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The 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 26, 2016

     If you found today’s readings a bit unsettling, it means you were paying attention!  The readings were unsettling because they were all about leaving home and that can be unsettling.  I’m not talking about literally leaving home -- going off to college or moving out of the family home to be on your own, or across the country to take a new job. That kind of leaving home can be exciting. No, it’s the metaphorical leaving home that’s difficult and unsettling: the leaving home that happens whenever we take a step beyond our comfort zone and risk something new. In that sense, we leave home when we choose to put an end to an unhealthy relationship, or to heal an old rift, or when we resolve to get serious about our faith, or decide to marry, or to start a family, or -- you fill in the blanks. If the truth be told, our lives are full of stories about leaving home.

     So are the scriptures.  Think of Abraham and Sarah leaving all and journeying far; of Moses accepting a call he didn’t want and felt ill-suited for; of Jeremiah, convinced he was too young to speak for God; of the young Mary giving her unhesitating “yes” to the angel; of the apostles leaving behind nets, boats, families, and livelihood.

     Each of those left home to do something daunting and difficult.  So did the young Elisha in today’s reading from the Book of Kings -- yet one more story about leaving home.  The great prophet Elijah had found – in Elisha, a young farmer and near-namesake - a worthy successor, someone to take on his prophetic mantle. As a little aside, it’s worth noting that Elisha had a lot to lose by following Elijah. He was comfortable and well-to-do – that’s quite clear from the fact that he plowed his fields behind a yoke of twelve oxen. Most farmers were lucky to have one or two!

     As the story unfolds, Elijah, the prophet, came upon the young Elisha and threw his mantle over him – the classic sign of God’s call. Elisha was generous in responding, but human, too.  “I will follow you,” he told Elijah, “but first let me kiss my father and mother goodbye.”  Elijah agreed, but it wasn’t long before the young Elisha was slaughtering all twelve oxen and cooking their flesh on a fire kindled from the wood of his plow.  Talk about leaving home!  Elisha left himself nothing to fall back on in case this ‘prophecy business’ didn’t work out for him.  He literally ‘burned his bridges’ by destroying his former way of making a living.

     The call of Elisha nicely sets the scene for the gospel.  Notice how it opened with the words, “Jesus resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.”   That’s not just a casual geographical reference: the journey to Jerusalem is a major piece of the ‘geography’ of Luke’s gospel.  The journey to Jerusalem is about Jesus’ own personal willingness to leave home definitively in order to embrace the destiny that awaited him in Jerusalem.

     It was during this journey to Jerusalem, his own leaving home, that Jesus talked to three people about their leaving home.  One ran up to Jesus and rather recklessly claimed, “I will follow you wherever you go!”  Jesus’ reply was sobering: “Foxes have their dens and birds have their nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head.”  In other words, following me means not only leaving home, it means having no home at all!

     The second encounter wasn’t much different although Jesus initiated this one.  To a would-be disciple he said those two simple, but oh, so demanding words, that once prompted fishermen to leave their boats and their nets on the shore. “Follow me,” he said.  But this person wasn’t ready to follow.  “Let me go first and bury my father.”  Jesus’ response seems harsh and unfeeling: “Let the dead bury their dead,” he said.  Are those words meant to be taken literally?  No, but they are meant to be taken seriously.

     The third encounter was like Elijah’s encounter with Elisha.  “I will follow you but first let me say farewell to my family at home.”  And Jesus, giving a nod to the Elisha story, speaks of putting the hand to the plow and not looking back.

     Three encounters, none of which leave any room for wiggling or waffling.  Leave home, Jesus says. You cannot follow me unless you leave home.

     And where is home, we ask? What does home mean -- for me?  That’s a question each of us must answer, my friends.  And there are many possible answers. Is home my comfortable, but maybe somewhat selfish lifestyle?  Is home my security or my things, my prized possessions, my drive to acquire more and more?  Is home a stagnant or manipulative relationship that is going nowhere and likely to go nowhere, or is it, perhaps, a bunch of old grudges and resentments that rule my life?  Or could home be some religious practices that look like faith but are really closer to superstitions.  And then, looking beyond the purely personal, home, for the Church, could be the way the Church has ‘always done things,’ an insular, closed mentality that refuses to read the signs of the times in the light of the Gospel. You get the idea. There are many homes we may need to leave behind so we can truly follow Jesus.

     My friends, the bottom line this Sunday is that if we would follow Jesus we must make the big decision to leave home.  And, yes, I know – summer seems like a good time for putting the big decisions on hold, a good time for ‘kicking back’ and ‘chilling out.”   And that’s fine, but some decisions cannot wait. When Jesus says, “Follow me” he means it. He wants an answer, not an alibi. And it’s the Eucharist we now celebrate and receive that makes it possible for us to answer!       

Father Michael G. Ryan

  

 

 

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