Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: Walking in Christ’s Footsteps
1 Kings 19: 15-16; 19-21
Galatians 5: 19-25
Luke 9: 51-62
“I just want to be where you are, dwelling daily in Your presence.” This song expresses a great desire, as stated in Psalm 16: 11: “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” I’m sure we all want that, the question is, how? The good news is, it is possible, and it’s not complicated. If you want to always be in the presence of the Lord:
Luke 9: 60 “Follow Me” Follow Him. Follow Jesus.
That’s highly logical, right? If you’re following Him, you will be where He is, in His presence.
But what does that mean, that He will lead you to Samar, or Sulu, or Siberia? Is it just a matter of Jesus sending everyone out as traveling evangelists, and all of us following his every geographical nudge? If so, how do we explain Jesus commanding the man in the Gospel reading to “Follow Me … go and proclaim everywhere the Kingdom of God,” when Jesus was not about to go everywhere? He was on His way to Jerusalem to be crucified, and after that the guy could no longer follow Him “everywhere,” from town to town. And how about the maniac from the Geresenes, from our Gospel last week? He begged Jesus to let Him follow Him, but the Lord told him to stay home. What’s with that?
These questions all have answers. Actually, the key to unlock this Gospel passage is found in the story of Elijah and Elisha. St. Luke intended us to relate these issues with their story, found in the first part of 2 Kings. First of all, James and John were not the first to think of calling down fire from Heaven on inhospitable pagans. Elijah was the first, burning to a crisp two separate groups of fifty soldiers each. Elijah, while not using fire, once cursed a group of young boys, who were subsequentially mauled by bears. Please note, Jesus never dd this; instead, He rebuked James and John for wanting to follow the idea.
Then there was the issue of following. When Elijah was about to depart, Elisha followed him: from Gilgal, to Bethel, to Jericho, to the Jordan. I believe he would have followed him onto the chariot of fire, but it was a single-seater. He is a great example to us of following your master.
Additionally, the first reading today reminds us that Elisha was from a rich family. In a time when many people had no oxen, they had twenty-four, and it logically follows that they had money to keep them fed (and an ox eats a lot), and had enough fields to need that many work animals. (No one keeps an ox for a pet, they aren’t much fun to play with, and hard to clean up after). Yet, Elijah willingly turned his back on it all. This is why Jesus told his would-be volunteer follower, “This life is no picnic. Forget the Marriot.”
When the second man asked to first be allowed to bury his father, you have to realize: Tatay wasn’t dead yet. He was talking about a delay of possibly quite some time. Elisha made no such request. He kissed both his parents and left.
To the third man, Jesus again ties in the issue of plowing the field. He’s saying to him, to the other two, to everyone there, and to us: “Yes, you might have a big inheritance, large fields, and many cattle. But I have a fine inheritance for you, as well. To quote Psalm 16: 6,
“You support my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.”
‘Lines’ refers to the lot lines, the boundaries of our inheritance. The inheritance from our parents may be wonderful, but those from the Lord are far greater. So it is better to follow Him in the inheritance He has for us, without looking back. If we look back while plowing, our rows are not going to be very straight.
Jesus’ hearers well understood both the story of Israel’s greatest prophets, as well as how a plow worked. But how many of us have ever seen a plow in operation? Look here:
In this scenario, who is represented by whom? Who are you? Who is Jesus? Remember the words of the Lord, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me …” (Matthew 11” 25) Is the yoke the same as the plow? No, here is the yoke, which attaches the oxen to the plow, and here is the plow itself, which the farmer pushes into the earth to create the furrows, in which he will plant the seeds.
Why are there two farmers working in the picture above? If an ox is thoroughly trained, the lone farmer both directs the animals and handles the plow. But if the oxen are newbies, a second farmer must stay beside them, giving them directions to be followed. Do any of us consider ourselves trained enough where we no longer need direction? In either case, I think we can see that we are the oxen in the yoke. So whom do we follow, if we are at the head of the team? We follow the farmer whispering instructions into our ears.
Here, then, is the crux of following the Lord. Our Lord Jesus mans the plow, and the Holy Spirit gives directions to us, which we follow. Wherever the driver of the plow commands us to go, we go; but we always follow the Holy Spirit’s instructions, as He lets us know the desires of Christ. We follow Jesus in His ways, in His Gospel. Again, as Psalm 16 shows us in v. 11, “He makes known to us the paths of life.”
This explains the paradox of the man from the tombs. Jesus wanted him to stay home physically, but follow Him in his way of life. Why? Because the man would be more effective there in Gadera, where everyone knew his back story. Abroad, who would believe a tale like his? As Jesus told the man on the road, “Proclaim everywhere the Kingdom of God,” everywhere meaning wherever you happen to be. Everywhere you go. High schoolers, don’t worry about what strand you should follow. Following Christ means that wherever strand you follow goes, there are people there who need to see you following Jesus, living His life as prompted by the Holy Spirit.
And what way of life, what Gospel of Christ, do you proclaim? That brings us to our last point. As we work our plow as led by the Holy Spirit, we produce a great harvest – a harvest St. Paul calls the Fruit of the Spirit. And what is this fruit?
The fruit of the Spirit is LOVE (Galatians 5: 22)
Love, as expressed in joy, peace, patience, and the rest. All these other eight virtues are more correctly thought of, not as additional fruits, but as definitions, expressions, of love. Following Jesus means to follow Him in living a life of love.
Judas did not do this. He “turned aside to go to his own place” (Acts 1: 25) This is the total opposite of following Christ’s footsteps. He went to His own place – a place of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions … a place of criticism, finding fault, judgmentalism … If we go there, we are no longer following Christ. And if we aren’t following Christ, we are not in His presence.
In fact, there is only one time He will follow us, and that’s if we go astray. In that case, He will “go after” us (Luke 15: 4), but you know that is not the way it’s supposed to work, right? God’s way is for us to walk in Christ’s steps, following Him and His way of love in everything. That is what it means to follow the Lord!