Don’t turn back! That’s the message in the scriptures this week-end. We begin our reflection by looking at a dramatic scene from the first book of Kings.
Elijah, Israel’s greatest prophet, is about to pass on his prophetic spirit to his disciple, Elisha, who is plowing a field with twelve yoke of oxen. Elijah throws his mantle over Elisha’s shoulders thereby passing on his prophetic power. Elisha accepts the mantle and asks permission to kiss his mother and father goodby. Elijah encourages him to do so. Then, Elisha performs a prophetic act. He slaughters the oxen, cooks their flesh, and offers the food to his workers. By this action, Elisha is offering his entire past as a loving sacrifice to God. He’s completely free now to begin a new life as Elijah’s successor. For Elisha, there’s no turning back.
In the passage from Luke’s gospel we witness a number of people responding to the call of Jesus. One tells Jesus that he’ll follow him anywhere. Jesus gives him some reality therapy by alerting him to the fact that he’s an itinerate preacher. “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Jesus calls another person to follow him but receives the reply, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” Jesus’ answer to him could not be more direct. “Let the dead bury their dead, but you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Finally, a person tells Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family.” The intensity of Jesus’ response is somewhat shocking. “No one who sets a hand
to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Jesus was extraordinary. For three years he taught in synagogues, in people’s homes, along the seashore and on mountain tops. He spent many nights in prayer. Power flowed out of him when he healed people, but he kept healing anyway. His family worried about him making enemies of the religious leaders by frequently, and publicly, breaking the sabbath laws and religious customs. They were right to worry, but they couldn’t stop him.
People often ask me when and how I received “the call.” So many people think that the call to priesthood is extraordinary. My answer to them is always the same. “My ‘call’ wasn’t any more extraordinary than yours.”
Being called by Jesus to follow him takes many extraordinary forms. “Follow me.” Commit all you have to your marriage. “Follow me.” Be a loving, dedicated father. “Follow me.” Be the best mother you can be. “Follow me.” Teach the truth! “Follow me.” Do the best job you can when you fix that leaking pipe. “Follow me.” Be loving, just and compassionate when you enforce the law. “Follow me.” Whatever you do in this life, do it with your whole heart and soul. Don’t be put off by the sacrifices you’ll have to make. Embrace them. We’re Christians. We’ve been chosen and have accepted the call to follow Christ.
We’ll end this reflection with a teaching on Christian life St. Paul directed to the community in Colossae. “Put on, then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…And over all these, put on love.”