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The 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 30, 2019

 

 
    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 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 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 to start a family. You get the idea. In this sense, our lives are full of stories about leaving home, and so are the scriptures.

     The story of the young Elisha in today’s first reading is a story about leaving home. The great prophet Elijah had found in Elisha, his near-namesake, a worthy successor to himself. He came upon the young Elisha who was out plowing his field behind twelve yoke of oxen and threw his mantle over him to let him know that God was calling him. Elisha’s response was generous, but human: “I will follow you,” he told Elijah, “but first let me kiss my father and mother goodbye.” Elijah agreed, but before long, young Elisha had slaughtered all twelve oxen and cooked their flesh on a fire kindled from the wood of his plow. Now that was leaving home!

     The call of Elisha 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’ willingness to leave home in order to embrace the destiny that awaited him in Jerusalem. 

     It was while he was on his way to Jerusalem that Jesus talked to three people about their leaving home. One runs up to him and rather recklessly claims, “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 may mean 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 behind. “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 we to take those words literally? No, but we should take them 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, and none leaves room for 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 somewhat selfish lifestyle?  Is home my security, 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, some old grudges I can’t let go of? Or could home be my ironclad political convictions that I tenaciously hold onto with little or no guidance from Catholic moral and social teaching and its considerable demands? You get the idea. There are many homes we may need to leave behind in order to truly follow Jesus.

      So, leaving home is about letting go of personal attachments. But there is another kind of leaving home, prompted not by choice but by necessity. I’m thinking of the current situation on our southern border with refugees and migrants - many of them families with children - fleeing violence and economic oppression in their homelands, coming here in a desperate search for a better, safer life. Theirs is a leaving home that carries with it a moral imperative for all of us.

      If we have been slow to realize this, the stories of young children being separated from their parents and warehoused in squalid, inhumane conditions – and that heartrending photograph of the father and his young daughter lying face down in the waters of the Rio Grande that went viral this past week – these should have awakened compassion in us and stirred up moral outrage. They certainly did for me.

      They did for Pope Francis, too who, as you know, has been passionately outspoken about migrants and asylum seekers. In his recently released message for the upcoming World Day of Migrants and Refugees, he took an interesting tack by putting the focus more on us than on migrants and refugees. Here are a few of his words: “This is not just about migrants: it is about our humanity. Being compassionate means recognizing the suffering of the other and taking immediate action to soothe, heal, and save. Being compassionate means making room for that tenderness which today’s society so often represses. Opening ourselves to these others does not lead to impoverishment, but to enrichment because it enables us to be more human – to understand our life as a gift for others; to see as the goal, not our own interests, but rather the good of humanity.”
He went on to speak about meanness and fear of others, of the foreigner. “Fear,” he said, “deprives us of the desire to encounter the other, the one who is different from us; fear deprives us of an opportunity to encounter the Lord himself.”

      My friends in Christ, despite all that keep hearing these days, we must not let fear carry the day. Love needs to carry the day. St. Paul said as much in today’s reading from the Letter to the Galatians. “Out of love,” he said, “place yourselves at one another’s service. The whole Law has found its fulfillment in this one saying: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

      Let me conclude with a few more words from Pope Francis: “The highest form of love,” he says, “is the love we show to those unable to reciprocate…. The health and well-being of our society depends above all on our openness to being touched and moved by those who had no choice but to leave home and who knock at our door.”

     I warned you at the start that today’s readings were unsettling!

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

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