Entrance Antiphon: Ps 47(46):2 – “All peoples, clap your hands. Cry to God with shouts of joy!”
First Reading: 1 Kgs 19:16b, 19-21 – “Then Elisha left and followed Elijah as his attendant.”
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11 – “You are my inheritance, O Lord.”
Second Reading: Gal 5:1, 13-18 – “You were called for freedom.”
Alleluia: 1 Sm 3:9; Jn 6:68c – “Alleluia, alleluia. Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening; You have the words of everlasting life. Alleluia, alleluia.”
Gospel: Lk 9:51-62 – “He resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem. I will follow you wherever you go.”
Communion Antiphon: Ps 103(102):1 – “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all within me. His holy name.”
How many of you remember a time when a person would get a job with a company, perhaps at the age of eighteen or in their early twenties, and remain with that company until retirement? Maybe they would move up the ladder, so to speak, within that company, and their loyalty to the firm and the firm’s loyalty to them were “givens.” It was just the way things were, and everyone expected things to be that way. Fast forward to 2022. Most young people new to the work force today can expect to work not only for a number of companies, but many will change careers six, seven, or perhaps even eight times in a lifetime. “Company loyalty” is a thing of the past and most, if not all, companies do not expect “employee loyalty.” As a matter of fact, if a person does not show a great deal of mobility on his or her résumé, he or she might be viewed as lacking in ambition. That is how things are and everyone expects them to be that way. This weekend’s reading may say that is all well and good … but discipleship is very, very different. Discipleship is not a job or a career … it is a way of life.
In the First Reading, we see Elijah the prophet ready to throw in the towel. He had been challenging the people and the royalty and, it appeared, he had failed miserably … at least in his eyes it appeared that way. They just weren’t listening to his preaching and teaching. Actually, when we meet him today, he is fleeing for his life because Queen Jezebel wanted him dead as a result of what he had been saying (And there are days I can definitely relate …) We could say that Elijah was showing signs of burnout. He didn’t feel that he could do anything more. And he complained to God about the unfaithfulness of the people. But God wasn’t viewing things through Elijah’s eyes. God saw things in the bigger picture … but we also know He was sensitive to Elijah’s condition. So God tells Elijah to anoint another prophet to succeed him.
And that prophet is Elisha, who is busy plowing a field when Elijah comes upon him. Elijah goes up to him and throws his cloak over his shoulders and then moves on. It appears that Elijah was not in a good mood. There isn’t a great deal of enthusiasm for his successor. He just throws his cloak over his shoulders and leaves. If God wants Elisha to be a prophet, fine, but Elijah isn’t going to get too excited about it. This is even clearer when Elisha asks permission to take leave of his family. Elijah rather grumpily tells him to do what he wants. His call wasn’t Elijah’s idea … it was God’s.
In some ways, this story points out the distinction between a “job” or a “career” and “discipleship.” There’s no question that Elijah was tired and ready to quit. Elisha, on the other hand, was full of excitement for his new role. He was ready to follow Elijah as a faithful disciple and then, when Elijah was about to leave this life, Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. But, in spite of his possible beginner’s naiveté, Elisha approaches his role as a prophet in a spirit of discipleship, as much more than simply a job.
In this weekend’s Gospel we see Jesus not only talking about true discipleship, but also living it. Saint Luke depicts Jesus as boldly setting out to what will eventually be His demise. But that knowledge does not deter Him, for He knows what following His Father means. It means committing to His mission and never turning back. Jesus tells us, His disciples, that this is how He views our discipleship as well. Discipleship is not a job or a career. It is not something that one can do on a temporary basis. It is a total way of life focused on the kingdom of God.
So once again, Jesus’ words are countercultural. There is little in our present cultural experiences to prepare us for the kind of commitment Jesus requires of us. Our whole cultural environment speaks to us of part-time or temporary commitments and easy changes in direction and focus. But Jesus tells us that is not discipleship.
We come here to this Eucharist as enthused Christians and as tired Christians, as saints and as sinners, knowing that there is nowhere else we can go to be recharged in our faith than to Jesus Christ. Jesus is here in His Word, in the people in this worship space, and in our shared meal of His Body and Blood. We cannot turn back or away, for there is really nowhere else to go. As Peter says to Jesus in another Gospel passage, “You have the words of eternal life.”