On Responding to the Call

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 19: 16b, 19-21; Gal 5: 1, 13-18: Luke 9: 51-62

Dc. Larry Brockman

How would you feel?  How would you feel if the Lord tapped you on the shoulder, and called you directly to “come follow me”.  It wasn’t just a hunch or a feeling as you prayed quietly that you were being called; but it was a direct message- absolutely unmistakable- from the Lord.  We hear four such stories in our readings today.  

First, Elijah calls Elisha.  Elijah throws his cloak, the symbol of his power as the prophet of Israel, over Elisha’s shoulders, and Elisha knows that he has been tapped.  He has been tapped to give up everything and take over as the prophet of Israel.  12 Oxen were a significant quantity of wealth in those days; and Elisha gives that all up in a radical way, by burning his plow; killing off his property; and severing his role as a source of labor and support for his family.  This, indeed, is a radical commitment that he makes, a basic change in his life- forever. 

Then, in the Gospel, Jesus taps three people on the shoulder as he travels towards Jerusalem, and asks them to come follow him immediately.  One agrees right away, but the other two ask for some time, time to set their affairs in order first- their family affairs.  At first blush, Jesus’ responses seem a little harsh- “Let the dead bury the dead”; and “No one who looks behind is fit”.  And yet, these people go; they follow the call.  They make a radical change in their lives- they take action.   

So, what do these stories have to do with you and I?  Are we being asked to give up everything?  Well, we were all called to follow the Lord’s will by virtue of our Baptism.  But for most of us, we didn’t really understand that call until our Confirmation, if even then.  Over the course of our lives, most of us receive nudges and urges that God wants us to do something,   rather than direct taps on the shoulder.  True, some of us receive wake up calls- an accident; an illness; even a chance encounter that moves us deeply.  But a direct call from God like the four we hear about this morning- probably not.  So, how are these stories relevant to us?

Perhaps the emphasis is not on how we are being called- that is, a direct versus a more subtle call; or even the strength of our response, like giving everything up; but rather, on our willingness to respond to our call at all. 

You see, our God loves us so much, that He calls each and every one of us.  That is a fact.  These 4 stories symbolize the fact of the call in their directness.  Indeed, Baptism is the beginning of the call for us, and it is a fact; the rest of the call is a lifetime of nudges and urges and wake up calls.  So, we are all called, that is not the issue, and not the emphasis in the readings.   

Rather, our willingness to respond to the call is the issue before us today.  How do we respond to God’s will for us?  Is it a series of “maybe” responses like- “I am going to change soon”; or “next week I will change”; or “as soon as this is done I will change”- kind of like two of the examples in the Gospel?  Basically, that is like putting off the response so that we aren’t really responding at all, because we will soon forget and move on to something else. Or do we actually respond to God’s will and take action immediately, like Elisha and the first of Jesus’ examples? 

Perhaps we delay our response because we have a problem giving up something. Now most of us cannot relate to 12 yolk of oxen as wealth.  Well picture this. Suppose you own a big house; several cars; lot’s of social activities; lots of debt, and a high paying but stressful job for both husband and wife to support all of that?  As you experience the best things the world has to offer when you are at the top of your careers, you are probably also experiencing all kinds of pressure and stress.  In the depths of your being, you may hear prophetic voices from the Lord telling you that something is wrong; something needs to change.  What would your response be to those voices?  Chances are, you will drag your feet, begging for more time; possibly even using “burying the dead” and “caring for your family” as excuses along the way. 

We have not internalized- “thy will be done”, rather, we are committed to “our will be done” instead.  It may be that way for years, until some day we look back and realize we have let God down. 

But, the wonderful thing about God is that we are always given second and third and fourth chances with Him, we are always given the benefit of the doubt.  No matter what we have done in the past, God will forgive us and love us as long as we have faith and strive to do His will in the future.  So, no matter how you got where you are; no matter how selfish or blind to God’s will you have been in the past; you can always make things right in the future.  It’s really simple- just listen to Him talk to you now.  Every day he taps each of us on the shoulder ever so lightly.   And when it feels right, respond to His call, and feel the joy of being reconciled with God. 

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