Cycle [C] 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 1 Kgs. 19:16b, 19-21; Gal. 5:1, 13-18; Lk. 9:51-62

In the middle of the first century BC, Julius Caesar landed on the shores of Britain with his Roman legions. He took a bold and decisive step to ensure the success of his military campaign. He ordered his men to march to the edge of the Cliffs of Dover, and he commanded them to look down on the water below. To their amazement, they saw every ship in which they had crossed the English Channel engulfed in flames. Caesar had deliberately cut off any possibility of retreat back to Rome. Since his soldiers were unable to return to the continent, their only real option was to advance. So they committed themselves to following Caesar. They went forth and conquered Britain. 

Today’s reading speaks of the cost of discipleship. During the First Reading, we heard that the Lord commissioned Elijah to anoint Elisha, the son of Shaphat, as the prophet to succeed him.

In obedience to the Lord, Elijah set out to find Elisha. When Elijah found Elisha, he was ploughing the twelfth yoke of oxen. Passing by Elisha, Elijah threw his mantle over him. From this action, Elisha perceived that God was calling him through Elijah to become a prophet. Leaving the oxen, Elisha ran after Elijah, asked permission to say goodbye to his parents, and accepted God's calling to become a prophet.  

But Elijah’s response was not encouraging. He said, "Go back again; for what have I done to you?" Elisha understood the meaning of his words. He decided to act immediately. As a public sign of renouncing his previous life, Elisha offered a sacrificial meal on the spot. He slaughtered the yoke of oxen and used his farming equipment to make a fire on which he boiled their flesh. Then he shared the meat with his neighbours. Having done all this, Elisha followed Elijah.

During today's Gospel Reading Jesus told one person to follow Him. The person replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." To this, Jesus said, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." 

To another who said that He would follow Jesus after saying farewell to those at his home, Jesus said, "No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." In other words, true discipleship demands more than what was demanded of Elisha. It demands great sacrifices.

“When Jesus calls someone He demands an immediate response. Accepting God’s calling means disregarding what everyone in our family thinks we should do. We have to value our relationship with God above all other relationships. There are no options. But there is only one reponse.

During His three-year ministry, Jesus called people to be His disciples—to be committed to following Him. Many refused to accept his call and a few accepted. Throughout the history the call to discipleship has been extended to many. Martyrs and saints accepted the call and responded whole heartedly.  We also want it to be done but when it comes to the cost we turn back out.  

Giuseppe Garibaldi lived from 1807 to 1882. He was an Italian patriot, soldier, and hero-figure. He devoted his life to the cause of uniting Italy. His greatest victory was the 1860 overthrow of the Kingdom of Naples. That event ultimately led to the unification of Italy. In May of that year, Garibaldi had landed in Sicily with a volunteer force of thousand men. Within two weeks this force had taken the city of Palermo, forcing the capitulation of an army of 20,000 regulars. Garibaldi had an incredibly committed volunteer army. He would appeal for recruits in these terms: “I offer neither pay, nor quarters, nor provisions; I offer hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles and death. Let him who loves his country with his heart and not with his lips only, follow me!”

Jesus invites us to discipleship. But He lets us know up front that it is a commitment that will cost us something. It’s not going to be easy.  Discipleship is costly because Jesus must have priority over our worldly desires. Secondly, discipleship is costly because Jesus must have priority over our family.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship is a classic of Christian thought. A German pastor and an opponent of Adolf Hitler, Bonhoeffer wrote this book in 1937, just before the start of World War II.

In it, Bonhoeffer challenged people to count the cost and make the decision to live as true disciples of Jesus. This stance cost him his life.

Just as Bonhoeffer, we live in a time of great challenges. 

The challenges of technology is unique to our age. We increasingly live our lives via screens, streams, apps, phones. Our relationships are digital. We live our mediated lives via windows and boxes. We chat with multiple people at a time, post one fragment of our lives here and another there, consume visual media in one window and read the Bible in another. All of this makes our lives into disconnected compartments. Following Jesus demands sacrifice and service from us. And it requires great courage to overcome the challenges of modern life.

The lives of saints of each century shows that the challenges they faced are unique to their age. And so our challenges are unique to our age. We should have the courage to face them, and show us as true disciples of Jesus who have chosen to follow him. Like Elijah called Elisha; like Jesus called the young men, today we are called to be ambassadors of Jesus.