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Fernando Armellini - Sat, Jun 25th 2022


The image most used in the Torah to express God's intervention is the fire: "God is a devouring fire"—says Moses to the people (Deut 4:24); on Sinai, "the Lord has come downin fire" (Ex 19:18); "Fire goes before him" (Ps 97:3); His word "is like fire" (Jer 5:14). “And fire from the Lord came forth” (Num 16:35). The term ‘fire’ often occurs in the Bible. It denotes the purification brought about by his intervention. Where God arrives, a radical transformation takes place; nothing stays the same.

It is what happens to every person when the Lord enters their life: the past is deleted. All that is incompatible with the presence and the holiness of God is obliterated: behaviors, lifestyles, beliefs, habits, bonds, and difficult situations. Elisha burns the tools for plowing, a symbol of the profession he was involved in up to that moment and decides to enter into the new life to which Elijah called him.

The apostles, invited by Jesus to follow him, abandon the nets, and Levi leaves everything (Lk 5:27). To whoever wants to be his disciple, the Lord asks to "sell all that he has" and start a new journey with him (Lk 18:22) without hesitation, indecision, and afterthoughts. Jesus “came to bring fire upon the earth” (Lk 12:49). It takes great faith to let Jesus enter the enclosure of our lives. We fear that he may consume much of our securities, realities in which, perhaps for years, we have placed our trust, and our hopesthat he may burn all that, until now has given meaning to our lives.

• To internalize the message, we repeat: "Lord, you are my only good. Show me the path of life."

First Reading: 1 Kings 19:16b.19-21

The Lord said to Elijah: “You shall anoint Elisha, son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah, as prophet to succeed you.”

Elijah set out and came upon Elisha, son of Shaphat, as he was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen; he was following the twelfth. Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak over him. Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and I will follow you.” Elijah answered, “Go back! Have I done anything to you?” Elisha left him, and taking the yoke of oxen, slaughtered them; he used the plowing equipment for fuel to boil their flesh, and gave it to his people to eat. Then Elisha left and followed Elijah as his attendant. —The Word of the Lord.

Elijah, the prophet who came "like a fire" and whose words are "a burning torch" (Sir 48:1), lived in times of great economic prosperity, but also during worrying religious and moral corruption. King Ahab was married to a foreign princess as beautiful as perfidious that led Israel to worship her gods. The worshipers of the Lord are persecuted, and even Elijah is forced to flee.

?It is in this challenging situation that the episode narrated in today’s Reading is set. Elijah, already old and tired, needs someone to take his place, and God points to him his successor, Elisha, the son of Safat, a wealthy landowner (v. 16). One day, while he is in the fields engaged in the arduous job of plowing, Elijah approaches him. He takes his cloak and throws it on Elisha without saying a word, then continues on his way. He does not even turn to see the reaction of Elisha. Why does he behave this way?

At that time, the cloak was considered part of the person who wore it. It was believed that in it, the owner’s strength and extraordinary powers were concentrated. With the mantle of Elijah, Elisha will later perform prodigious gestures, similar to those of the master (2 K 2:14).

How does Elisha respond to the call? He runs after Elijah and asks permission to say goodbye to his parents. Elijah allows him: "Go! … but then Elisha turns back" (v. 20).Arriving home, Elisha kills two oxen, burns the tools of his old profession, and, on thatfire, roasts the meat that he distributes to everyone present (v. 21). This gesture is significant. It indicates that he has decided to leave everything, finally, give up the life of the wealthy farmer and embrace a new profession: that of a prophet following Elijah.

The call of Elisha is a model of every vocation in Christian life and to carry out a ministry in one’s community. The answer of Elisha shows that the one called was not a lazy person. He had his profession, was able to provide for himself and his family. A ministry within the community is done not because one cannot do anything else or obtain some personal advantage. Whoever commits himself to the service of others should have no illusions. He will not get favors or privileges; only sacrifices and renunciations await him.

Second Reading: Galatians 5:1.13-18

Brothers and sisters: For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use the freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.

I say, then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want. But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. —The Word of the Lord.

"Christ freed us to make us really free ... do not submit again to the yoke of slavery" (v.1). The reading begins with this appeal. The Galatians have enthusiastically embraced the Gospel, but, naive as they are, they allowed themselves to be duped by some fanatics who preached the need to return to external practices imposed by the ancient law. Paul worriesbecause loyalty to the Pharisaical traditions overshadows the only commandment that counts for a Christian: the love of the brethren, the commandment which is the synthesis of the entire Law (vv. 13-14).

