First Reading: 1 Kings 19:16, 19–21; Psalm: 16:1–2, 5, 7–11; Second Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13–18; Gospel: Luke 9:51–62
Psalm – 16:1–2, 5, 7–11
Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.
You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is the fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Reading the Word
First Reading: 1 Kings 19:16, 19–21
The Lord said to Elijah, you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel, and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as a prophet in your place.
So he set out from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yokes of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.
Second Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13–18
For freedom, Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
For you were called to freedom, brothers, and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Live by the Spirit, I say and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.
Gospel: Luke 9:51–62
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another, he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Hearing the Word
The readings of this Sunday describe instances of dramatic change in the lives of biblical characters, which involve them in decisive breaks with their past. Such decisive breaks are often necessary to free a person from attachments to the past, and to begin a new life and a new mission.
As Elijah was approaching the end of his prophetic work, God instructed him to anoint the next king for Israel and to appoint a new prophet who would continue his mission. Elisha, an ordinary farmer, was to be this successor. Directed by God, Elijah met this unsuspecting farmer, busy with his daily work of plowing, and threw his cloak over him. This clothing with a new garment meant that Elisha was handed the prophetic authority of Elijah and that his life would be decisively changed.
Elisha understood what he was asked to do. He left his oxen and only requested leave to say goodbye to his parents, which Elijah allowed. This farewell of Elisha’s was an act of formal separation from his family. Next, Elisha slaughtered his oxen and burned his plow, using these essential tools of his former occupation to cook a meal for the people. By destroying his farming tools and animals Elisha dramatically breaks with his farming past. He will no longer till the fields but will be an apprentice of the great prophet. By feeding the people, utilizing the very items he previously used for farming, Elisha points to a fundamental change in his life mission. He will no longer produce grain and vegetables but will feed the people with God’s word and defend the faith. These drastic actions of Elisha are a symbolic demonstration of his decision to completely alter the direction of his life. The first step in this transformation was a decisive break with his past.
The second reading is set in the context of a radical and decisive break in the life of Paul the Apostle. In his letter to the Galatians Paul fiercely defends his view on how one becomes righteous before God. In his pre-Christian life, Paul conscientiously followed the Jewish law and customs, believing that this was the right and only way to serve God and be righteous. However, his encounter with the risen Christ changed him and his views dramatically. Paul, once a loyal and zealous defender of the law, became an apostle of Jesus, utterly and fiercely devoted to proclaiming and defending the view that true righteousness can only be achieved by faith in Christ. Such belief meant a drastic change and a dramatic break with the past for Paul. This zealous and devoted Pharisee was transformed into an utterly dedicated servant of Christ.
In today’s reading, as in the entire letter to the Galatians, Paul fiercely opposes some Jewish Christians who claimed that to be righteous before God Christians still needed to follow the Jewish law, in addition to believing in Christ. Paul vehemently denies that this is the case. He solemnly declares that “Christ has set us free” from the law, which he compares to the “yoke of slavery”. This freedom from the law means that the believer needs only faith in Christ to be righteous and assured of future salvation, the law no longer plays any part in this process. For those who believe in Jesus, the entire body of Jewish law and the code for moral behaviour is summarized and fulfilled in one basic principle – the commandment of love. And the guiding force for Christian life is no longer adherence to the Jewish law but the Holy Spirit. Paul’s insistence on these foundations of the Christian life testifies that he was able to make a decisive break with his Pharisaic past, which freed him to become the apostle of Christ to the Gentiles.
Today’s gospel reading describes a decisive turning point in the life of Jesus who decided to leave Galilee and to begin his journey to Jerusalem, despite knowing full well that death awaits him there. Doing so Jesus made a decisive break with his successful and generally peaceful ministry in Galilee, to begin his journey towards death and resurrection. The focus of his ministry would also change. He will no longer heal and proclaim God’s kingdom, but focus on teaching about discipleship and on the preparation for the passion.
The second part of our passage shows this change of focus. The interactions narrated here have numerous similarities to the stories of Elijah and Elisha. The already familiar theme of breaking with the past dominates. First, Jesus’ two disciples, James and John, acting like Elijah, want to bring fire down from heaven on the inhospitable Samaritan village (cf. 2 Kings 1:10). Jesus forbids them to do so. In line with his teaching on the love of enemies, he breaks with the pattern of dealing with enemies through violence, which Elijah followed.
Then, as he moved towards Jerusalem, Jesus encountered three individuals. The first of them volunteered to follow Jesus, who responded by warning that his followers must be ready for rootlessness and rejection. Jesus suffered rejection from his own people and even from the Samaritans. He literally had “no place to lay down his head”. Those who follow him must be prepared to face the same exclusion and alienation on account of their commitment to Jesus.
Jesus then invited another man to follow him. However, this person wanted first to bury his father. Like Elisha, this man appears ready to break away from the family to join Jesus. However, his request is, in fact, a refusal. The father of that man was still alive, otherwise, the man would not have been on the road conversing with Jesus. The man effectively told Jesus that he will not join him as long as his father lives. His response shows his preference for the family over Jesus. Unlike Elisha, he was not ready to break with his past and was, therefore, unfit for discipleship.
