Elijah set out and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was ploughing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." Then Elijah said to him, "Go back again; for what have I done to you?" He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.
Jesus said to his disciples, "You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.' But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one."
Spiritually, we are still in our adolescent stage, old enough to be responsible but young enough to blunder and fall; far enough along to glimpse the new heavens and the new earth and yet at the same time still looking backward and in need of God's forgiveness and patience. In so many of his talks, Pope Francis manages to beautifully enshrine both idealism and a gritty awareness of our flawed, human condition. Despite our awareness of personal imperfections, he says, we should reach out to the future in hope, full of the joy of the Gospel.
A sense of belonging to "a new creation" appear in both readings. Elijah threw his cloak over the young man Elisha, showing that the older generation was passing from the scene and a new generation was taking its place. A similarly radical challenge is heard from Jesus in today's gospel: "Do not swear at all. Take no oaths, but say Yes when you mean Yes and No when you mean No."
The kingdom of God is a wonderful idea and glorious dream, but are Jesus' directives in the Sermon on the Mount literally possible in this world of ours? Some Christian groups try to follow them literally, keeping their speech simple and exact, neverexaggerating or "embroidering". Most people, however, and certainly Irish people, feel the need to say more than a crisp "Yes" or an absolute "No." We consider it fair that others need to check out our ID card and our driver's license, and we are willing in court to swear on the Bible that our words are true. We and our world are not yet fully there, in kingdom mode!
Jesus opposes the kind of oath taking that seeks to control God for one's own purposes, swearing by heaven, God's throne, or by earth, God's footstool, or by Jerusalem, the city of God. The temptation to control God for one's own purpose has been deeply rooted in the human spirit. Ancient magic was an attempt to control the spirit world for one's own purpose, and, indeed, the same could be said of certain forms of contemporary magic. Instead, the Lord's Prayer calls on us to begin by surrendering ourselves to God's purpose, 'your name be held holy, your kingdom come, your will be done.'
Jesus whole life teaches us that God's purpose for our lives is ultimately life-giving. In trust we can invite God to have God's way in our lives because that way is one that will lead to authentic life. It is not a case of manipulating God to serve our purposes but of giving ourselves over to serve God's purpose for our lives and for his creation, after the example of Jesus, who in the Garden of Gethsemane prayed, 'Father... not my will but yours be done', and after the example of Mary whose response to God's messenger was, 'Let it be to me according to your word.'