A Reflection on the Readings for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I: 1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21
Responsorial Psalm: 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
Reading II: Galatians 5:1, 13-18
Gospel: Luke 9:51-62
The “Golden Thread” that runs through our readings for this Sunday seems to be discipleship. But we have varying examples of discipleship in these readings and examples of the dichotomy that the call to discipleship can produce in us. On the one hand, we recognize our call to follow Christ more closely; but on the other, our fleshly desires cause us to want to maintain our present lifestyle and to avoid the call to follow Jesus.
But let’s start with Elijah. He was one of the most powerful and captivating individuals in the Old Testament. We have no background information on him as he is simply introduced to us in 1st Kings 17 as: “Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead.” His name in Hebrew means: “Yahweh is my God,” and he was active in the northern Kingdom of Israel in the 9th century B.C. during the reign of Ahab, the King of Israel. If you remember, the nation of Israel fell apart after the reign of Solomon in the 9th century B.C. and became two separate nations: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The kings of Judah continued to come from the line of David and remained somewhat faithful (to one degree or another) to Yahweh, but those of Israel did not follow David’s line, and many of those kings introduced the worship of foreign gods. Ahab was one of the worst of the northern kings. Starting in 1st Kings 17 and on into 2nd Kings, we can read more about the exploits and miracles attributed to Elijah and his confrontations with King Ahab and the King’s wife, Jezebel.
Our first reading this Sunday centers on the “Call of Elisha” (not to be confused with Elijah). God commissioned Elijah to appoint Elisha as Elijah’s successor. Elijah threw his cloak over Elisha, symbolically appointing Elisha to follow him and to take up his mantle when Elijah was called to God. (A little aside: If you read 2nd Kings 2, you will see that the scriptures imply that Elijah never died but was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Consequently, the Israelites at the time of Jesus believed that Elijah would someday return to earth to announce the coming of the Messiah. For that reason, many of them believed that John the Baptist was Elijah who returned to announce the Messiah, and many believed that Jesus was Elijah).
Discipleship enters the picture with Elisha’s response to his commissioning. He is torn between his call to discipleship – following Elijah – and his desire to return to his family to say goodbye. If he returned to his family, there may be the risk that his desire to maintain his present life with family might outweigh his call to discipleship. There’s the dichotomy! All of us know that we are called to follow God, but we are often reluctant to give up the comfort and security of our present lives to answer that call. In Elisha’s case, he abandoned everything and accepted his call to follow Elijah.
On most Sundays, the second reading from the New Testament doesn’t normally follow the “Golden Thread” that binds the 1st reading from the Old Testament to the gospel. But this Sunday, there is a direct connection as St. Paul reminds us that the spirit and the flesh are directly opposed to each other. We know we are called to discipleship, but the desires of the flesh often cause us to deny that call in order to maintain our present way of life. That’s why Paul tells us that we often do not do what we want. In other words, we want to follow Jesus but the desires of the flesh prevent us. We are called to freedom because Christ has set us free, but it is not a freedom to succumb to the desires of the flesh; it is the freedom to make the proper choices between good and evil; the freedom to deny ourselves in favor of others.
The gospel gives us additional examples of the call to discipleship, but first, we are introduced to an episode involving the Samaritans. We have many examples in scripture concerning how the Israelites thought of the Samaritans as unclean people and would have nothing to do with them. That all stemmed from 722 B.C., when the northern Kingdom of Israel was overrun by the Assyrians, and all the people of Israel were exiled and scattered throughout other territories that had been conquered by the Assyrians. The only Israelites left behind were the low-class individuals whom the Assyrians had no use for. But then the Assyrians imported gentiles from other territories they had conquered and settled them in what used to be Israel. Eventually, the remaining Jews in Israel intermarried with the gentiles, and in Jewish thought, sexual relations with a gentile made one permanently unclean. So, the people who became known as the Samaritans were essentially half-breed Jews and were therefore permanently unclean. They would not welcome Jesus because he was going to Jerusalem and the Jews of Jerusalem looked with disdain on the Samaritans, so; if you’re going to Jerusalem, you’re not welcome here.
Then we have other examples of calls to discipleship in this gospel passage and the dichotomies they produce. “I will follow you wherever you go……but……….” There is always the tendency in one’s mind to ask if I really have the courage to answer this call. We are not told whether the call to discipleship or the call to the present life won out in these individuals, but we are told by Jesus that what lies behind is behind (let the dead bury the dead). If we accept the call to follow Jesus, then we must put our hand to the plow and go forward. It is a very poignant reminder to all of us that we have to make that decision many times a day.
Reference: Copyright © 2022 Diocesan
Author: Ric Cross