Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The First Book of Kings is the source of this weekend’s first reading. As the names of these two volumes imply, First and Second Kings were written, to a degree, to be a chronicle of the lives and reigns of Israel’s early kings.
They were in no sense political or even personal biographies, however. They were written with the purpose of first and foremost drawing the people of Israel more closely to God and to obedience to God’s commandments.
With such as the case, it is not surprising that they feature prophets as much as kings. In this weekend’s reading, the focus is upon Elisha and Elijah, two of the earliest recorded prophets.
The passage of responsibility from Elijah to Elisha is described, much more than simply a conferral of authority upon a new generation by a preceding generation. Succession occurred, but God directed Elijah to call Elisha to the role of prophet. In other words, both Elijah and Elisha were divinely chosen.
It was part of God’s plan to give the chosen people direction, lest they go astray and to their own doom if left to their own plans.
Two points are worth remembering. The first is somewhat coincidental. God told Elijah to anoint Elisha. Anointings with olive oil survive in Christian liturgies. Anointing is one of the most ancient gestures of ritual. It means being marked.
The second point is that the prophets put everything aside to serve God.
The Epistle to the Galatians is the next reading. While pious Jews abhorred slavery, the literal owning of human beings was commonplace in the Roman Empire. Galatian Christians included many gentiles. They saw slavery every day and everywhere. Everyone instantly would have understood a reference to slavery.
The letter to the Galatians reminded its ancient readers in Galatia, and us today, that blindly yielding to our instincts is not in any way true freedom. Instead, it is slavery, but alluring. We are attracted to following our instincts. We are fascinated by sin and selfishness.
God’s strength, given in the Spirit, through identity with Jesus, fortifies us. God’s revelation, proclaimed by Jesus, instructs us. In Christ, God frees us from slavery.
St. Luke’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. For Luke, the Lord’s coming to Jerusalem was momentous, both for Jesus personally and also for the world. Thus, this evangelist was very dramatic in detailing the movement of Jesus toward the Holy City.
Passing to Jerusalem, the Lord went through Samaria. For devout Jews, Samaritans were a disgusting lot. Long ago, Samaritans, although Jews and believers, had compromised themselves by accepting foreign invasion and then, more terribly, by consorting with pagans. All this happened centuries before Jesus, but in the first century AD, Jews still scorned Samaritans.
Understandably, the Apostles asked Jesus for a harsh rebuke when people in a Samaritan village rejected the Gospel. Jesus reprimanded the Apostles for making their request.
Someone else loudly cried out loyalty to Christ. The Lord tells this person that true faith means a commitment so strong that nothing can divert it.
In Luke’s Gospel, the Lord calls us to a high ideal by saying that no one who looks back after commitment to God can receive the gift of eternal life. Turning to God is not momentary or half-hearted.
The Church bluntly proclaims this fact, but it is encouraging and reassuring. God sent prophets to guide the people. God sent us Jesus.
We must resolve to follow Jesus. Without God, we are apt to be slaves, chained to our sins. Our culture tricks us into seeing slavery as freedom. It has completely reversed the meaning of freedom. We are slaves if we sin. We have no control. Christ gives us freedom, but we must choose to be free.
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