13th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Hands to the Plow

As adults, we can claim to have seen a lot in our lives.  We are experienced in some of the rough parts of life.  We have had promises broken, been betrayed and had our share of disillusionment.  Our instinct for survival fights fiercely against any threat to our identity and our existence.  All of the forces of today's world, all of the sophisticated developments in the field of knowledge and multi-media combine to teach us to love self, to cultivate a strong self-image, to resist and overcome anything that would diminish the quality of our lives.  We can become frustrated and even cynical at times, and yet there is a trusting child within each of us - one who is willing to put his/her hand in the one who walked the road to Jerusalem, trust him and follow wherever he would lead.  

Judging from the Scripture we hear today and in so many others, the call to discipleship comes in the ordinariness of our lives, along the road or, like Elisha, while we are plowing, busy about our day's work: teaching a class; waiting on tables; straightening our desk; turning on the computer; answering the phone; sitting at the reception desk; tending to our children.  In one way or another,the invitation to "Follow Him" comes every day - it is very present tense - and it suggests that we pause, listen for a moment, wonder what we must stop doing and how we can respond.

The call to discipleship is not old, it is as new as this day... always inviting a response of faith and trust, simply because we recognize that we do not have all the answers we once thought we had.  We are not sure where we are being led, but we know the one who is inviting us and we know that we will be lead to a better place than we could have ever provided for ourselves.  Jesus seems to be saying that when we choose to become his followers, we must act immediately, we must choose to give up our own identity and, in some sense, even our own life... because this is the only way we can really discover our true selves.

Jesus tells us right up front that there's no looking back. There is no turning back. On the face of it, this idea sounds unnatural, almost suicidal. But as we watch Jesus live it out in His own choices and actions, we begin to understand. He put His will, His gifts, His very life at the service of His Father. He trusted the love and providence of His Father. Step by step, He began to experience how His Father's love turned evil into good, and dying into living. Every time He chose the Father's will instead of His own, He was freer, richer, more complete as a man. Every time He put aside His own desires to serve others, He became more fully alive, more fully a part of everyone else.

It is this kind of unselfish love that propels people into lives of service and ministry, into marriage and family, into priesthood and religious life. It is this kind of commitment to the Lord that is put to the test by the trials of life - sickness, failure, natural disasters, the death of our loved ones. We get to understand what "dying to self" means when our patience is tried to the breaking point by a rebellious teenager, or an irresponsible spouse, or the death of a loved one. We are asked to give up our own lives in favor of a parent suffering with alzheimers, or a victim of AIDS, or someone close to us who is being destroyed by drugs or alcohol.

The true follower of Jesus is not surprised, or angered, or lost in despair when this happens. To walk in the footsteps of the Master means to put aside self, willingly, generously, and with absolute trust. It means giving without measuring the cost. It means putting our hands to the plow and not looking back. It means putting on Christ, allowing him to live in us and through us. By His grace, we deny self, we lose our life... but we are absolutely certain that with Him we shall inherit the fullness of life and happiness, forever.

It's clear from what Jesus says that being his disciple is not a part-time job; something we do only on Sunday at church and occasionally doing a few good deeds during the week. Taking up the cross isn't a part-time practice we do on Good Friday, or when we are feeling strong and resilient. Nor is sacrifice in Jesus' name something reserved for some specially selected martyrs whose names are inscribed on Christian monuments. Instead, Jesus says losing our lives for his sake must be daily. It's not a part-time religion; it's a full-time following! Taking up his cross is part and parcel of the lives of all who follow him.

St. Paul tells us: "For freedom, Christ has set us free." Freedom from death and sin. Freedom to Love; freedom to live. What we know to be absolutely true is that our response to Jesus' invitation involves us for the long haul and it will require sacrifice.  We also know that his call and our faithfulness to it, is totally liberating: it gives us vision; focuses our energies and opens us to give ourselves generously and freely to the kingdom which Christ came to proclaim.