There is one question that I have been asked several times (this could also be the experience of most of my brothers) and that is: “why did you choose to become a priest?” Oftentimes, the answer I give is that God called me and chose me (Matt.22:14). Some people would stop at that but few others who are more inquisitive would add another question: “how did you know that God called you?” To answer this, I would often give a brief summary of my vocation and journey to the priesthood which usually addresses their curiosity. However, there are still some hyper-inquisitive persons who would add “so you are not going to marry and have kids?” To this, I would often just give a silent nod.
This prelude vividly captures the heart of the message today which is rooted in answering God’s call nay, FOLLOWERSHIP and the conditions that are involved therein. From the interface I presented above, three important determinants are involved: the vocation, the source of the vocation and the material gains or losses that are involved. This will challenge us to look into four different personalities that are involved in the FOLLOWERSHIP PARADE as the First Reading (1 Kings 19:16b.19-21) and the Gospel Reading (Luke 9:51-62) indicated.
- Elisha: The Predestined Follower: The First Reading gives us a dramatic account of the call of Elisha the son of Shaphat. There was a specific divine instruction to Elijah to go and ANOINT Elisha to take his position as the prophet of God. From the first sentence of the First Reading, we are already told that Elisha’s position of was predestined by God.
Elijah came to Elisha to anoint him as God already instructed but what happened was more like a drama. One would have expected Elijah to come with a jar of oil since anointing was mentioned but he came with his mantle which he silently cast upon Elisha and left while he (Elisha) was going about his farming business with twelve yoke of oxen.
We notice here that the real anointing is spiritual not just when oil is used. Hence, the mantle, which stands for authority, power and responsibility replaced the conventional oil that is used for anointing. By casting the mantle upon Elisha, he received the prophetic mandate and responsibility and what he needed to do instantly was to FOLLOW the way of his successor.
Elisha knew he was supposed to FOLLOW immediately but he considered his father and mother. That was why he begged Elijah to allow him to go and kiss them goodbye but Elijah gave him an ambiguous answer which was as strange as what he did to him with the mantle. Elisha understood the message and went back not to kiss the parents but to kill all the oxen and boiled them with the yokes and shared the meat out to the people and followed Elijah. By this act, Elisha demonstrated the fact that he was not going to come back to that business again.
We can see here that the call of Elisha follows God’s pattern of calling people while they are actively preoccupied. We discover this in the call of Moses (Ex.3:1-14), Gideon (Judges 6:11-24), Samuel (1 Sam.1:11-14) and also the call of some of the apostles Peter, Andrew, James and John (Luke 5:11) and Matthew (Matt. 9:9-13). In all these instances, those that were called left everything and FOLLOWED.
- The Materialistic Follower: The Gospel today began with our Lord facing Jerusalem which was a joyful move for some and a sorrowful one for others. That was why some people resisted his entrance to the dismay of James and John who asked if the could fight back by calling down fire from heaven. Jerusalem here stands for a place of both trouble and triumph. We all have our different “Jerusalems”. It could be a goal you want to achieve in life. It could be that big project you are working on. There may be oppositions but do not get discouraged. Remain focused and face your Jerusalem and surely you will win the prize (Philippians 3:14).
While on the way, a man whose name was not given approached our Lord Jesus Christ and requested to follow him wherever he goes. Our Lord is very apt in understanding people not from what the say but from the point of view of what they have in mind. He must have known the direction of the thought of this man and his answer made it much clearer. To him, our Lord Jesus Christ said: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head”.
After our Lord’s answer, the “disciple applicant” could not say anything further. This could rightly be an indication that he was expecting a huge material pedigree from our Lord Jesus Christ who had become a celebrity of time. Perhaps, he may have imagined that he lived in a big palace, with several servants and slaves at his beck and call. He may have imagined that being one of his followers, he would enjoy so much material benefit. His question could be rephrased thus: “Would there be material comfort for me if I follow you?!” And our Lord’s answer could be rephrased thus: “I do not even have a house not to talk of material comfort!
It is not strange that in our day and age we still have so many materialistic followers. It is no longer how many souls that are saved but how much savings that are made. The commercializing of the gospel is one of the most pitiable religious defaults of our time. Today, people are asked to pay money in order to be prayed for and the amount of money you give will determine the weight and power of the prayer you will receive. This is absurd, and St. Paul warned in the Second Reading (Gal.5:1.13-18) that we should not use our freedom for material gratification.
- The Dead Father Follower: This person was directly called by our Lord to follow him. In fact, he was among the few followers that he gave that direct invitation. To him, he said, “follow me”. In response, the would-be follower answered: “Lord let me first go and bury my father”. In answering again our Lord said: “Leave the dead to bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God”.
This follower who was directly called and chosen has a genuine vocation. Responding to the call you will notice that he began by calling Jesus Christ “Lord”, unlike the materialistic follower who could not recognize the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He was really genuine but not without a challenge. Being genuine does not destroy challenges but we should not allow the challenges to chase us away from our chances.
The man requested that he goes first to bury his dead father. Dead father here stands for those dumb excuses we give that discourages us to work for God. In fact, there are many “dead fathers” around us. For some, it could be those engagements that draw us back from fulfilling our God-given mission. If we check out very well, we will discover that the man had a specific mission out there and that is to proclaim the Kingdom of God and he wanted to abandon it to attend to some “dead fathers”.
It is important for us to ask ourselves what our specific missions are and how we are carrying them out. You don’t need to be a priest before you can become a missionary. Your mission could be to go and proclaim the truth in the midst of lies. Your mission could be to bring joy where there is sadness. Your mission could be to bring hope where there is despair. Your mission could be to proclaim forgiveness where there is an injury. Leave that “dead father”, leave that dumb excuse and execute the mission for which you are called.
- Family-Affiliated Follower: The importance of the family cannot be underestimated. For most people, the family is everything and that is deeply appreciable. However, the family should not diminish the mission of God. Hence, God’s work has priority over family affiliation. This last would-be follower of Jesus Christ was ready to go but he had an inhibiting tie with his family. Immediately the call came what came to his mind was his family.
To his request to go and say farewell to his family (like Elisha wanted to do), our Lord said to him: “No one who puts his hand on the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”. Here the plough represents followership and the commitment it carries, while looking back represents family affiliation and concerns.
Following Jesus Christ requires the attitude of looking forward just as we were told at the beginning of the Gospel Reading that our Lord set his face to Jerusalem. Looking back is always a diminishing exercise to undertake. We can actually recall what happened to Lot’s wife when she looked back as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was going on (Gen.19:26).
Oftentimes, some of us allow our family affiliations and relationship to dimish our spiritual life. It should be God first before family because the family itself is a gift from God and the gift should not be more valuable than the giver of the gift.
The conclusion of our reflection today rests on the call on us to brace up for detached followership. This means that we should be ready to answer God’s call urgently and unconditionally, and that is without excuses. Like we pointed out earlier this call is not just for the ordained it is a call for everyone. Wherever you find yourself with any responsibility you are responding to a divine call and be ready to follow.
Wishing you a great Sunday and blissful week ahead.