I Kings 19, 16 and 19-21
- The prophet Elijah shall anoint Elisha as prophet.
We could argue all day about the gift of prophecy, and whether it can be passed on from person to person.
Let me call this event a commissioning, something with which we are familiar.
- The two names sound almost the same,
so that I must keep myself and my listeners from confusing them. My success in this will be partly a matter
of my pronunciation and partly my skill at setting the scene.
- Elisha was plowing - with twelve yoke of
oxen. But he was only driving one, following the twelfth,
not all twelve. I will clarify that with my pause. I note the number twelve, no coincidence of course. Even
more significant, the scripture says that Elisha is following the oxen - he will soon be following the prophet.
let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and I will follow you. This request will
tie the first reading to the Gospel passage, forming a kind of contrast. Of course, Elisha has asked for
something reasonable in Middle Eastern terms and in our own terms. Today I will make his voice that of
- Elijah answered, Go back! Have I done anything to you?
In one sense, the prophet consents to Elisha's request. But in another, he asks for a confirmation of his
call. I will retain the ambiguity, emphasizing "anything." Elisha's actions show that he has received
the call. We hear "leave" and "follow" three times each.
- He slaughtered the oxen,
boiled their flesh and gave it to the people to eat. His action constitutes a farewell feast, and symbolizes
a complete break with his former life. The care I dedicate to this and other actions will reveal the way
he has left his past behind.
- Climax: Have I done anything to you? The
question looks ahead to the Gospel. The way the disciple answers will determine whether he/she follows Jesus.
- Message for our assembly: Then Elisha left. The
Jewish and Christian traditions are in agreement that God’s calling can be sudden and definitive.
- I will challenge
myself: To make an ancient event come alive for a congregation that is called today to represent Christ to the world.
Galatians 5, 1 and 13-18
- For freedom Christ set us free.
So the reading begins and it sounds obvious enough. Let me keep in mind what follows, for there
the apostle explains what he means. I will hear mainly about the Christian’s calling.
- In negative terms,
the Christian is not set free to relapse into former dependencies. Do not submit again to the yoke
- You were called for freedom. The word is not defined
in this passage, but it has to do with the way Jesus lived and died. Let me think especially about his
Sabbath day healings. Nothing should excuse us or restrain us from doing good.
- Do not use
this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. We hear the word ‘flesh’ five times
today. It is the apostle’s way of describing behavior that takes us away from the spirit of Christ,
especially selfishness and intemperance. Let me read it as one who knows all too well the temptation to
disrespect and hatred.
- From a contrasting argument, we are back in positive territory. Serve one
another through love. Later on we hear Live by the Spirit. The
word ‘Spirit’ occurs four times, mainly in contraposition to ‘flesh.’ Both of these
behaviors take place in the church and with our neighbor.
- I remember that Galatians was occasioned by a visit
from other missionaries who stressed the practice of the Mosaic Law. The apostle insisted that such practice
would not save anyone, and that Christ showed us the way to God by his life and death. He emphasized a
more exacting code of conduct, which John called ‘a new commandment’ and which Bernard Häring called ‘the
law of Christ.’ If I remember this central point of the reading, I will steer smoothly through the
zigzags of the apostle’s presentation.
- The message for our assembly: How easily do we think of our church as our family?
How easily do we accept the calling to serve one another?
- I will challenge myself: To switch easily between the positive and
negative positions, allowing my listeners to picture clearly the meaning of freedom.
Gospel. Luke 9, 51-62
the days for Jesus’ taking up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem. A
central theme in Luke is the journey that Jesus makes to Jerusalem, and that consumes almost ten chapters of this Gospel.
Well, our opening sentence celebrates the beginning of that journey.
- The Samaritans would not welcome
him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. It may sound strange and irrelevant
the first time. This is what I hear: Jesus confronts opposition from others but continues on his way.
People are free to accept or reject his message. If they reject it, he will not condemn them by
calling down fire from heaven.
- Three times we hear, I will follow you, Lord, but first…
It sounds familiar even to me, and I should read as one who wants to follow Christ on my own terms.
- Let the
dead bury their dead. This is not the same situation as we encountered between the Hebrew prophets,
because here the would-be disciple wants to wait until his parents have passed on. Now if I said that I
would be treated as insensitive. Is Jesus? Take it in context.
- Everyone approaching
Jesus wants to do so at their own convenience. And convenience is at the heart of every temptation Jesus
faced, including the famous ‘last temptation’ of Kazantzakis. Every intractable conflict in
today’s world is made more intractable because it is not convenient for governments to get involved. Someone
might be maligned by one’s friends or get hurt by one’s enemies. Someone might not
have anywhere to lay his head.
- Climax: I believe the climax came in the first sentence,
because everything else today has to do with following Jesus on his journey.
- Message for our assembly: Do we take Jesus
seriously? Could we leave it all behind and go after him?
- I will challenge myself: To make our assembly
hear these ‘hard sayings’ as addressed also to everyone present today.
From Word to Eucharist: Let us remember the calling
to love one another as we come to the Lord’s table today. And let us not flinch from the difficult
journeys that we must undertake in his name.