1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21 Galatians 5:1, 13-18 Luke 9:51-62
Being human means having to take risks. For the most part, we do not know what will happen on life’s journey and so we dare to do things that will help us achieve an end. Along the way, we also learn the value of contingency plans, hedging our bets, not burning our bridges and keeping our options open. We have learned these lessons so well that many of us are afraid to take the risks which are part of a full commitment to Christian life.
Today’s Gospel presents what Biblical scholars consider an exaggerated parable aimed at jolting us out of our ordinary way of looking at life. The parables focus on three men who faced a life-altering decision. They had to take a risk. The first man approached Jesus and asked if he could follow him. He seems to have wanted to learn from him. The commitment seemed small to him but Jesus let him know that following him meant giving up the security of having a home and trusting the Lord to provide what would be needed along the way.
The second man reminds us of Elisha in the first reading. Elisha was being asked to fulfill the mission of Elijah. He was filled with insecurities and unsure about his willingness to make the commitment that Elijah was asking. Elisha needed a little more time to think about what he would do. Bidding his parents good-bye would provide that time. He must have looked at his possessions with new eyes. He probably thought--at least for a moment--that it would be possible to arrange things so that he could still come back and make a success of his future if his relationship with Elijah didn't work out. It would have been easy for him to entrust the care of his oxen to others in his absence. He could have "hedged his bets." Instead, Elisha agreed that he would follow Elijah with a full heart. In a sacrificial meal with his neighbors, he destroyed his farming equipment, sacrificed his oxen and renounced his past to take up his future.
Jesus asked the second man to follow him but he asks to first bury his father. Perhaps he was asking for more time to think about the risk of following Jesus. This was a reasonable request. It was, also, an opportunity for Jesus to teach him the real demands of following him. To follow Jesus in this mission was much more demanding than following the Lord…putting the kingdom of God above all else.
The third exchange is similar. Even though the third man volunteers to follow Jesus, he is distracted by his family. Jesus uses an agricultural image to explain the problem. The farmer plowing his field will not be able to plow in a straight line if he is looking back. We cannot fully embrace a new life if we are distracted by the old one.
At this liturgy, we are called to ask ourselves how our lives are different than they would have been had we not chosen to follow Jesus. At this Eucharist, the Lord calls us to respond to him with the kind of attention that indicates that nothing will distract us from Jesus as the center of our lives. We will not walk away from him because someone or something else appears more attractive. We will not abandon our search for the kingdom because the road is filled with difficulties. We will not be discouraged by what is hard, disheartened by our lack of progress, downhearted because of the digressions of our fellow travelers.
When we were children, we saw only the positive and joyful dimension of Christian life. This was all we could bear. Now we are adults. The picture of what is required of us is more comprehensive. Still, we move to the altar, giving praise and thanksgiving with the sort of vision that enables us to look forward to a future of hope. Jesus will fulfill our expectations and we follow him with joy.