reading, Elijah chooses Elisha for the prophetic ministry. Elisha doesn’t say “No” but he hesitates. “What about my family?” Elijah basically responds with, “Whatever.” The reading never says that Elisha actually went back to his family. Perhaps he sensed the choice he had to make. He chose total commitment. The text doesn’t use those words but it says that this farmer used his farm equipment to build a fire, cooked all twelve of his oxen, and invited the neighborhood to lunch. There is no going back after that barbecue. How many times have I decided to follow Jesus but left the oxen and equipment behind just in case? Surely it is wise to have something to fall back on just in case the God thing doesn’t work out.
The psalmist seems to internalize the disciples’ choice. We have our oxen, our farm equipment, our inheritance. On the other hand, a disciple says to God, “You are my inheritance, O Lord.” God becomes for us our refuge, portion, cup, oxen and farm equipment. We give up everything and the Lord holds us fast, counsels and exhorts us, stays with us through thick and thin, and promises never to abandon us long after the world of oxen and farm equipment is gone. Yet, total commitment is not an easy choice. Brother Tim became a celibate religious. He gave up all of his possessions and took a vow of poverty. Yet, he loved good coffee. The monastery had coffee but it was the cheap, light brown variety. Friends who visited the monastery frequently brought Brother Tim bags of the good stuff. He even had a coffee bean grinder just in case. Elisha and Brother Tim both struggled with God’s call. I think of their reaching out to God to make a total commitment to him and then I wonder sometimes if I have even heard God’s call. Am I so attached to my oxen and coffee bean grinders to hear the words of Jesus to follow him?
In some ways the gospel reading appears to take up a totally difference subject, namely, not taking vows. Yet, on further reflection, I think that these readings complement each other. The life of total commitment is also a simple life. I do not trust in things but in the Lord. I gain confidence in the Lord and this simplifies my whole life, including my words. A disciple of Jesus becomes simple and pure. They do not need to put up verbal collateral for everything they say because they and their words are trustworthy and true. Thus, when they say “Yes” you can take it to the bank. If you have to swear by this and swear by that, then your word alone is no good. Jesus cuts through it all: just say “Yes” when you mean “Yes” and “No” when you mean “No.” Nothing else is necessary for the one who is totally committed to God.
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