The Lord said to Elijah, "You shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place."
Elijah set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was ploughing, with 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.
Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
I say to the Lord: 'You are my God.'
O Lord, it is you who are my portion and cup;
it is you yourself who are my prize. (R./)
I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel,
who even at night directs my heart.
I keep the Lord ever in my sight:
since he is at my right hand, I shall stand firm. (R./)
And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad;
even my body shall rest in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead,
nor let your beloved know decay. (R./)
You will show me the path of life,
the fullness of joy in your presence,
at your right hand happiness for ever. (R./)
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become servants to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
A deep personal loyalty to Jesus is proposed in the Gospel for today. One might begin by considering decisions that crop up in our lives. Few really important decisions are made without some regrets or hankerings after the alternatives which were not chosen. Some decisions are made once for all (e.g. to attend this meeting); others have to be constantly renewed (e.g. to love one's spouse; to be concerned for our friends.) Our decision to follow Jesus is never without such hankerings after the alternatives, and needs constant reaffirmation. Seldom do we choose a radical option, like Elisha's slaughter of his farm-animals before leaving home to follow Elijah. Rarely do we so fully follow the Holy Spirit as to be totally free for God's service.
Some points from the readings:
(1) Renouncing whatever in our past is contrary to God's will. Seeking conversion, and starting again. (Mention the penitential rite in this context?)
(2) Personal commitment to Jesus, putting him first in our life. Making his values part of our lifestyle. It's mistaken to imagine all pleasure as connected with sin. The nobility of Jesus' values gives real joy. Following him requires a decision, but is supremely worthwhile.
(3) "Through love become servants to one another." This is living with the true freedom for which Christ has set us free.
(4) Persevering with Jesus; keeping our hands to the plough, and not looking back. To do so we need to be "led by the Spirit." Luke is so aware of the gift of the Spirit that he feels enabled, in his gospel, to underline so often the cost of discipleship.
Jesus was approached by three individuals who wanted to follow him and learn more about God. Far from urging them to join his group, Jesus seemed rather to discourage them. The first was told to count the cost of joining, as he would have no fixed abode. The next answer seems quite harsh. "Let the [spiritually] dead bury their dead." Perhaps the man's father was still alive, and an eldest son could not leave home until after his father's death. But if we are faced with a radical option and do not decide at once, we are less likely to do so later. What Jesus said to the third man was equally challenging: "No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." The wooden plough could break if it struck a large stone; so the ploughman had to watch the ground ahead at all times. The commitment of a disciple to following Christ should be equally focussed.
All through life, God is also calling us, whether we respond or not, even as he called Peter from his fishing, Matthew from his tax office, Elisha from his farm. But, how many choose to answer God's call? Jesus once observed that "Many are called but few are chosen" (Mt 22:14). On the other hand we have his words of warm encouragement, "Fear not little flock, for it has pleased the Father to give you the kingdom" (Lk 12:32).
As a foundation for any vocation to service in the church is the belief that God "so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost, but may have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). This reassures us of the unconditional love on God's part for each and every person. With that belief we renew our Yes to our basic Christian vocation: "through love become servants to one another" or in our Lord's words: "Love one another as I have loved you."
Sometimes we wonder if Jesus was trying to discourage people from following him, he was so blunt in spelling out what it would cost. Yet 'Follow me' is an invitation frequently repeated in the Gospel, and it echoes in the hearts of every generation.
Jesus calls various people to share in his life and in his interests. Discipleship and loyalty to his mission go hand in hand. And this mission needed to be carried out in right spirit, not as dominating people but as serving them. James and John were eager but they wanted to do things their way; so Jesus sharply rebuked them. A fire and brimstone approach even towards opponents, was unacceptable. Jesus came as a saviour not as the leader of a punishment squad. It seems online that some would-be guardians of orthodoxy today share the angry spirit of the Boanerges: 'sons of thunder'. We need the guidance of Jesus to help us to clarify and to refine our understanding of discipleship.
Disciples need to to break free from false forms of security. The apostles left behind their established lifestyle in order to be with Jesus. At an earlier time, Elisha left aside his security as a farmer in order to serve with Elijah the prophet. "Yes I will follow you, sir, but first let me..." Have those words a familiar ring to us? So they resemble our own first response to God's call? I will follow you but on my own terms. I will follow you, if the cost is not too high.
In today's Gospel, several people wanted to follow Jesus, but found the conditions too strict. The project of spreading the kingdom of God was noble and urgent. Instead of trying to haggle with Jesus over the conditions, they could have gone with him immediately. Ideally our own 'Yes' to God should be total, like our Blessed Mother's. If we do this, it can bring us that spiritual joy which St Paul calls the "pledge," or first instalment of eternal life.