Studying God’s Word

1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
Luke 9:51-62 [99C]
The readings for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time speak to the cost of discipleship. The challenge lies in weighing and covering the cost against all the other pressing commitments in one’s life.
In the first reading we hear about Elisha, the successor to Elijah as the prophet to the people in the northern kingdom of Israel. The prophet Elijah was active during the reign of King Ahab (869–850 BC) and the prophet Elisha during the reign of King Joram (849–842 BC). In today’s reading, Elijah follows the command of the Lord and seeks out the young man Elisha to be his successor as prophet to Israel. Elisha accepts Elijah’s invitation to follow him and prepare to be a prophet to Israel. Judging by the description of Elisha “plowing” fields with “twelve yoke of oxen,” scholars believe Elisha and his family came from considerable wealth. In other words, it was no small sacrifice for Elisha to give up his family and former way of life to follow the call of Elijah. Nonetheless, Elisha does so willingly and generously. 
The Gospel reading for today is the beginning section of Luke’s long travel narrative, Luke 9:51—19:44. Luke significantly expands Mark’s version of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem (Mk 8:21—10:52), incorporating much of his own source material into this section and developing some of his favorite theological themes: discipleship, repentance, mercy, and forgiveness.
Luke begins his narration of Jesus’ long journey to Jerusalem by commenting that Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” The journey begins with a rough start in a Samaritan village. As Jesus and his disciples continue the journey, would-be followers of Jesus approach him and quickly learn the high price to be paid for discipleship. Following Jesus must be unconditional: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” (This is in stark contrast to the first reading with Elijah’s reaction to Elisha putting his house in order before accepting his call to prophecy). As the travel narrative continues, Jesus will teach his followers that a disciple must also have a proper attitude toward wealth and possessions (see, for example, 12:13-21; 14:25-38; 18:18-23), be willing to serve others (10:29-37; 12:35-48; 17:7-10), be humble (14:7-14; 18:9-14), and, of course, “carry his own cross” (14:25-33).
In the second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, we hear Paul speak of the “freedom” that Christ offers all who believe in him. This is an interesting concept that Paul develops, especially in light of the Gospel reading, which seems, on the surface, to take one’s personal freedom. But Paul contrasts the freedom that many desire (freedom for the “flesh,” i.e., self-indulgence) with the freedom that Christ offers: life in the Spirit. The freedom that comes from the Spirit releases one from the “yoke of slavery”; that is, the burden of the law that weighs one down (the many written and oral traditions that ruled and regulated daily life for the Jewish people in the days of Jesus and Paul) and prohibits one from being “guided by the Spirit.” For Paul, those guided by the Spirit freely “serve one another through love.”

Dr. Daniel J. Scholz