1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 and Psalm 16 • Galatians 5:1, 13-25 • Luke 9:51-62
This week's readings include two great stories. In 1 Kings, the reading opens with Elijah throwing his cloak on Elisha: a signal that he, Elijah, has selected Elisha to take his place. We readers don't know the back story of how Elisha was selected – this is his first mention in the scriptures. Somehow his prophetic voice must have already been known in the region and known to Elijah. Asking Elijah's permission to go home and say good-bye to his family, he receives a somewhat cryptic response from Elijah – perhaps a yes, yes, get on with it?
In the gospel story, Jesus has recently chosen his successor, so to speak, in Peter (Luke 9). He and the disciples are in Samaria heading towards Jerusalem, and Jesus is becoming increasingly aware of what this journey will cost him. But people keep wanting to come along, as in the story of the demoniac last week, whom he told to go home and share his good news there, and in the three people today, whom he also declines to take with him. The first was apparently dissuaded by the necessity of leaving the comforts of home, the second by obligations related to his father's death, and the third by the need to say farewell to his family. Jesus is quick to point out to them that their cozy togetherness with family and friends would interfere with following him; and apparently, no one disagrees.
Elisha, on the other hand, quickly says goodbye to his current life by destroying his livelihood - killing the oxen needed to plow the land. Then he throws a party, using the oxen as the main course. The picture of someone at a decision point, choosing what he wants to do next with his life, and celebrating that choice, could not be clearer. In the people feasting with him – who had to be inconvenienced by the loss of oxen! – there is affirmation that what Elisha was going to do made sense for him. It is almost as though Elisha recognized that his current place in the world could be a temptation for him in the future: that he had to find a way to make it difficult to go back.
Indeed, both Elijah and Jesus seemed to be wary of the human desire to go back to the way things used to be. Jesus lets one 'wannabe' know that life with him would be rough. He warns another would-be disciple about the anxious need to please family and/or friends, recognizing that even mourning practices can be ways of seeking the approval of others. An acute observer of human behavior, he notes to a third that those who try to chart a new course while continuing to look back are unsuited for the kingdom of God.
Although Jesus' pithy comments may seem harsh, they are in a sense quite matter of fact. The challenge of trying to become more of a self, and instead falling back into automatic ways of behaving, is familiar territory for human beings. These automatic behaviors fit into the system one is a part of, and bring the approval of others, but fail to allow a person to become his or her full self. Attending to one's own direction, or lack thereof, is at the core of establishing oneself. Few are called to be Elisha's, but all are called to find and nurture the self we were created to become. It is those with self who are positioned to follow Jesus.
Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Morning: Where will I be tempted to give up self to please others today? Where might I pressure others to give up their own thoughts, plans, or principles?
Evening: When was I able to focus today? When did I lose my direction?