Elisha ploughing? He must have been a farmer.
There is a story of a farmer who was much loved by all the animals on his farm. One day they all met to discuss how they could express their love and appreciation to this farmer for his caring for them. The consensus was to offer him breakfast in bed of eggs and bacon. The hens agreed immediately and enthusiastically. The pig, however, balked, saying that for the hens that would be a day’s work, but for him it would be total commitment!
The readings today invite us to follow Jesus with total commitment, allowing no other priority in our lives than to proclaim the kingdom of God by being his disciples and “loving one another as we love ourselves.”
In the Gospel, Jesus is clear about the radicalness of that call to proclaim the kingdom of God as a vocation, by our words, by our lives and by our commitment. More important than having a home, secure job, family or circle of friends is the call to proclaim that the kingdom of God, a whole new world order and way of life, has been inaugurated by Jesus in us and among us, and we are to help build up that reign of God.
Rev. Bill Stang, OMI, responded to the call from the newly formed Oblate province of OMI Lacombe to serve in Kenya. He let go of his ministry as chancellor in the Archdiocese of Keewatin-Le Pas and spent the next six years ministering as a missionary and finally founder and director of a pre-novitiate in Kenya. That commitment entailed missing the death and funeral of both a sister and his mother. He literally lived the gospel we proclaimed today.
St. Paul’s description of the reign of God in Romans is clear: it is the peace, joy and justice of the Holy Spirit. To work for peace, to be full of joy and to have a right relationship with God, to be reconciled with all others in our lives, to accept ourselves as we are, and to care for all of God’s creation is now our paramount task as followers of Jesus.
Psalm 16 underlines that radical call: it is God who is our inheritance; we have no good apart from him. Those words reflect the title of a book written by Cardinal Sarah in Rome — God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith.
Elisha, in the first reading, is a great example of how we are to respond to that call. After a moment’s hesitation he even let go of his profession, burning his plough to cook the oxen and feed the people so that he could be free to follow Elijah.
The fact that Elisha was a farmer out in the field behind 12 yoke of oxen underlines that this call to follow Jesus is not esoteric, meant for an elite, but directed to everyone, regardless of status, position or station in life.
St. Paul, in the second reading, resorts to paradoxical language to express the magnitude of being redeemed and made holy by Christ, and how we are to respond. Christ has set us free from sin and our sinfulness, defects of character and our addictions, for freedom — but only to be slaves to one another!
What Paul is stating is simply now that we have met and experienced Christ whose unconditional love has set us free, we are to become like Christ in making loving and serving others the greatest priority of our lives. He is careful to point out that we can do this only by being filled with the Holy Spirit of the risen Lord, and led by the Spirit who alone can give us the power to say no to selfishness or self-serving tendencies in our lives.
Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche homes for the mentally challenged, is one person who, much like Elisha, heard the call of God as a layperson. Giving up his career as a teacher and professor, he invited two mentally challenged men to live with him in his home in Troisly, France. His goal was to give them a caring family environment, instead of an often uncaring impersonal institution. Inspired by his radical call and response to that call, others joined him and a second home was opened by an Anglican couple at Daybreak in Toronto. With that second home, the movement of L’Arche was born.
Some years ago there was a TV series entitled Thirtysomething. One episode went this way: A group of married men gathered for a social evening at a hotel. One of the men felt attracted to the event manager with whom he had to relate all evening in terms of arranging food, music, and drinks. She was attracted to him, too, and as the evening went on the romantic chemistry intensified. Finally, the moment came to part. The man stalled, thanking her again for her help. She, not wanting to lose the moment, asked him, “Would you like to get together again sometime?” The man hesitated, guiltily apologized for not being more forthright earlier, and drew on the moral courage of his faith. Not without sweating a little blood, he said: “I am married. I need to go home to my wife.”
Ron Rolheiser, OMI, recounts that his father, perhaps the most moral man he’s ever known, used to tell him: “Unless you can sweat blood like Jesus, you’ll never keep a commitment, in marriage, in priesthood, or anywhere. That’s what it takes!”
The eucharist is itself a call to discipleship. We are empowered by God’s love in Jesus, through Word and sacrament, to go out as disciples to love others as he has loved us, and as we love ourselves. In short, we are to go and be the disciples that Jesus is calling us to be.
Sylvain Lavoie, OMI, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Keewatin-The Pas, is chaplain at the Star of the North Retreat House in St. Albert, Alta. He continues to live out his motto, Regnum Dei Intra Vos (the kingdom of God is among you), which is his overriding focus and passion.