“No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)
On this thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, we are invited to reflect on the call to ministry, the challenges of responding to the call of God, and the expectations of God from those who are called. While our first reading presents the miraculous circumstances surrounding the call of Elisha, our Gospel passage shows us that there are others not called who decide to offer themselves. There are a lot of lessons powerfully conveyed in our readings today:
1. Why the Call?
Why does God still call people? The same reason He became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. God had the power to save mankind without becoming a man but He chose to be one of us still. In the same way, God incarnates Himself to mankind through His ministers. God desires that through His ministers, we are able to encounter Him in flesh and blood. Hence, as Elijah’s time was drawing to an end, God told him to anoint Elisha to avoid a vacuum.
As Elijah made Elisha follow him, Jesus called followers so that through them, the people of God would always experience God’s presence in their midst. The minister embodies God yet does not take the place of God. He speaks and acts on God’s behalf but at the same time, remains completely human. “Every priest is chosen from among men and appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God.” (Hebrews 5:1)
2. God Calls; He Never Forces Anyone
St. Paul begins our second reading by saying: “For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) In our Gospel passage, we see how Jesus was rejected by the Samaritans which made James and John so angry that they wanted to call down fire from heaven on them but Jesus simply turned and went to another village. God who created us free does not force us to accept Him.
When God calls people into ministry, He does not force them but allows them to choose whether or not they would respond. When a young man said to Jesus “I will follow you wherever you go,” Jesus quickly reminded him of the hardship involved in ministry: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58). Jesus was saying to this man if you choose to follow me, know it is not going to be an easy ride. Anyone prepared to answer the call must deny himself, pick up his cross daily and follow Jesus. (Matthew 16:24)
St. Paul says: “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” (Galatians 5:13). Anointing does not remove human freedom, I may be God’s General but if I do not cooperate with God, my anointing could become an opportunity for the flesh.
3. God’s call demands total commitment.
God demands total detachment from material pursuits (vow of poverty), family responsibilities (vow of celibacy), and pride or self-adulation (vow of obedience). You cannot serve both God and riches. (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13). To the seventy-two He sent out, Jesus told them “Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff. (Matthew 10:9-10)
Another one said to Jesus: “I will follow you but let me first say farewell to those at home,” Jesus said to him, “No one who has put his hand to the plough and looks back is fit the kingdom of God.” The exact same thing plays out in our first reading. When Elijah put his mantle on Elisha, he wanted to return home to say goodbye to his father and mother but Elisha could see that that was not an option. He slaughtered the whole yoke of oxen, served the people, and followed Elijah.
Anyone who is not willing to do what Elisha did is like a person who has put his hand on the plough and continues to look back. Jesus says such a person is not fit for the kingdom of God. Once upon a time, a young man wanted to know how to inherit eternal life and Jesus asked him to sell everything he has and give the money to the poor. The young man went away sad. (Cf. Luke 18:18-23).
4. Children of God, Do Not Gratify the Desires of the Flesh
In today’s second reading, St. Paul explains the battle raging within us: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other.” (Galatians 5:17). If you read further, St. Paul goes on to explain what he meant by the desires (works) of the flesh: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. (Galatians 5:19-21) These things are not expected from a Christian talk less one who has accepted the call to ministry.
But as St. Paul admits, as long as we remain flesh and blood, we are constantly going to be engaged in this battle. In his letter to Timothy, St. Paul notes: “But as for you, man of God… aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith…” (1 Timothy 6:11-12). Fighting this good fight means living in the Spirit and dying to the cravings/desires of the flesh. I must admit this is not an easy fight but it is one that must be fought to the grave.
The purpose of our calling as Christians and especially as God’s ministers is to incarnate Christ in our world. As Elijah handed over to Elijah, even the strongest among us would need to be replaced someday. Let us encourage our young ones to respond positively to God’s call. How dark would our world be if there are no ministers or no authentic Christians anymore?
However, the truth is that God will never force his calling on anyone. We must also avoid forcing our children into the seminary just for the sake of making a name for our family. It has to come from them. Anyone who has agreed to respond to God’s call must learn to trust God completely and no longer depend on material provisions. This is the symbolic meaning of Elisha’s decision to sacrifice the entire oxen he was working with.
And finally, we all have been called to live by the spirit rather than gratifying the desires of the flesh. The minister who fails to practice bodily purity is nothing short of a scandal to the Christian faith preaching one Gospel on the pulpit but preaching something different by his actions.
Let us pray: Almighty ever-living Father, may I not cause one of these little ones who believe in you to stumble. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Bible Study: 1 Kings 19:16,19-21, Ps. 16:1-2,5,7-11, Galatians 5:1,13-18, Luke 9:51-62)
© Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu