Sunday Sermon for June 26, 2022, the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: 1 Kgs 19:16b, 19-21; Gal 5:1, 13-18; Lk 9:51-62
In the first reading today, the Prophet Elijah walks up behind Elisha and puts his cloak over Elisha’s shoulders. The cloak, or mantle, was the sign of a prophet, so this gesture showed that Elisha was to be the successor to Elijah. Having the prophetic graces given him by the Lord, Elisha understood immediately what this meant and asked for the indulgence of taking a proper leave of his family.
However, we see from the text that Elisha did far more than bid his parents goodbye; he slaughtered the twelve yoke of oxen and used the yokes a fuel to boil the flesh of the oxen so he could distribute the food to his relatives. After this he followed Elijah as his attendant.
We contrast this with what our Lord told the man in the Gospel who said he would follow Jesus. The man asked to take leave of his parents, but the Lord told him that anyone who sets his hand to the plow but looks back is not fit for the kingdom of Heaven. This response may strike us as being very harsh, but our Lord is using it to make a very clear point.
Before considering the point our Lord is making, we first need to look at the response of the Apostles when they were called compared to the second man in the Gospel whom Jesus called to follow Him. From what we are told, the call to follow our Lord given to this man and given to the Apostles seems fairly identical. Peter, Andrew, James, and John dropped their nets and walked away from their families and businesses to follow Jesus. St. Matthew got up from his tax post and immediately followed the Lord.
We can only imagine what must have happened in the hearts of these men when our Lord spoke to them. Now contrast this with the man in today’s Gospel who does not want to follow the Lord immediately. I can only assume that our Lord looked at this man the same way He looked at the Apostles; He also spoke the same way in each instance. But the call did not touch this man the same way it touched the others.
In other words, there would have been a conviction to follow the Lord, but the human attachments, even to good things, sometimes cloud our judgment and we follow the way of the world rather than following the Lord. This is the point our Lord is trying to make: are we committed to doing God’s will or not? The man in the Gospel reading was not asking for anything sinful, bad, or wrong, but he was still failing to choose the Lord and to love Him above all else.
It is interesting how we hear about Elisha burning the yokes in the first reading, St. Paul talking about the yoke of slavery in the second reading, and Jesus talking about putting the hand to the plow, which would imply following behind the yoked animals. Elisha burned the yokes and killed the oxen because he was making a clear break from his former way of life. With the mantle placed on his shoulders, it signified a yoke that would lead him in his new way of life. Putting the hand to the plow also signifies a new way of life for those who follow the Lord.
Jesus spoke of His yoke in St. Matthew’s Gospel and said His yoke is easy and His burden is light. This is what Elisha embraced and what our Lord is teaching us in the Gospel. However, there is an even greater contrast when we look at the second reading. St. Paul says that we are not to submit again to the yoke of slavery. Without the yoke of slavery, St. Paul tells us, we have freedom in Christ. He goes on to speak of the need to serve one another through love and to live by the Holy Spirit Who leads us against the temptations that would result in the yoke of slavery being placed upon us again.
Seen this way, the yoke of Christ, fitted perfectly to us by the Holy Spirit, is freedom and love. It is the freedom to live the way we were created to live, and it is to find true fulfillment by loving God and neighbor. The yoke of slavery to sin violates our dignity. Being slavery, it clearly opposes the freedom God wills for us. Being sin, it is selfish and the opposite of love and, thereby, brings emptiness.
Like the Apostles and the man in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus has called each of us. Now we have to choose between the yoke of Satan (sin, selfishness, and emptiness) or the yoke of Jesus (freedom, charity, and fulfillment).
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.