YEAR C: HOMILY FOR THE 13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: The Call to Ministry And the Battle of the Flesh
BY: Fr. Evaristus Abu
HOMILY: 1st Kings 19:16,19-21, Psalm 16, Galatians 5:1,13-18, Luke 9:51-62
“Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:61-62).
On this thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, we are invited to reflect once again on the call to ministry, the challenges of responding to the call of God and the expectations of God (and man) from those who are called. As always, our readings today speak directly to the current happenings in our society especially with regard to those of us who shepherd the flock of God.
While our first reading presents the miraculous circumstances surrounding the call of Elisha, our Gospel passage shows us that some are called, but there are others not called who still decide to offer themselves. In our second reading St. Paul explains what God expects of us as Christians which is walking by the spirit and conquering the desires of the flesh. Even our responsorial psalm today sings of how we ought to make God our priority in life.
There are a lot of lessons powerfully conveyed in our readings this morning as we reflect along, we pray that God may open the eyes of our minds to understand and eventually apply His message for us today in our lives.
Lesson One: Why the Call?
Given the rate of scandals and atrocities in the body of Christ today, many have had to wonder: “Why does God still call people? Why do we even need Church at all? Why can’t we just worship God directly? These questions immediately bring to mind the mystery of the Incarnation. Why did God allow His Son Jesus to take our human flesh with all its weaknesses and corruption? Of course, God had the power to save mankind without becoming man, but He still chose to be one of us.
In the same way, from time immemorial, God incarnates Himself to mankind through His ministers. God desires that through His ministers, we are able to encounter Him in flesh and blood. Hence, as Elijah’s time was drawing to an end, God told him to anoint Elisha to avoid a vacuum. In the same way, Jesus called followers so that through them, the people of God would always experience God’s presence in their midst.
The minister embodies God, yet does not take the place of God. He speaks and acts on God’s behalf, but at the same time remains completely human. As the book of Hebrews says: “Every priest is chosen from among men and appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God” (Hebrews 5:1). That means, we must be very careful to avoid worshipping (or deifying) the minister.
Lesson Two: God Calls: He Never Forces His way on Anyone.
St. Paul begins our second reading today by saying: “For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
In our Gospel passage, we see how Jesus was rejected by the Samaritans which made James and John so angry that they wanted to call down fire from heaven on them, but Jesus simply turned and went to another village. God who created us free does not force us to accept Him.
In the same vein, when God calls people into ministry, He does not force them, but allows them to choose whether or not they would respond. When a young man said to Jesus “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus quickly reminded him of the hardship involved in ministry: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). The minister is not called to a life of luxury, but a life of service. Anyone prepared to answer the call must be prepared to deny himself, pick up his cross daily and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24).
Even after responding to God’s call as Christians or as His ministers, our essential freedom remains. As St. Paul says: “For you were called to Freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh” (Galatians 5:13). As a seminarian, I used to think that ordination (or anointing) will change me, make me sinless or at least beyond human, but how wrong I was. Anointing does not remove human freedom, I may be God’s General, but if I do not cooperate with God, I will fall. Since we are completely free, God would either reward us or punish us severely for the choices we make.
Lesson Three: God’s Call Takes Prominence over Family and Other Responsibilities.
To the one who wanted to follow Him, Jesus said the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.
Surprisingly, the one Jesus personally called gave an excuse “Let me first go and bury my Father” and Jesus responded. “Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” This means that having accepted the call, one’s primary responsibility is to God alone.
God’s call demands total detachment from material pursuits (vow of poverty), family responsibilities (vow of celibacy) and pride or self-adulation (vow of obedience). You cannot serve both God and riches (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13).
To the seventy two He sent out, Jesus told them “take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff (Matthew 10:9-10).
Another one said to Jesus: “I will follow you, but let me first say farewell to those at home,” Jesus said to him, “No one who has put his hand to the plough and looks back is fit the kingdom of God.” The exact same thing plays out in our first reading. When Elijah put his mantle on Elisha, Elisha knew that God was calling him. At first, he wanted to return home to say goodbye to His Father and Mother, but from the response of Elijah, Elisha knew that it was not an option. In fact, Elisha slaughtered the whole yoke of oxen, served the people and followed Elijah. Elisha did what that young man who had come to Jesus refused to do. He gave away all he had to follow God (Cf. Luke 18:18-23).
God’s call demands total commitment. We are free to reject it out rightly, we are free to walk away, but having said “Yes” to God, we cannot indirectly say “No” at the same time. Raising a family or pursuing riches, building mansions or investing in business are obstacles that tend to prevent us from saying “yes” completely to God.
Lesson Four: Children of God, Do Not Gratify the Desires of the Flesh.
Our final lesson today is self-explanatory. St. Paul tells us that as children of God, we are faced with a battle deep within us. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other” (Galatians 5:17).
If you read further, St. Paul goes on to explain what he meant by the desires (works) of the flesh: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like (Galatians 5:19-21). These things are not expected from a Christian talk less one who has accepted the call to ministry.
But as St. Paul admits, as long as we remain flesh and blood, we are constantly going to be engaged in a battle. This is what he meant when he sought to encourage the young Bishop Timothy: “But as for you, man of God… aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith…” (1 Timothy 6:11-12).
Fighting this good fight means living in the Spirit and dying to the cravings/desires of the flesh. I must admit this is not an easy fight, but it is one that must be fought to the grave. We all need to pray for each other for the grace to win this battle constantly and the grace to admit our mistakes and pick up again every time we fall.
Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, may I not cause one of these little ones who believes in you to stumble. Strengthen my spiritual life and fill me with your grace and power daily, Amen.
Happy Sunday. Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. Bible Study: 1st Kings 19:16,19-21, Psalm 16, Galatians 5:1,13-18, Luke 9:51-62).
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