I once met a catechist I knew years back as a seminarian while on apostolic work in a parish. The meeting was a very celebrative one as we were meeting after many years. As I saw the catechist I remembered his son who was a committed youth in the church and who was also aspiring to become a priest. Quickly I asked him about his son and the response he gave to me was shocking to me. According to him, after series of unsuccessful attempts to be admitted into the seminary, the son decided to go ahead to train as a Pentecostal pastor and within the space of six months he got his “mantling” (commissioning) as a pastor and had since opened his own Church! I was very much overwhelmed considering the number of years I spent in the seminary preparing to become a priest vis-à-vis the six months that saw him through to be a pastor and to own a church as well. To this many would say that with God all things are possible!
Looking at the above, I recall the words of the letter to the Hebrews (5:4) which says that “nobody takes this honour upon himself each person is called to it by God as Aaron was called”. From all indications there are two classes of people who are involved in the work of God as ministers (with their respective motives): those who are called and chosen by God and those who called and chose themselves to work for God. These are reflected in the first reading (1 Kings 19:16b; 19-21) and the gospel reading (Luke 9:57-62). The first reading tells us about the call of Elisha which God orchestrated through the prophet Elijah, while the gospel reading relates to us an instance of self-call and two instances of divine call and the corresponding responses. In the second reading St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians tells us that the divine call leads to freedom and is directed towards service to others. In effect we are here presented with the theme of radical divine call which requires radical human response on the platform of service to God and humanity.
My Scout Master is one of those persons I still remember as having influence on my upbringing as a child. I can’t even remember his name or indeed any material description about him; however the ideas and principles he taught are very fresh in my memory. (This tells me that life is more meaningful with the values you are able to communicate to those you encounter on the corridors of life). It was from my Scout Master that I learnt the acronym “OBC” which means “Obey before complaining”. He also laid emphasis on the Scout motto which says “Be prepared”. According to Robert Baden-Powell the founder of the association “Be Prepared” means “being ALWAYS in a state of READINESS in BODY and SOUL to do your DUTY”.
The story of the call of Elisha to become a prophet is interesting to me as it reminds me of the Scout Motto and discipline; it could further make an interesting theme for a movie screenplay. The conscientious farmer was going about his duty with twelve yoke of oxen when Elijah appeared and without saying anything threw a mantle or cloak upon him and left immediately. Elisha seemed to have known what the placing of mantle upon him meant so he left and went after Elijah but with a request. He begged Elijah that he should allow him to go and say goodbye to his parents. Elijah’s response was neither positive nor negative. From his reaction Elisha understood that going to say goodbye to his folks was unnecessary given the urgency of the call. He went further to do something that has a great significance; killing all the oxen, making food from them and sharing same out to the people and going after Elijah.
In the gospel reading on the other hand, we see our Lord Jesus Christ encountering a number of persons with regard to the call to follow him. In the gospel periscope we are told that as Jesus was moving with his disciples someone (unnamed) offered to follow him wherever he goes. Our Lord did not say yes or no but went ahead to say foxes have holes birds of the air have nests but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.
It is important for us to pause and ponder on above response which seems to be an answer that is deeper than the question. Our Lord knew why the man wanted to follow him; he was in fact looking for material comfort. He imagined that Jesus Christ could have been a great man and that in fact his habitation must be a very great one; may be a huge palace with many cosy rooms and attendants at one’s beck and call. The man saw the following of Jesus Christ as a way of attaining material comfort; but he got it wrong. Notably when our Lord gave him the response he did not say anything again which confirms the fact that he was not intending to follow Jesus Christ with the intention to serve but to be served.
To another person (also unnamed) Jesus Christ said follow me! He agreed but wanted to go first and bury his father and to this Jesus Christ our Lord said to him “let the dead bury their dead”. Looking at this closely we discover that the individual involved here was called unlike the first person who was not called but wanted to get himself involved in view of the material comfort he anticipated. This man was ready to follow our Lord Jesus Christ but he was still not free; there was a hindrance; his dead father. Dead father here stands for dumb excuse not to be involved in the work of God. Many people still have a lot of “dead fathers” that are stopping them from being actively involved in the work of God.
The third person in this episode agreed to follow too but was as well hindered by his family affiliation as he told our Lord that he would want to go and say goodbye to his family (the same request Elisha made). Family here stands for various backgrounds that deter people from answering the call to serve God. Some parents and relations believe that the vocation to serve God is a reserve for individuals from poor backgrounds but history has proved this to be wrong from the examples of most saints we know down to the contemporary times. God’s call has no basis on family background and history and like I usually would say one’s background has no right to keep the person’s back on the ground in terms of rendering service to God and humanity.
God’s call is often radical and thus requires radical human response. From the story of the call of Elisha we discover that God’s call often come when people are actively involved in their various occupations not when they are idling away in some hopeless things. Moses was keeping his father-in-law’s flock when he was called (Ex.3:1-14), Gideon was called while he was beating out wheat in the winepress (Judges 6:11-24), Samuel was called while he was actively serving under Eli the priest (1 Sam.1:1-14) and in the New Testament most of the apostles were called from their duty posts the same way Elisha was called from his duty post. Being faithful and committed in ordering material things became a ground for the call to work for God.
From Elisha we are shown the attitude of radical response to radical divine call. Slaughtering the oxen and using the ploughing wood as firewood was an indication that he was not going to come back to that occupation. It is like burning the bridge after crossing; an indication that one has decided not to pass that way again. This is actually the liberation that St. Paul was talking about in the second reading. By cutting ourselves away from those things that hold and keep us we become free and give more time and attention to our call. Hence our radical response includes liberation and freedom from those things that keep distracting us and often make us always to be looking back. On the basis of this our Lord Jesus Christ giving an answer to the last person he called in the gospel said: “no one who puts his hand on the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”. Looking back means distraction and loss of focus. We lose focus when we try to go back to the old trade, when we place family and friends before God’s work.
Radical response is a faith-based attitude. By doing so we like the psalmist make God our heritage. When God is your heritage you shall lack nothing (Psalm 23:1). By making God our heritage it means he has become our habitation and refuge (Psalm 91:1). God is continually calling us both clergy and laity alike. The Church’s celebration of the year of faith is a way of reminding us of our vocation as Christians to whom the door of faith was opened first during our baptism (Apostolic Exhortation Porta Fidei no.6). This door is expected to be incessantly opened by our radical response to God’s call.
Apart from the respective vocations we have, we all have been called to holiness, righteous living as well as to eternal life hereafter. This is a call we cannot afford not to respond to as our Lord Jesus Christ would say it will be unprofitable for us to gain the whole world but suffer the loss of our souls (Mark 8:36).
Do have a blissful Sunday and a blessed week ahead.