The readings today are about call and mission.
The message of the “call” begins with the reading from the First Book of Kings in which Elisha is called to follow Elijah, and when he says that first he wants to say “good-bye” to his parents, Elijah tells him to follow immediately. In the Letter to the Romans Saint Paul describes the call as our response to live in the Freedom of Christ and the Life in the Spirit, and not under the “yoke of slavery” to sin. In the Gospel Jesus is traveling with his Apostles who had left their families, livelihoods and possessions to be with Jesus. This is what Jesus expects of those who he calls to follow him. Jesus and his Apostles encounter three others who desire to follow him. To the first he makes it clear that to be his follower means not having a comfortable and permanent place to live; the second has the condition of delaying until after he buries his father. Jesus challenges him on his desire to follow, if he is to follow he must come immediately. The third wants to go back and give his farewells to family and friends. Jesus make the point that for those who desire to follow him it is a call to move forward, there is no turning back. These calls from God makes it clear that to follow Jesus one must be willing to make a total commitment.
Accepting the call to be a follower of Christ involves putting Christ First. This might sound harsh, especially when family, friends and profession are involved, but by putting Jesus first we are blessed with the gifts and grace to love and serve our family and friends more than we could before, for we see all other people and things through his vision.
The second lesson in involves the mission of Jesus’ followers. Jesus plans on stopping in a Samaritan town on his way to Jerusalem. This was a somewhat radical act on the part of Jesus. Jews and Samaritans despised each other, and the Samaritans would not show hospitality to a Jew on his way to Jerusalem. This is why the parable of the Good Samaritan was such a difficult one for the Scribes and Pharisees to hear, because the good guy was a Samaritan. Jesus is not welcomed there, and the apostles want to send down fire to destroy the town. Jesus rebuked them for that and they moved on to another town.
Jesus shows us that the mission of his followers is to proclaim the kingdom of God, and of showing mercy to those, not yet ready to receive it. Pope Benedict described the New Evangelization as living the Gospel in such a way that we attract others to want to experience Jesus. Pope Francis describes Evangelization as accompanying those who are struggling with faith and the teachings of Jesus so as to lead them to Jesus. Jesus knew that in all likelihood he would not be welcome in the Samaritan town, but he did not make the decision for them by avoiding them, he attempted to enter there. He was ready to announce the Good News, even where it seemed it would not be welcomed. He did not react to rejection with punishment, he gave them more time to hopefully come around and accept him. It’s lesson for us to live our faith in a manner in which others are attracted to the faith, and to accompany others who are struggling or searching so as to help them experience love and mercy from us. We are called, and we are sent forth. May we do so with the presence of Jesus in our hearts.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.
Image: Caravaggio, The Calling of Saint Matthew