To love and serve freely

06-30-2019AllRev. Brian F. Manning

Although we like to convince ourselves that short cuts work and are okay, we really know the only way to do something is the correct way, whether it is easy or hard. To be sure, anything worth doing is worth doing correctly; we often forget the large truth of that adage. Today’s scripture is about a genuine, true call from God and demands back a genuine, true response.

We know that Elisha understood the meaning of the cloak that was so unexpectedly laid upon his shoulders right there in the open field. This man felt its weight — and much more. He knew that the mantle and burden of office were now on his shoulders. Alas, Elisha knew that his life was going to take an abrupt and dramatic turn. One can understand his plea for time to go home to tell his parents good-bye. This transformation from farmer to future prophet was a shocking surprise. Note how after Elisha received the abrupt permission of Elijah, he then went off to tie up the loose ends of his life. What must be noted all the more is that his response to his call is never in doubt. He completes his business quickly and then begins his apprenticeship.

In today’s Gospel we see Jesus begin his journey to Jerusalem, where “the days for [his] being taken up were fulfilled.” This journey of his life is complicated by barriers of age-old enmity. Jesus has to seek permission from the Samaritans to pass through their land, which was not granted. Thus Jesus and his apostles had to take the much longer route to get to Jerusalem, where he was determined to go. Nothing would stand in the way of his mission.

As we read on in this Gospel, we can easily understand the connection with the first reading. The clear connection is that the disciples are to follow Jesus unequivocally. He makes this clear to those who asked, lest they be vague about his mission. Jesus’ response may sound unduly harsh to us. Perhaps Jesus must have detected in these two “wannabe” disciples a lack of enthusiasm, or of any sense of the cost of discipleship or commitment. We are able to perceive the symbolism of when Jesus began his journey to Jerusalem by the long route. Samaritan intransigence was no obstacle to Jesus’ work. Polite, partially involved, minimal discipleship was the great obstacle.

Another, less difficult, obstacle is found in the second reading, namely misleading discipleship. We learn in this letter of Paul that unsettling ideas about discipleship upset the fragile apple cart at Galatia. Paul thought that everything was rosy there, and then trouble arose. One has to wonder what he asked himself in this situation. The converts in Galatia were being taught by misguided “Judaizers,” a name given to those who taught that Christians had to abide by Jewish custom and law. This kind of “piling on” of old laws upset and confused the Galatians. Paul urges them to resist these falsely pious ideas that serve only to fragment and wear down the community and return it to the endless round of debates about law-keeping. He makes it clear that their baptism not only freed them from the law, it freed them for something. They were called and committed to love freely, serve freely, and to put the needs of the human spirit first. They were urged to love first and then do what love demands. At a later time, Saint Augustine would put it simply: “Love, and do what you will.” Indeed the passionate convert Augustine had to struggle to come to believe, and when he did, he embraced all of Christ, not just the parts he liked or quaint customs and religious rules that appealed to him. Faith is living and breathing in heart, mind and soul.