13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Our readings today make it clear – God demands everything. And this is not easy for us.
I think in our world, we are used to having options. We are used to always having a way out of an impasse. We have so many choices with salad dressings, we have so many choices in herbal tea, so why when it comes to Christ Jesus is there only one choice? Why can’t He be just one more choice? We can deal with a wise man. We can always look for another wise man if we do not like him. But to say He is everything. To say this man from Nazareth is the Alpha and the Omega. I think this is an affront to us at a deep level – that in some things we have no choice. We can either take it or leave it. But our choice has eternal consequences. Our readings make this very clear.
The first reading is about the call of the great prophet Elisha. Now Elisha was ploughing his fields with 12 yoke of oxen. That is 24 oxen. A slightly irreverent commentator says that, that is a lot of moving hamburger. Fact is Elisha was a rich man. But the reading has an intriguing comment added in. It says he was following the twelfth. Obviously the sacred writer did not add this in because he thought we were dumb. Of course if you are plowing with oxen, you have to follow behind them. There is something else. I think Elisha was immersed in his business. This is what took his energy. He was always following the twelfth like another ox. Working and working – to become rich? In short. Elisha was not a pious guy sitting under a tree and praying. He was a regular person who was living a good life and making a good honest living.
All this makes him unprepared for what happens next. You never know when lightning will strike. God comes knocking. Once the cloak was thrown over him, he just knew. His world is turned upside down in a second. This is a man who always followed the twelfth, who was attached to them. Now he slaughters his most precious possessions and what is more he uses the plowing equipment as fuel. He will never be able to return to his former life. It is over. Now you and I can see all this from the outside. I have always wondered with the call of God in the Bible – what must it be for the person to experience this call. What sort of internal tsunami must take place to turn their world on its head? The Bible is strangely silent all the time. This story is deliberately telegraphic. It leaves out huge chunks of the story and we are invited to fill in the blanks using our imagination to enter into the intensity of this call.
This intensity increases when Jesus walks the earth. He does not even allow his disciple to go home and say good bye to his parents. Someone wants to bury his father. This was a most sacred duty for a Jew. It must have been a shock for the bystanders to hear – let the dead bury the dead. The ties of blood are so sacred, they are so compelling, so strong, we cannot think anything else could take first place. Let the dead bury the dead – sounds so callous even monstrous. If Jesus were just a man, it would be. But not if He were God.
The problem is that we tend to think of God as one thing among many other things. So why can’t I have God and keep everything else as well. We can try but it does not work. What happens is our attachments become gods for us and we become their slaves. God is not one thing among other things. He is everything and because He is everything, everything else must find its place in Him. Everything must be possessed through God. Otherwise we are possessed by the things we possess or possessed by the persons we are attached to. It may sound strange but the more we are subservient to God, the freer we become.
As Christians the call of Elisha is not a nice story to enjoy. It is a paradigm. If we are in Christ by baptism, then Christ must be our life. We cannot live divided lives. We cannot have Jesus plus. Christ should be enough. Everything should be held in Jesus. This is what God will expect of us. In the early stages of life maybe not for most of us. But then the road narrows. Suffering and pain, setbacks, disappointments, betrayals they all confine us in a place of loneliness. They are the call of God detaching us from our addictions and attachments and slowly attaching us to Himself. As C. S Lewis put it – God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a dead world. For some it takes dramatic form but for most us it is a slow process of conversion from ourselves to Christ. What is important is to know that we are called and we will be called to make Christ our everything. When the moment comes we should be ready to let go and surrender to the call of God.