Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 26, 2016
One of my favorite points of reflection is attributed to Vatican II Jesuit theologian Fr. Karl Rahner, who once wrote in a prayer: You have seized me (Almighty God)…I have not grasped you!
Our Readings this weekend offer examples of God reaching out and “seizing” someone who is needed to take on the work of a prophet. Elisha is willing to accept the very challenging task. The call appears to be “non- verbal.” Elijah simply threw his cloak over Elisha’s shoulders. Elisha, in turn, totally grasped what God asked of him, but asks for the little time it will take to go home and say good-bye to his family before getting down to business. That seems like a reasonable thing to do.
But after that, he does something that seems a little less reasonable. As if to make certain that there can be no turning back, he totally destroys his old way of life. He makes a fire with his farm equipment, and, after slaughtering the farm animals, roasts the meat and feeds his people. Through this gesture, Elisha seems to be completely liberating himself from his old way of life, totally embracing and trusting in God. He is free because he has fully submitted to the will of God.
In the Gospel (Luke 9:51-62), we see three different reactions to God seizing someone. The first is a person who appears to be “captivated” by an experience of Jesus. Maybe he witnessed a great miracle…or heard Jesus preach…or shared in a banquet where thousands were fed by a few fish and a couple of loaves of bread. Whatever it was that drew him to the Lord, it was a powerful enough experience to motivate him to step forward and volunteer.
Jesus, however, seems a little reluctant to bring him on board.
Rather than welcoming the man and putting him to work, the Lord challenges him, as if to say: I don’t think you grasp what it means to follow me. You need to completely liberate yourself…cut yourself off from your old way of life…give yourself over totally and completely to the will of God.
A little ways down the road, The Lord spies someone, and this time it is Jesus Who seized the moment, extending an invitation to follow Him. We aren’t told just what it was that caught the Lord’s attention. Nevertheless, Jesus clearly recognized the potential for discipleship and made the overture. For his part, however, the man did not grasp the urgency of Jesus’s mission and ministry.
The man is willing; he only asks enough time to attend his father’s funeral. It’s a bit unsettling that The Lord demands an immediate response. Why would the Lord deny him a slight delay in order to honor his earthly father?
Possibly to emphasize how little time He has left to prepare disciples to carry on His mission and ministry. Maybe to highlight the urgency of the work of proclaiming the Good News! Possibly, Jesus was testing the man’s ability to commit fully to will of the Heavenly Father by asking him to forego the funeral of the man’s earthly father. Or maybe it was a way of demonstrating how inconsequential death of the earthly body is when compared to eternal life in Christ.
Then there is the final encounter.
It isn’t clear whether this person stepped forward or was called out of the crowd by Jesus. What we see, however, is a qualified commitment. Once again, who would consider the request to say good-bye to family unreasonable? Elijah didn’t. Elisha was given the time we all would want…the time to say good-bye. Jesus seems to see this very human request as an indication that the person is unfit to serve. Seems harsh, doesn’t it?
Luke doesn’t tell us what happened. We don’t know which, if any, of the three chose to follow Jesus. What we do know is that being seized by God is not being enslaved. Once invited, we are free to either grasp onto God or simply go about our business. What would you do?
We are called to the living waters because The Creator recognizes the potential for discipleship within us. The reality of the Sacrament of Baptism is that we are seized by God to live our earthly lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. Elijah placed a cloak over Elisha’s shoulders to anoint him prophet. In Baptism, we put on Christ and are anointed with The Holy Spirit. But, we are not enslaved or pressed into service. We are free to grasp onto the Hand of God, liberating ourselves from material things that tie us down…things that anchor us, so to speak, so that we aren’t able to journey with The Lord.
So then, each of us is left to wrestle with the question of whether we allow the things of this world to enjoy a death grip on us…or…do we reach out in freedom and grasp the Hand of God, Who has reached out to us in love?