Sunday Sermon for June 30, 2013, the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: 1Ki 19:16b, 19-21; Gal 5:1, 13-18; Lk 9:51-62
In the first reading today we hear about the Prophet Elijah being sent by God to Elisha who will succeed Elijah as the Lord’s prophet to the people. Elijah simply walks up behind Elisha as he is plowing in his field, drapes his mantle over Elisha’s shoulders and walks away. The mantle was the sign of the prophet in those days and Elisha understood immediately the meaning of this gesture.
Knowing that he was called to succeed Elijah, Elisha slaughtered the oxen and burned the equipment that he was using to plow his field. We might look at his actions and think he was acting imprudently. Perhaps his family could have used the oxen and the plows. It could have been sold and the money used for some good cause. Elisha knew he had been called by God and he made sure that he removed any possibility of returning to his former way of life.
In the Gospel we hear about those who wanted to follow the Lord but also wanted to care for things on the natural level. The things they wanted to do were certainly reasonable: to care for an aged father until he dies and to say farewell to one’s family. We would not normally begrudge these things to anyone, so why does our Lord reject these natural and reasonable desires?
He is not rejecting these requests because He is mean or unreasonable. Rather, He is rejecting them because of the offer the people make to follow Him. They say they are willing to follow, but… Our Lord does not reject the people, rather, He challenges them to consider their offer and their priorities. Another way of looking at this is ask what our response would be to God asking something of us. Would we say “yes, but…?” Would we say “Okay, but in a while?”
We would all like to say that we would answer immediately if the Lord made clear that He wanted something of us. However, as soon as we say that, most of us would be convicted by our own words because we have failed, we have procrastinated, we have tried to do it our way. God has not sent anyone to drape a mantle over our shoulders; instead, He has baptized us into His Son. He has called us to Himself; He has called us to live holy lives and to become Saints. Most of us would have to admit that we have not followed the Lord wholeheartedly when we consider what we promised in baptism.
It is important to note that the yoke that has been laid upon our shoulders is not a yoke of slavery or of anything that takes away our freedom. St. Paul tells us in the second reading the it is for freedom that Christ set us free. He will not force you to do anything because we are called to love and love is a free choice. Many people get upset when they think about having to do the will of someone other than their own self. We could talk for a long time about how much following our own will has gotten us into trouble, but that is not the point here. What we must understand is that true freedom is found in doing the will of God.
This sounds so foreign to us. Our idea of freedom is doing whatever we want. In reality, this is license, not freedom. To do the will of God is perfect freedom because God only wants what is truly the best for us. God is love. This means that there is nothing selfish in God. Therefore, God will not seek or ask anything selfish in our regard. He is already absolutely perfect, lacking in nothing. Therefore, He gets nothing from the fact that we do His will. We, not He, benefit from doing His will because it is best for us and it gives complete freedom to our souls.
This is true because when we do the will of God we are doing what we were created to do and becoming the persons we were created to be. When we understand it this way it makes it a lot easier for us to be like Elisha. Once we choose God we need to cut off any return to our selfish ways. We have to stop hedging our bets, putting God off, trying to manipulate things so that they become the way we want them to be, etc. What is God asking of you? Stop procrastinating, stop haggling, stop seeking the self. God’s will may not always be fun, pleasant or easy, but it is always the best. Take the yoke of freedom in Christ upon your shoulders and choose to live according to God’s will.
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.