The Galatians, in fact, bite, devour, and tear each other to the point of destroying one another (v. 15). But does being free mean that anyone can do what he wants? No—Paul responds—freedom must not become a pretext to live according to the flesh (v. 13). So,what does he mean? Whoever believes in a stern, strict, demanding and sovereign God who imposes his laws on his subjects is not free but a slave. He lives in anxiety, anguish, and the panic of being punished for every small failure. Just to get a stipend, the servant can also reluctantly accept and submit to such a master, but a bride would never accept this way of dealing with her husband. The Bible tells us that the relationship with God is not that of a servant who obeys a master but that of a bride who follows the outburst of love for the groom.

In the last part of the reading (vv. 16-18), Paul introduces the conflict between fleshand Spirit. With the word ‘flesh,’ he does not mean sexual lust but all the forces that lead to evil. The law of the Old Testament did not free one from these hostile forces and therefore left a person hopelessly enslaved to sin. It served only to make him aware of the desperate condition in which he found himself. Now—Paul says—man has received the Spirit, that is, the divine force that rescues him from the power of evil. Whoever lets himself be guided by this Spirit lives free, does good without the need of any law.

Gospel: Luke 9:51-62

When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village.

As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” —The Gospel of the Lord.

If a friend asks us to follow him, we immediately ask him: ‘Where are you going?’Jesus very clearly told his disciples the goal of the journey: he goes to Jerusalem to give his life. Today’s passage presents first the departure (v. 51), then the wanting welcome from the Samaritans (vv. 52-56), finally, in quick succession, three episodes of vocation (vv. 57-62). The events probably have not taken place in the order they are told (a series of three vocations as described is rather unlikely). Luke draws these episodes near each other because they serve to introduce the second part of his Gospel: that of the long journey that will take Jesus to Jerusalem.

To understand this text, we have to remember that adherence to Christ is presented in the Gospels with the image of a journey in following the Master. To believe means to travel the same road with him. In the Acts of the Apostles, this image reappears, and Luke uses the term, ‘way.’ Paul persecutes "those who belong to the Way" (Acts 9:2); at Ephesus, some refuse to believe "criticizing the way publicly" (Acts 19:9); “about that time the city was deeply troubled because of the way" (Acts 19:23); “Felix, the procurator, “was well-informed about the way" (Acts 24:22).

These incidents serve Luke to respond to the questions raised by the Christians of hiscommunity: how should they react against those who are obstructing their ‘journey,’ those who oppose the ‘way?’ To those who ask to join them "along the way" must theyimmediately and clearly, say what the conditions are or is it better to soften, to tone down the demands of the Christian life?

Let us start from the beginning (v. 51). Luke introduces the resolute decision of Jesus to go to Jerusalem, saying that he "sets his face hard." It is a strong expression taken from the Old Testament. Prophet Isaiah puts it on the lips of the Servant of the Lord, who declares his determination to fulfill his mission: "Like a flint, I set my face" (Is 50:7). Therefore, as this Servant, Jesus decided to address the fate of suffering, humiliation, anddeath that awaits him. He does not go looking for pain, but he knows that sacrifice is the necessary path to reach the goal: the manifestation, through the cross, of the Father's love for people (Lk 24:26).

Such a choice is not made lightheartedly. It is necessary to assume a serious countenance. As long as one stops at whims, desires, good intentions, or reduces faith in Christ to fulfill some religious practices, there is no need to make a serious face. But when one accepts his proposal of life, one ??must have the courage to make bold and radicalchoices. Whoever has no strength to deny oneself will remain an admirer of Jesus but will not become a disciple.

The journey to Jerusalem starts, and here the group meets someone who blocks the way. The opposition of the Samaritans represents the hostility that the Christian communities of every time must face. In the world, there is always someone that stands along the way. Many prefer to follow principles other than those of the Gospel. How do we counter them? The thoughtless reaction of James and John indicates what should not be done.

They remember that prophet Elijah made fire from heaven rain down upon the wicked of his time (2 K 1:10-14). They are convinced that the same must be done against those who oppose the Gospel. The Baptist, too, threatened with fire (Lk 3:9,17). For this reason,they feel that the time has come to resort to hard ways and ask the Master: "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to reduce them to ashes? Jesus turned and rebuked them severely” (v. 56) They made an insane proposal.

A disciple is not called to fight against anybody. He has not received the task of unleashing holy wars, proclaiming crusades against infidels, but is called to follow the Master. The time of fanaticism—which appears so often in the Old Testament—is over. The only fire that comes down from heaven is the Spirit who transforms the hearts of people. This is the fire that Jesus came to bring upon the earth (Lk 12:49). Christians cannot respond with aggression but only with love. If someone attacks them using lies, deception, and violence, they can only answer by invoking upon him the blessings of God.

Due to their aggressive attitude, brothers James and John received from Jesus thesympathetic nickname of sons of thunder (Mk 3:17). A nickname that today’s fanatic, fundamentalist, and intolerant Christians, disrespectful of those who think differently from them, must feel addressed to them.

After this first incident, the journey continues, and the Gospel introduces a stranger who approaches Jesus and expresses his desire to follow him everywhere (vv. 57-58). The Master's reply seems destined to discourage rather than to convince the prospectivedisciple. Whoever wants to follow him—says Jesus—should not dream of a comfortable life: he will be like a traveler who has no fixed abode. He must be willing to spend the night under the stars or be content with the offered hospitality.

In the face of such unappetizing prospects announced by the Master, it is difficult to understand that there are people who embrace the faith or accept to perform some service to the community to obtain advantages, privileges, honorary titles.

Along the way, Jesus meets another man and invites him to follow him (vv. 59-60). This one says that he is willing but asks first to bury his parents. Jesus replied: "Let the dead bury their dead; leave them, and proclaim the Kingdom of God." To a Jew, this is themost outrageous, most provocative, and most ungodly answer that he can give. In Israel, the most sacred duty for a son is to bury his parents and, to fulfill it—said the rabbis—he was exempt from any precept of the law, even that of the Sabbath. The high priest—whowas prohibited from entering a cemetery or even approaching a corpse—was required to accompany his parents to the tomb.

It would be foolish to take the words of Jesus literally, but it would be equally so to diminish its provocative charge. The Master means to say—using an undoubtedly paradoxical image—that nothing, not even the most sacred sentiments, such as those that bind children to their parents, can obstruct the decision to follow him.

The father, for the Semites, indicates the link with tradition, with the past, with the customs of the ancients, with the cultural environment in which one lives. Luke wants the Christians of his community to realize that the choice to join the Master cannot be delayed, procrastinated while waiting for the moment (that will never come) when the family’s feelings will not be hurt, a friend not dissatisfied, a colleague’s convictions not disturbed, and the habits of a loved one not challenged.

The Spirit demands immediate availability to give up the old and to convert oneself to the new. It is not stagnant water, but living, crystal clear water, "welling up to eternal life"(Jn 4:13-15). It is a rushing wind “that blows where it pleases" (Jn 3:8). Whoever is animated by this Spirit looks sympathetically to the new because he is the one who "renews the face of the earth" (Ps 104:30). Loyalty to his impulses creates tensions between the disciple and those who remain stubbornly clinging to the past. Among them,there can also be family members and friends to whom one is very close. Jesus does not accept vacillation. Any tie that blocks and prevents one from following him is a chain that enslaves and will be broken without fear.

A third man comes to Jesus (vv. 61-62). It is easy to notice the contrast between the present imperative with which the previous invitation is formulated: "Follow me" (v. 59) and the future tense used by this prospective disciple: "I will follow you, but...." This man is willing to follow Jesus but wants to go first to say goodbye to his family, just as Elishadid. Apparently, he is not asking too much. Yet Jesus does not allow this either. There cannot be delays, uncertainties, and ifs and buts; nothing can justify a delay. Jesus is not surprised that some reject it. He demands the utmost respect for those who do not welcome him. However, when it comes to discipleship, he refuses to be put in second place by those who choose to follow him.

Of course, these words of Jesus are not to be taken literally; it would then contradictwhat he taught elsewhere. He recommended the observance of the commandment to love and help parents (Mt 15: 3-9). He participated in the great farewell party with family and friends offered by Matthew (Mt 9: 9-13) 9.9). But there are priorities. All affections are secondary when it comes to following the will of the Father. Jesus gave that example when, as an adolescent, he responded to his mother: "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Lk 2:49).

The mission given to the disciples is more urgent and more important than that of Elisha. The whole creation eagerly awaits that the Kingdom of God appears and is realized. Every moment is precious. Luke also uses the third example of a vocation to send a message to his communities. They cannot waste time in gossip, useless discussions, and debates on trivial matters while the world urgently needs the Gospel’s announcement.

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