13th Sunday O T Year C – 16
1 Kgs.19:16,19-21 / Gal.5:1,13-18 / Lk.9:51-62
A guard in charge of a lighthouse along a dangerous coast was given enough oil for one month and told to keep the light burning every night. One day a woman asked for oil so that her children could stay warm. Then a farmer came. His son needed oil for a lamp so he could read.
Another needed some for an engine. The guard saw each as a worthy request and gave some oil to satisfy all. By the end of the month, the tank in the lighthouse was dry. That night the beacon was dark and three ships crashed on the rocks. More than one hundred lives were lost.
The lighthouse attendant explained what he had done and why. But the prosecutor replied, “You were given only one task: to keep the light burning. Every other thing was secondary. You have no excuse.”
Temptation is a choice between good and evil. But perhaps more insidious than temptation is conflict where one must choose between two good options. The lighthouse keeper in our story found himself in such a conflict situation.
With that in mind let me repeat a key part of today’s Gospel account: And to another Jesus said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God. “
And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Now let’s go back to today’s first reading. There we find the prophet Elijah commissioning Elisha to take on the God given role of being Elijah’s successor, a prophet of God.
In that context we hear Elisha saying: “Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and I will follow you” whereupon in the most radical act of faith he cut all ties with his past and rid himself of all his possessions and then followed Elijah.
It’s all about decisions, isn’t it? Decisions… how decisive am I in following Jesus? That’s the big question not only today but in each and every day of our lives. The readings today present us with the reality of decisions; we are called by God to be decisive.
But while we want to be decisive and have the freedom to make our own decisions, decisions bring with them consequences. In the first reading we find the need for security being challenged by the decision to move into an unknown future.
In the second reading we’re presented with a false freedom, the freedom of license and anything goes vs. the true freedom of loving for the sake of others, particularly the Other that is God. Finally, in the Gospel we find the challenge to move beyond the ties of family loyalty and affection.
These are all hard, tough decisions. It’s not easy to definitively leave one’s childhood family in order to cling to a spouse in marriage and start a new family. Many of us never come to the full realization that sacrifice is not merely a nice ideal; it’s a fact of life.
We don’t have a choice in the matter. The question is not whether we are willing to sacrifice. Life is filled with sacrifices. It’s always a question of how much are we willing to sacrifice… and for what are we sacrificing?
We cannot have things of value and at the same time live foot-loose and carefree lives. All commitments involve sacrifice. To be sure, there are those who try to live free and unfettered lives, but what becomes of them?
To say “yes” to anything requires saying “no” to a whole lot of other things. For instance, one cannot be “a little bit religious” for very long. You either commit or you end up saying: “I don’t go to Mass very often anymore because of this, that or the other thing.
To say “yes” to everything means we can’t say “yes” to anything in particular. One cannot both commit and keep all of one’s options open at the same time. “No man can serve two masters…,” Jesus said. Keeping all of one’s options open is just another way of avoiding full commitment.
It’s another form of denial. That’s true in our close and intimate relationships with others. And that’s true in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Commitment, love, marriage and friendships all impose things upon us. They require an uncluttered “yes.”
Today’s gospel is a sequence of four incidents and encounters with people who could have become followers of Jesus but who were held back by ulterior concerns and motives. Each encounter highlights a different concern.
The first incident is the encounter between the messengers of Jesus and the Samaritan villagers. The concern that holds the Samaritans back from accepting and following Jesus is patriotism. Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies.
The Samaritan villagers had probably heard about Jesus and what he was doing and were interested. But as soon as they learnt that Jesus and his disciples were Jews and were heading for Jerusalem, their admiration turned into opposition.
Patriotism and devotion to the national cause is, of course, a good thing. But when national interest becomes the spectacle through which one sees all reality, including spiritual and eternal reality, then one is in danger of losing perspective.
The second incident involves a man who says to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replies, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke (9:57-58). Why did Jesus say that?
Probably because he perceived that here was a man who valued financial independence and security. It is a good thing to have high economic goals so that one could provide adequately for oneself and for those under one’s care. Yet when this stands in the way of wholehearted following and service of God, then something is wrong.
The third incident is that of the man who wanted first to go bury his father before following Jesus. Burying one’s parents is part of the command to “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). So this a man with high moral principles, a man who keeps the law and is highly concerned for his religious duties.
Again this is a very good virtue. Yet Jesus is saying that we should not allow religious observance to immobilize us and keep us from following Christ who is always on the move into new territories and new challenges.
Finally, there is the man who wants to go and say farewell to his family before following Jesus. He wants to follow the example of Elisha (1st reading) who bid his family farewell before becoming Elijah’s disciple. This man has high social and family values.
One could only wish that all men could be this sensitive to let their families know their whereabouts at all times! Yet before the urgent call of the kingdom of God, social and family concerns take a back seat. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
These stories show that to follow Christ is to follow him unconditionally. Can you complete the sentence: “I will follow Christ on the condition that…”? If you can complete the sentence, then you are in the same situation as any of these well-meaning but mistaken disciples.
Jesus will not accept a second place in our lives. He will be first or nothing. It is all for Jesus or nothing at all. God created you and me with an inner nature that is centered on your free will.
You and I are created to decide, to be decisive, to freely choose to love Him and respond to His callings, callings to bring His way, His truth, and His life into your inner world and into the world around you.
Therefore, you and I are constantly called to decide and to decide to act not on emotions and feelings but rather on our convictions. Amen.