Lessons in discipleship.
JUNE 27, 2010, THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
1 Kgs 19:16, 19-21; Ps 16; Gal 5:1, 13-18; Lk 9:51-62
As usual, many themes work together in these sacred texts to offer the praying assembly challenging life lessons. Our first teachers are the authors of Kings, who share with us the experience of Elijah and Elisha. Elijah had once been convinced that he alone of all God's people was faithful. He bemoaned the evil ways of his contemporaries and prayed for death to end his misery. But through his experience of God at Horeb, Elijah learned that while his ministry was important, he was not irreplaceable, nor was he unique in his faithfulness to God. He also learned that another prophet would succeed him and God's work would go on without missing a beat.
In today's first reading, Elijah is freshly returned from his escape to the desert and his theophany at Horeb. Here he hands off his hairy mantle, the symbol of his prophetic service, and Elisha begins to speak for God. From these two proto-prophets we learn that the work is God's, and ours is but one voice, one life among many whom God has called to serve.
Paul, who gave his voice and his life to preaching the Gospel to the gentiles, offers a lesson on freedom. Writing to believers in Galatia, Paul insisted that freedom is not about satisfying every human appetite. Rather, the freedom Jesus won for sinners is something we are to exercise in the loving service of one another.
When the disciples traveling to Jerusalem with Jesus (Gospel) tried to serve the Samaritans, they were rebuffed. Angry that anyone would dare to refuse them, the disciples wanted to see their centuries-old enemies suffer the fiery consequences of their actions. But Jesus, who was patient and tolerant, refused to use his power to punish the Samaritans despite their bad behavior. Instead, he set the example here as a prelude for the instructions he would later give to the 70 others he sent ahead of him: "Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, 'The dust of your town that clings to our feet, we shake off " (Luke 10:11).
We should not understand this action of shaking away the dust as a condemnation of the Samaritans; rather, it means that the disciples' mission is spurred on by urgency, by the imminence of the reign of God. The Samaritans were not excluded from God's saving embrace. The ascending Jesus named them in the agenda he set for his followers: "You will be my witnesses throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). From Jesus' response to their rejection of him, we learn that God does not give up on sinners and that God is no respecter of human prejudices.
Discipleship is a costly commitment. It requires believers to put Christ and the Gospel first--even before family, friends and the security of a place to call home. Discipleship is not a part-time job. Nor do a few hours of weekly volunteer work substitute for what should be an entire way of life, one that is so profoundly impacted by the person and mission of Jesus that he is reflected in every thought, word and deed of the believer. British evangelist David Watson once suggested that "if we were willing to learn the meaning of real discipleship and actually to become disciples, the church in the West would be transformed and the resultant impact on society would staggering" (Called and Committed, Shaw Books, 2000).
In order for us to realize and sustain this transfiguration in our lives, disciples are to take to heart the final lesson the Lucan Jesus offers today: Put your hand to the plow and don't look back. If plow operators look backward, the furrows they are making in front of them will not be straight. When we turn from the farmer's field and apply this principle to the spiritual life, the words of Jesus challenge us to let go of the past. Whether we long for the "good old days" when things were simpler, better and more serene, or whether we carry past regret or nagging guilt, Jesus says: Let it go. Detaching from what lies behind enables us to renew our attachment to Jesus, which fosters the perseverance we need as kingdom seekers. Jesus persevered in his journey to Jerusalem without being deterred by the many obstacles he encountered. Turning back or taking a different direction would have been safer, but Jesus, who exemplified what he asked of his followers, was determined to go forward. He invites us to make his journey our own.
[Patricia Sanchez holds a master's degree in literature and religion of the Bible from a joint degree program at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York.]