By Father Anthony F. Raso
This is one of those weekends when we listen to the Readings and then say to ourselves “No…Elijah the Prophet said that? And Jesus said that? No…I must have heard it wrong, or the lector said it wrong, or it’s a mistranslation. Jesus, of all people, would never have said something like that! Neither would Elijah!”
However, we heard it right. That’s exactly what they said and they meant it!
“Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah and said: ‘Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye and I will follow you.’ Elijah answered ‘Go back!’”
“He replied ‘Lord, let me go first and bury my father.’ But He answered him ‘Let the dead bury the dead… No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God.’”
Fine. They said it alright, but did they really mean it? Well, everything that Jesus (and Elijah) said they meant, so we must accept the fact that what they wanted was that their disciples burn their bridges behind them and place God first.
Who and what they left behind were history and the only thing that would count now is following God, doing His will and living only for Him.
What Elijah had in mind for Elisha and certainly what Jesus had in mind for His Apostles and disciples was serious, important and sacred.
The Father in Heaven had sent His message to Elijah because the people of God were forgetting Him and God loved them too much to allow that to happen. When Elijah knew his time was over, he in turn, guided by the Spirit of God, picked Elisha to continue his work because he knew that Elisha had the goodness to do it.
Jesus, sent by the Father into the world to save it by bringing it forgiveness and faith, picked the twelve unlikely heroes and the seventy-two other bemused followers to bring to completion the work that was begun on the Cross, was brought to glory by the Resurrection and would be sanctified on Pentecost.
It appears that all of these people had their doubts at first (and not only “at first”) but God saw in them the goodness, faith and zeal that He needed. The Holy Spirit of God inspired Elijah to see that promise in Elisha and Jesus saw that promise in His followers.
Admittedly, Judas Iscariot lost the faith that seemed to be there at the start but the rest of them did not, and the men (and the women, most notably Mary Magdalene) changed the world. Their first thought might have been to stay awhile longer at the plow, in the fishing boat or at the tax collectors stand but they felt the grace of God flowing through their hearts like the blood in their veins and they followed the Lord.
He called them and they knew he meant it.
As Saint Paul is telling us in our Second Reading today, the reason Jesus called all of them and then Paul
himself and the Galatians was so that by giving up everything, never look- ing back and walking with Jesus into the future they would find that by giving up everything in this world they would find eternal freedom in the next world.
True freedom, he tells them, is found only in Christ.
Everything else that the world seems to offer so tantalizingly is not freedom at all: “For freedom in Christ set us free; So stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”
The consequences of such a choice have continued to confuse the faithless for thousands of years. The treasures of this world seem to be so rich and full, but they are not. They are, as Saint Paul put it “the yoke of
To serve God on the other hand is to discover the reason for which we were born: “…Do not use…freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
When we realize this is true of us today, then we will at long last be truly free. A modern example of this truth is found in the not-so-long-ago story of Maximilian Kolbe.
In the death camp, when the Nazis wanted to punish the prisoners because one of them had escaped they decided, with their usual charm, to kill ten prisoners, as a “warning” to the others.
Kolbe wasn’t one of the chosen ones but another man, a Jewish husband and father,
was. Kolbe was a Franciscan priest and so he stepped forward and reasoned with the guards to take him instead.
Then there would still be ten victims and it would all turn out nice and neat.
The Nazis, displaying even more of their charm, took him up on it. When the other nine had died they gave Kolbe poison so that he would die too. He heard the voice of Christ telling him to turn away from the plow in this world and to follow Him to Calvary, and he was wise enough and Christ-like enough to follow the Lord up that hill.
Now he is called Saint Maximilian Kolbe. The prisoner he saved, and his wife, children and grandchildren, attended his canonization.
When Kolbe stood up and offered himself in place of that Jewish man, he found true freedom. He made that offer and he meant it.
May the Lord grant us all the same sort of wisdom in whatever situation in which we may find ourselves. If we do, we’ll be free in this world and saints in the next.
Readings for Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
1 Kings 19:16; 19-21
Galatians 5:1; 13-18
Father Raso is a parochial vicar at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Dyker Heights.