|Bloemaert's Elijah and Elisha|
1 Kings 19:16, 19-21
Psalm 16:1-2, 5
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
Paragraph 30 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “[God] never ceases to call every man to seek Him, so as to find happiness and life.” He never ceases to call us to seek Him. The Scriptures we just heard proclaimed remind us of that ceaseless calling of the Lord and invite us to reflect on a question of great importance: How are we responding to the God who constantly reaches out to us?
Our Gospel scene today opens us with one of the pivotal points of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus beginning His solemn journey to Jerusalem. He is said to be ‘resolutely determined’ to get to Jerusalem. He had a purpose. He had made a firm choice and was moving forward to attain His goal, knowing full well what it entailed .If you recall last weekend, in the passage a few verses before this one, Jesus spoke to His disciples of the reality of His impending passion, death, and resurrection. He knew well what He was getting into and He knew there would be countless reasons and temptations not to move forward. Still He went, but not because He wanted to - remember how in His agony He begs “Let this cup pass from me, but not My will but Thine be done.” He endured everything because He wanted to do the will of the Father perfectly. And He did, winning for us the possibility of eternal life. A great example to reflect on in following God’s will.
To the example of Christ we can easily add those of Elijah and Elisha, two of the great Old Testament prophets. Though we cannot get the full context of Elijah’s life and ministry in a single reading – talk about a long Mass! – it is notable that every time Elijah did something it was at the Lord’s command, and every time the Lord commanded something it was done. This is a literary tool to show that Elijah was a man who followed the Lord perfectly, always seeking to carry out God’s will rather than his own.
As we heard a few minutes ago, Elijah was called by the Lord to go to his successor, Elisha. Elisha is found plowing the fields with twelve yoke of oxen. We miss this because most of us aren’t plowing fields with oxen these days, but to say that he had twelve yoke of oxen was to imply he was quite wealthy; he had everything he needed and more. You could say he was driving the Ferrari of plows out in the field. And yet when Elijah places the mantle on him, a sign of authority and responsibility, he immediately recognizes what is taking place. And as Elijah quietly walks away Elisha runs to him. He runs! Running is a sign of intentionality and in the Scriptures it implies an awareness of a mission and the willingness to carry it out. To prove it, he slaughters the oxen and cooks them on the burnt plow. Symbolically Elisha said, “I will give up anything if the Lord wants it of me” as the flames consumed the animals. What powerful witness of fidelity to God’s will and a holy boldness in carrying it out!
In stark contrast, as often happens in the readings, we have the three would-be disciples who struggle to respond to the invitation of the Lord. I don’t know about you, but as much as the witness of Jesus, Elijah, and Elisha inspire me, it’s easier for me to relate with the three men in the Gospel. They each have their own reasons for not doing as the Lord desires, and I think we in our own lives can often relate to them on certain levels.
The first man comes and proudly says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” To this Jesus responds that birds have nests and foxes have dens but He has nowhere. With this Jesus is saying to the man that if he wants to be a follower of Jesus, he needs to give up his control. All of us like control. Our nature, from the very first parents, Adam and Eve, tries to grasp and take for itself. We want to set up our own plans, map our own way, and do everything to rely upon ourselves to remain happy and comfortable. We want to follow the Lord, but there is something within us that still wants backup plans just in case things don’t work out like I want with the Lord. If we keep a little nest for our self, when things get rough we can always go back to it. And that’s the problem – the only person trusted in that scenario is one’s self. Instead the Lord is inviting the man, and each of us, to a sort of trust-fall of epic proportions. Rather than just falling back into someone’s arms we know and see, He invites us to fall back and trust that though we can’t see anyone there at all we’ll still be caught. For the man in the gospel, he can’t make that commitment and he walks away.
The other two would-be disciples each have their own reasons for not following the Lord immediately. The first makes what seems a reasonable request to bury his father. But as scholars point out, if the man’s father were already dead he wouldn’t be meeting with Jesus, he’d be doing funeral preparations. It seems instead that the man is implicitly saying, ‘Jesus I will follow you, but let me first go take care of my dad for a bit and enjoy my life for a while longer, and then when he’s gone and the inheritance is used up and everything, THEN I’ll come follow you.’ In other words, when I’M ready, I’ll follow the Lord. We always like our plans better.
The third man’s request also seems reasonable. ‘Jesus, I’ll follow you, just let me take care of one little thing.’ Isn’t that so often the case? We always have just one little thing to take care of. When we commit to doing some act of kindness, or spending time in prayer – just one little thing. And when that one little thing is completed – OH, just one more little thing. And then another and another… There are always reasons to put off responding to the Lord for a few more minutes. We aren’t so bad as to completely shrug Jesus off like the Samaritans do, but at the same time we still like to keep Him at arms length. Jesus, I want you in my life, but don’t come too close. Don’t mess up my plans. Don’t ask me to change anything too drastically. We don’t say it so bluntly, but we imply it in so many ways. We’re hesitant, and for no good reason.
“[God] never ceases to call every man to seek him, so as to find happiness and life.” Happiness and life. My brothers and sisters, if I put my will and God’s will side by side I cannot think of one single time in my whole life that my will would have been the better choice. Not one. Even with the crosses that may come. St. Paul reminds us that ‘for freedom we were set free’. God could have made us robots that follow His will without question. But He didn’t. He gave us free will so that we could choose to follow out of love. He created us out of love, created to be loved. But we have to open ourselves to that. We have to be willing to risk everything and do what God wants instead of what we want. It is there and only there that we can find true happiness and life.
To each one of us today He comes once more and speaks to our heart: Follow me. Follow me. How will we respond?