Readings for Sunday, June 26, 2016.
1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
The Holy Gospel According to Luke 9:51-62
Elijah is sent in the first reading to conscript Elisha into service. Elisha is apparently not just a poor farmer, but rather from a very wealthy family. The scriptures record that he had twelve oxen in the field working and he walked behind the last one. A wealthy family could have one or two oxen, but twelve? That requires some resources. Here Elijah is walking up and asking Elisha to leave the wealth and comfort of his family behind, and follow him in serving God. Elisha asks for a moment of reprieve to go back to his family and then proceeds to destroy everything he has. In destroying his equipment and oxen he has secured his commitment to Elijah, he has no reason to turn back now.
The gospel reading reminds us of this incident as Jesus goes on to talk about the cost of discipleship. He doesn't paint a picture of ease or comfort. Many today will tell you that the blessings of God = wealth and comfort. Jesus often paints a grimmer picture. He paints the cost of Christianity as taking up a cross, following him, having no place to rest your head, and no time left to make a commitment. Whereas when Elisha asks for time to go back to his family, Elijah says sure, go ahead. When one follower asks this of Jesus, Jesus tells him anyone who looks back is not worthy of the kingdom of Heaven.
What's going on here? Jesus is reminding us that one greater is here, and that the Kingdom is already at hand. It's not something we have time to wait for anymore. There is no more urgent time than the present. While Elijah and Elisha had important things to do, the work of Christ is far more important. There are souls at stake! We are called to duty, not in the future, not tomorrow, but right now! The present. We must look to the past to keep from making mistakes, we must keep our mind examining the future to see possibilities, but we must live in the present.
The reading from St. Paul reminds us of another truth, that we are called to a freedom, a freedom from sin. That freedom does not release us from our urgent duty but rather makes it even more important! This freedom is not a freedom that allows you to choose to do bad things, to simply go on with your life and do whatever feels good and right. Some will tell you that the freedom of a Christian makes it ok to live your life however you want, as long as you keep saying you belief and trust in Christ. Trust in Christ is paramount for sure! But even Saint Paul reminds us that our freedom means being called to love.. called to serve one another, to love another, and to avoid the unclean desires of our flesh.
Pope Francis reminds us today that we, the Church, have a lot of work to do. We've made a lot of mistakes in the past. We have persecuted minorities, pushed people the margins, and avoided even entering the homes of those who we felt were 'too sinful.' This was not the way of Jesus. He reminds us that Jesus calls us to act now, to go into the field as it were and begin to plow. We don't have time to look back and desire those things we've left behind.. we like Elisha must burn the oxen and give away the pleasure of it, the thing we desire. To destroy those instruments that are behind us that want to pull us back in to those habits and sinful desires we once were a part of. To cut off even those relationships that draw us in, and then? To serve. To serve in love. To serve the marginalized, those on the outskirts of the church, to reach out to those we have pushed away and remind them that we love them. We still don't condone sin.. but all of us are sinners. What we are offering is truth... we are offering a relationship with Christ, one in which every person is welcome.. but one which will transform them as well.. one which will call them to leave behind that which is sinful, and to draw closer to the true light of the world, Jesus Christ.
So what about it Christian? Are you all in? Or are you holding back anything that will keep you from serving God right here and right now? The Kingdom of God is not just at the end of time, though it's fulfillment is indeed there. It is also here and now.. it stood right before men in the incarnation of Christ and offers himself, right here and now in the Sacraments. Are you ready to receive Him? Or are you looking back?
His servant and yours,
"He must increase, I must decrease."