13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1st Reading – 1 Kings 19: 16b, 19-21

Elijah has just finished a very difficult time, facing down the false prophets of Baal and then running for his life from Queen Jezebel. He is tired and asks the Lord to relieve him of his burdens – even his very life.

Then the Lord agrees to have Elijah pass on his role as prophet to Elisha.  It is interesting to think that God’s call to Elisha comes to him right in the middle of his ordinary life. And – once he understands the call, he responds with profound commitment. This is quite a powerful story!  What do you find thought-provoking in this passage?

From Mary Birmingham, Word & Worship Wrkbk for Yr. C, 409:

A cloak symbolized the personality and rights of the owner, as well as the owner’s protection. The gift of a cloak was a sign of unity and friendship.  It was also a sign of one’s function or charism.  Elisha, though a very wealthy man (most people would own only one oxen) responds wholeheartedly with a grand gesture of total commitment to the cloak and the call.

Here’s another way of using this story as a means to pray and be open to how God might be speaking to you through it  (from Margaret Silf, Inner Compass, p. 13-14):

After reading the passage of 1 Kings 19:19 about Elisha, imagine yourself in a field. The field is being plowed, and you have your own furrow to plow. The field is the field of the world . . . Your hands are on the plow and your feet are heavy with the earth. Perhaps you feel that you are carrying out this gigantic task all alone. But look ahead of you. See the eleven teams of oxen that Elisha saw. You are not alone. You are a part of a long line of life and meaning. But this is not just any line of oxen. It is your own personal line . . .

Who or what is in your line of oxen teams? Think of significant people who have made a difference in your life. Some may have helped provide the pulling power for your plow and its progress. Remember also the important moments, events, decisions or experiences that have formed your furrow. Notice the landscape of your part of the field. Think of how a farmer plows a straight furrow by keeping his gaze on a fixed object ahead.

How has Jesus been your fixed object? He needs to be at the head of each one of our personal lines of oxen teams. It is his risen life and energy that provide the power for our every moment. Think of how he has been both your beginning and your end – both your starting point and your goal. Talk with Jesus about this. As you finish your prayer time, ask Jesus to help you to know –deeply—that you do not plow alone . . .

2nd Reading – Galatians 5:1, 13-18

What did Paul mean by ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’?  These terms, flesh and spirit, which are often used to translate the Greek sarx and pneuma, have caused tragic misunderstandings of Paul’s theology.  Paul has often been blamed for seeing the body and sex as sinful  — evil.  This is unfortunate for it is far from what Paul has in mind when he uses the word, sarx.  He does not mean the physical, sexual part of a human. Sarx refers to the WHOLE human as he/she is enslaved to weakness and corruption.  (Even when Paul lists sexual ‘sins’ with prominence, he is saying that sexual abuse and misuse are symptoms of the whole person’s disorientation away from God, the true source of life.)  The pneuma, or spirit, on the other hand, is the full human who is open to being influenced by God’s Spirit and charis, saving power.  Our whole being  “every cell of our body, every moment of our mind is BOTH flesh and spirit.”  We are enslaved by the power of sin.  Or, we are liberated to grow into the image of God that we are intended to be.  (Paul Tillich, Shaking of the Foundations, 133,  and The Eternal Now, 48).

Nathaniel Hawthorne, probably without intending it, gave us a touching example of this in his book, The Scarlet Letter.  Chillingsworth’s decision not to let go of his hatred and revenge, real evil, affects his whole being.  By the end of his life, he is a scarred, ugly, shriveled human — sarx.  Hester, on the other hand, is transformed by her openness to love and repentance.  Even though she is known as a public sinner, the goodness (pneuma) grows and makes her whole person more beautiful.  The meaning of the ‘A’ that she must wear changes from Adulteress to Angel.  Paul might have seen much of his own theology in this story.

Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” www.liturgy.slu.edu & M Birmingham, W&W YrC, 409-410:

The freedom that Paul talks about is a freedom grounded in love – for others.  We are freed from our small, crippled, self-centered ‘false’ selves – it is false because this is not the way that God has called us to be. The Spirit of Love – which is the Spirit that God freely gives us – provides us with a set of antennae enabling us in each concrete situation to live a life that love requires, without a lot of rules and regulations. Once we are open to God’s Spirit, then – while we may still struggle with the ‘flesh’ (the old, weak, un-redeemed self – the self that is resistant to God’s life and freedom)  we will have in the Spirit an indwelling strength and understanding that will help us to live this new life, a life of true love and freedom.

The Gospel – Luke 9: 51-62

Why do you think Luke has this right at the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem?

Here Jesus is emphasizing the primacy of commitment to God’s reign, God’s kingdom. All else is secondary. The imagery used is typically Semitic and strongly worded to drive the idea home. Details should not be pressed. To break the saying down into fractions is to lose their impact. The main point is clear: human considerations are insignificant . . . families ties must be seen in connection to our commitment to Jesus. The Palestinian one-hand plow cannot be easily guided without full attention given to the furrows. So, too, the reign of God calls for undivided attention and commitment . . . Everyday of our lives presents new challenges, new problems. There is always the unknown lurking about . . . Yet, in the face of the unknown, Jesus never wavered. We are asked to follow him. We are to walk with the Spirit that gives life, not with the flesh that tires, doubts, and becomes easily discouraged.  (R. Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p.456)

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