Sunday, June 30, is the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: 1 Kings 19:16, 19-21; Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-11; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62.
When God gives, he gives all. And when he calls, he invites us to respond “all in.”
When the prophet Elijah, inspired by the Spirit of God, called Elisha as his successor, Elisha understood the radical dedication required of an anointed prophet. He kissed his parents goodbye, showing his willingness to leave his family and home. This farmer-turned-prophet even consumed the implements of his trade — sharing a meal made of his plow oxen, which he cooked with the wood from his plow — showing utter abandonment of his past way of living in willing dependence on God to provide. Elisha showed by his readiness to walk away from both family and livelihood that he had deeply internalized the Psalmist’s prayer, “You are my inheritance, O Lord” (Psalm 16).
To the world this looks like foolishness, but it is the paradox of the call of God that echoes throughout salvation history, from Abraham to us today. Jesus made it clear that to become his follower required a way of humble dependence that surpassed even that of the animals: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” (Luke 9:58).
As it did with the prophet Elisha, the commitment to bearing witness to the message of salvation requires willingness to surrender even the great goods of family and occupation, so much so that 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” (Luke 9:62).
In St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, we find the principle behind this willingness to abandon all that might impede the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. As Paul testifies with such brevity and profundity, “For freedom Christ set us free” (Galatians 5:1).
The widespread misunderstanding of freedom in our day was obviously prevalent in the time of Paul, as well. Many think that freedom is the absence of limitations of any kind — the license to do whatever one wants. This is the Pauline understanding of humanity’s natural desire to live by the flesh rather than by the Spirit. Paul is not denying that we are body and soul in a divinely willed unity. He is, however, contrasting selfish harm to others, which leads to “biting and devouring one another” (Galatians 5:15), with the self-giving serving of others through love. It is in the Christlike service of love that we find true freedom. No longer enslaved to passing emotions or to self-centered egoism, we are free to live as Christ did — with and for God and others.
We might think that such a total call of the human person is for those who receive the vocation to follow Christ in the priesthood or the consecrated life. While those with such a call are invited to be a sign of the joy and freedom that flow from living the evangelical counsels, every baptized Christian is called to the freedom of the children of God found in a life dedicated, body and soul, to Christ. Everyone faces the choice between the path of living for the flesh or that of living in the Spirit. In baptism, we receive the grace to say Yes to the call of God and to share in the prophetic office of proclaiming the Kingdom. The choice is ours. God gives all to us — and God asks all from us. Our response can be made only in freedom.
Madeline Todd is a member
of the Dominican Sisters of
St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville, Tennessee.
She is assistant professor
of theology at Aquinas College in Nashville and also serves
through retreats, public speaking and writing.