The third man declared his readiness to follow Jesus, but he wanted first to go and say farewell to his family, just as Elisha had done. Jesus responded with the familiar allusion to plowing as a symbol for the necessity of complete commitment. Those who “plow” must not look back to their former life but look ahead, completely focused on their new goal of serving God and following Jesus. They must make a decisive break with the past and redefine their priorities.
Today’s liturgy brings a difficult message about the need for decisive and sometimes drastic decisions and the changes that discipleship requires. Elisha had to abandon his peaceful farming occupation to become a prophet. Paul, to become an apostle, had to renounce a way of life-based entirely on Jewish ancestral law. Jesus made his own difficult decision to face the cross that waited for him in Jerusalem. He then taught his would-be followers about the necessity to break away from any attachments as a necessary condition for discipleship. Such decisive breaks appear necessary to allow God to take charge of a person’s life. Indeed, those who are able to take such decisive step away from the past, to embrace a new future and mission, must have the confidence expressed in the words of the Psalmist, “you show me the path of life. In your presence, there is the fullness of joy”.
Listening to the Word of God
On this thirteenth Sunday in ordinary time, the necessity to make a decisive break from the past, to embrace the challenge of the future, runs through the readings. In this light, we are invited to examine our journey of faith, to ascertain the various shortfalls which prevent us from responding adequately to the invitation of the future. As a matter of fact, Christianity requires us to follow Christ, and this certainly means difficult choices regarding our ambitions and relationships, it is a call for transformation.
Firstly, the Gospel reading today provides us with Christ who is an example of a transformation which entails a U-turn in his ministry – Jesus leaves Galilee, a place of his flourishing and successful ministry, to travel to Jerusalem, the city of his impending death. He did so because the accomplishment of his mission did not revolve around the feeding of his own ambitions, but on fulfilling the will of his Father. It was a decisive break from a temporary success, to greater glory through the path of suffering, humiliation, and pain. It is this example of Jesus which leads us on to embrace our call to follow the Lord always. The most motivating aspect is the fact that when God calls us for a particular mission, he gives us the grace to transcend the inclinations and attachments which become potential obstacles in carrying out that mission.
Secondly, on our journey of transformation, the necessity to move away from our comfort zones is essential to ensure that we achieve an integral and radical transformation. Our attachment to our comfort zones produces lethargy when we seek progressive conversion in our faith journey. These attachments are not necessarily negative but they usually do not fit into the mission God calls us for. It is certainly not easy to leave behind the various things we are very familiar with. However, the joy we experience at the completion of our God-given mission is often proportional to the extent of the pain we feel when leaving our familiar and comfortable past behind. Like Jesus, Elisha and Paul, our minds must be fixed on the task at hand, which necessitates conversion. This conversion entails decisive breaks, breaks which can be painful but necessary in God’s logic of salvation.
Finally, our decision to follow Jesus enjoins on us to walk in his very footsteps – the humility of Christ. An essential aid for a decisive break is humility in every respect. Jesus left behind his flourishing success in Galilee. Elisha had to leave behind his successful farming activities. Like them, we are also called to leave behind our various inclinations, successes and comfort zones. Stripping off our inclinations and successes to embrace the task of God may appear unreasonable to the logic of the world, but not in the sight of God who fills our cups with abundant goodness when we empty them of those things which do not fall within the scheme of God’s mission.
Just like a seed which when planted in the ground cannot germinate unless it breaks out of its protective coat, in order to be exposed to the nourishment of the soil, so too must we decisively break from all our selfish ambitions, inclinations and successes which hinder our receptivity of God’s grace, so that we may be disposed to receive God’s nourishment of love.
“A bird that flies off the earth and lands on an anthill is still on the ground.”
Do I have any unhealthy addictions that hinder my service to others and God? What are they?
What do I hold most dear in this life? Are these persons or things in any way holding me back from responding to the call of God?
Response to God
In the course of this week, I will meditate upon God’s word so that I may be able to identify my inclinations which prevent me from responding adequately to God. I will pray to the Lord as well to strengthen my will to be able to abandon my inclinations so that I may be able to follow him.
Response to your World
In order to address any addictive habits or behaviours I might have, I will seek help from a qualified person or spiritual director, to break free from what prevents me from realizing my full potential as a believer and a human person.
In the context of a group, we will organize an awareness program to identify and help us deal with unhealthy attachments that hinder us from being effective in our service to others.
Gracious Father, we are grateful to you for all the blessings you have endowed us with. Look with favour upon us and grant us the grace not to consider the abundant gifts you have given us as ends in themselves but as means to recognize your goodness and hence be able to respond to you in trust and dedication. Give us the courage to break from our inclinations and so cling to you in every endeavour of our lives. Through Christ our Lord, who calls us to choose him over all our desires and possessions, he who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.
Scripture quotations from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.