6 PENTECOST, PROPER 8 - C - 16 LUKE 9. 51-62
This week’s gospel is the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. The disciples are traveling with him from Galilee to Judea. They come to a Samaritan village. Jews and Samaritans have a long-standing enmity. Here Jesus is rejected because he intends to go beyond them to the Holy City.
James and John take it upon themselves to step into the role of the Old Testament prophet Elijah, who at one time called down fire from heaven to consume the enemies of God(2 Kgs.1. 9-10). They do so in order to defend Jesus. But Christ rejects their plan. They have the wrong spirit. He has come not to destroy but to save.
Thus they pass through this village to the next. And here is where it gets interesting. An individual runs up to Jesus and volunteers to follow him wherever he goes. But Jesus tells him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Obviously that was enough to dissuade him, and yet Christ turns to another in the same village and invites him to join him, but he has a funeral to attend first. “Let the dead bury their own dead,” Jesus tells him.
To him, as to the man of the tombs, Jesus gives a mission, “but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Finally there is a third man, who like the first, volunteers to follow Jesus, but like the second man does so with a condition, he has to say good bye to his family before he can go. And like the first, Christ dissuades him. “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
What is the message here for us today? That is what we always want to know when we hear these stories, isn’t it? We are no different from the ones who heard it first hand from our Lord’s own mouth. We want to know what it has to do with us? It has to do with discipleship. Perhaps if we take another look at today’s first lesson we can learn the essence of the gospel lesson.
God has given the prophet Elijah a three-fold mission: to anoint Hazael king over Aram, Jehu king over Israel, and Elisah as prophet to take his place. And so he sets out and finds Elisah, a farmer, who was busy plowing. Elijah casts his mantle over him, symbolizing his anointing. Elisah recognizes what has just taken place and pauses his plowing long enough to run after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.”
Elijah says, “Alright if you recognize the intent of what I have just done.” To symbolize his turning from his old way of life and his acceptance of his call to follow the prophet, Elisah, kills the oxen and burns the plow and becomes his servant. Where does the difference lie?
The two volunteers in today’s gospel laid out their conditions before they could follow Jesus but Christ rejects their conditions as he rejected James and John’s plan. It appears that neither of these two ended up following Jesus, nor the third for that matter whom Christ sent on a mission. How, then, was Elisah any different?
First, God chose him and anointed him through his prophet Elijah, to take Elijah’s place. His request to say goodbye to his family was granted, because God knew what was in his heart, and once accomplished, Elisah, the farmer, became Elisah, the servant of the prophet. His intention to accept God’s call was made abundantly clear in the destruction of the things that would have held him to his past. There was no looking back and no turning back.
In the gospel Jesus seems to be shifting out the would-be disciples he encounters on his way to Jerusalem. Many followed him, but few were chosen. Eventually there would be 70 others who would join the 12.
As Christians our initial response to God’s call came for each of us at baptism and again later at confirmation. But sadly many today who follow Jesus do so conditionally. The further some get away from the font and the laying on of hands, a morphing seems to take place, many simply become “conditional” Christians.
“I would do this for the Church,” they say, “but I just can‘t seem to find the time.” “I would like to be a priest, but I have a family to support.” “I would pledge more to the work and mission of the Church, but I need the money for other things.” And the list goes on. The pews are filled with “conditional” Christians.
Christ places no conditions on our discipleship and neither should we. God’s call is continuous. His Love unconditional. The Cross is the proof. Sometimes I think we forget that. As long as we are on this earth our work as His followers/disciples is never done. We can’t be part-time disciples. Either we are or we are not. It’s all or nothing.
The example to follow in the lessons for today, then, is that of Elisah, who recognized God’s call to him and turned from his former life/ways and never looked back, accepting the new life to which he had been called. To be a disciple is to be Obedient to God’s call to us, whatever form that might take.
We are not all called to be priests. We are not all called to be prophets. We are all called to be Faithful servants of Him who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.
Those who belong to Christ, who truly follow Him, do so unconditionally, and are led by the Spirit. To be led by the Spirit is to live by the Spirit, as St. Paul says, and the proof is in the fruit we produce that begins with Love. AMEN+