Homily for Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Theme: Cost of Discipleship
The first Reading, (Kgs 19:16, 19-21), presented us with the call of Elisha as the prophet of the Lord. We recall that Elijah after defeating the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel had to flee to Horeb to elude Jezebel the wife of King Ahab who sought for his life. In his encounter with God at Mount Horeb, he was informed that there were tasks he needed to accomplish in Israel before drawing the curtain on his ministry; the appointment of his successor was one of them.
Upon returning to the land of Israel, Elijah appointed Elisha to be his successor by throwing his cloak over him. It was a dramatic call, like the call of Abraham to leave his Chaldean city of Ur, to an unknown destination. Elisha was ploughing his field with twelve yokes of oxen, which implied that he was wealthy and had a large farm. Once he was called by Elijah, he asked to be permitted to farewell his parents. His request was granted. He slaughtered a pair of oxen and made a feast as a sign of his transition from an entrepreneur to Elijah’s disciple. It is worth noting that Elisha made a huge sacrifice in abandoning his lucrative business to become a disciple of Elijah.
However, once he became a disciple of Elijah, he was fully committed to the ministry and thus was rewarded with the double spirit of Elijah, (2kgs 2:9-14), which enabled him to proclaim fearlessly the word of God, perform miracles, (the Shunemite woman bore a son after many years of wedlock, and the healing of Naaman the Syrian General), and be a political activist, (he appointed Jehu as King and ensured that the curse on the house of King Ahab and Jezebel for their wickedness was actualised).
The Gospel, (Lk 9:51-62), begins with the story of Jesus’ resolute journey towards Jerusalem where he would accomplish his Paschal Mystery – suffering, death and resurrection. On his way to Jerusalem, a Samaritan village refused him passage because of the enmity that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans. The apostles, James and John, who were disgusted with the Samaritans for rebuffing them asked for permission from Jesus to call down fire from heaven to devour the Samaritans as Elijah did in the Second Book of Kings, (2Kgs 1:9-10). But Jesus being true to his teaching of exhausting all options before one may use force, rebuked his disciples, and they by-passed the troublesome village. Here Jesus is reminding us that as his disciples we may face rejection sometimes. If he the Lord and Master faced rejection and abandonment among the Jewish leaders and some of his disciples, then ours would not be different except that Jesus has promised to be with us through thick and thin until the end of the world. Hence in our pain and isolation, he is with us.
Jesus then underscored the cost of discipleship by giving us three lessons on discipleship which are not evangelical counsels like the vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience, taken by the members of Religious Orders in the Church, which a Christian is not under obligation to take. We recall that at the end of Jesus’ teachings on marriage and celibacy, he made it clear that one may choose to be married or to be a celibate. However, these lessons on discipleship are for everyone.
To have a contextual understanding of Jesus’ teaching on the cost of discipleship, we should have at the back of our minds that God has given us the greatest gift that he has, which is the gift of Only Begotten Son, hence, no matter what we sacrifice, when compared to what God has done for us in Christ, God’s sacrifice always outweighs our own sacrifices.
Hence, not the basic need of shelter, (the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head), nor one’s responsibility to one’s parent, (Let me go and bury my father first), which Christ unequivocally supported when he criticised the scribes and the Pharisees for teaching that one may be exempted from supporting the financial needs of one’s parents by stating that the finances one would have used to help them have been put to religious usage, (Corban, Mk 7:9-13). Again, burying the dead is one of the seven corporal works of mercy, which include; feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, sheltering the homeless, and visiting the sick.
Neither should family or friendship ties, (I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say goodbye to my people), prevent us from answering the call of Jesus. Here Jesus’ demand goes beyond what Elijah demanded of Elisha. Elisha was allowed to go back and farewell his people.
These Jesus’ demands may appear extreme to us, and one may wonder if one would be able to accomplish them. The message we take from the teachings of Jesus today is that as his disciples, in all we do and say, we must allow the spirit of Jesus to permeate us which will make us say and do things as Jesus would have said and done them. With St Paul, I pray that the mind that was in Jesus may also be in you so that you may declare that, “nothing outweighs the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus our (sic), Lord”, (Phil 3:8).
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp