FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21 | Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11 | Galatians 5:1, 13-18 | Luke 9:51-62
The readings for this weekend bring forth a difficult message about the need for decisive and sometimes drastic decisions that discipleship requires. Elisha had to abandon his peaceful farming occupation to become a prophet. Paul had to renounce a way of life rooted entirely in the Jewish law. Jesus made his own difficult decision to face the cross that waited for him in Jerusalem.
In 1519, the Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernán Cortés decided that he wanted to seize the treasure that the Aztecs had been hoarding and convert to Catholicism the natives. He took 500 soldiers and 100 sailors and landed his 11 ships on the shores of the Yucatan. To assure the devotion of his men, Cortés set fire to his fleet of eleven ships! This sent a clear message to his men: There is no turning back. With no means of retreat, Cortés’ army had only one direction to move, into the Mexican interior. The path forward was clear for Cortés – all or nothing, 100% commitment. The option of failure was gone – Conquer as heroes, or die. Two years later, he succeeded in his conquest of the Aztec empire. Cortés understood the price of commitment—and he paid it.
In our First reading, the Lord tells Elijah to anoint Elisha as prophet in his place. Elisha had been plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. He slaughtered them, roasted them by burning his plowing equipment and then called his neighbors to a feast to celebrate his extravagant sacrifice. When Elisha slaughtered the oxen that had previously provided his livelihood, he made a powerful statement of vocational commitment. All else is worthless in comparison to joining God in the project of building up God’s reign. There is no going back to his former way of life.
While civil rights leader Mahatma Gandhi was a practicing Hindu, Christianity intrigued him. In his reading of the Gospels, Gandhi was impressed by Jesus whom Christians worshiped and followed. He wanted to know more about this Jesus that Christians referred to as “the Christ, the Messiah.” In one of his travels to South Africa, Gandhi decided that he would visit one of the Christian churches. As he came up the steps of the large church he was stopped at the door by the ushers. Since he was not part of the high-caste Indians nor a white person, he was turned away at the door of the church. Unwelcomed. Once when Methodist missionary Eli Stanley Jones met with Gandhi, he asked him, “Mr. Gandhi, you quote the words of Christ often, would you consider becoming a Christian?" Gandhi replied, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
The Jewish leaders taught that living the Law would bring God's kingdom closer to reality. To help them live out the Law, the Pharisees created more laws, rules, and guidelines to keep people from breaking the Law. Sometimes law and custom can be oppressively burdensome, so heavy that we can lose focus on right behavior. After Paul concluded his ministry in Galatia, some agitators came into the Christian community. They questioned his authority as an apostle and claimed that he was not preaching the true gospel. One of their corrections was Paul’s teaching that male circumcision was not required of converts from heathenism. This is part of the reason why, in today’s reading, Paul begins, “For freedom Christ set us free.” As long as we are compelled by conventional ways of valuing things, we are still in some degree “slaves” of the cultures and economic systems which have trained us from birth in how to strive for prosperity and success in the world. Freedom in the Spirit is a complete shift of focus. Love of God replaces prosperity and success as the pinnacle of all our desire. It is this single-heartedness that frees us to love only what God loves. The whole law, says Paul, is summarized and fulfilled in one basic principle – the commandment of love.
In Berlin art gallery is a painting by German painter Adolph Friedrich Erdmann von Menzel (1815-1905). Only partially finished. Intended to show Fredrick the Great speaking with some of his generals before the Battle of Leuthen. The monumental painting contains the background and the generals standing in a semi-circle, but the main figure of king Frederick the Great was left blank. Menzel’s famous painting is a picture of many lives. The background of career, interests, pursuits and achievement is complete. The faces of significant people like family, friends and colleagues surround. But the central and most important figure is left incomplete— Jesus. Many Christians come to end of life without ever having put Christ into his proper place, center stage.
Today’s Gospel reading describes a decisive turning point in the life of Jesus who decided to leave Galilee and to begin his journey to Jerusalem, despite knowing full well that death awaits him there. Doing so Jesus made a decisive break with his successful and generally peaceful ministry in Galilee, to begin his journey towards death and resurrection. He calls us to do the same by putting us in a tight corner by asking us to make one of the toughest decisions in life: which are you going to prioritize, your faith in Jesus or family, loved ones, and career? The call of Jesus to follow Him is not without cost. A lot has to be sacrificed. In fact, He calls us to deny ourselves. Jesus of the Gospel clearly is not attacking family life. He is not teaching his disciples to neglect their families or to divest themselves of family responsibility in the name of discipleship. God is not saying that we cannot love our families. Honoring our parents, our brothers and sisters, and our relatives is ideal, and it is, in fact, commanded by God. Our Lord is simply giving a warning to his disciples that Christian living brings a life of sacrifice, self-denial and daily crosses and nothing must take precedence over fidelity to Jesus. Everything and everybody else take the backseat. Jesus wants us to decide once and for all to set our focus on Him without turning back and without second thoughts. <enrique,ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum