Homily for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 1, 2007

St. Agnes, Cincinnati

(Based on 1 Kings 19:16-21; Psalm 16; Galatians %:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62)

We’re in the middle of that long stretch of the liturgical year known as “Ordinary Time.”

It’s not the special time we call Advent, when we prepare for a new coming of Immanuel. It’s not the special time we call Lent, when we prepare for the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus. It’s not the special time we call Easter, when we hear the manifestations of the Lord’s risen life.

It’s connected to the special feast of Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon his people, but it doesn’t have the splash and pizzazz of the feast itself. There’s no fire and howling wind. Instead it’s the time when we learn how that outpouring plays out in ordinary, everyday life.

Someone has said that ‘ordinary time’ must be very extra-ordinary, very significant, because God made so much of it.

What’s the one single question running all through these weeks and months? It centers around the way Jesus went about his ministry, between the infancy stories and the story of Holy Week. What was he like? What did he do? Can we discern how he thought and what was important to him?

Ordinary time is time to do what St. Paul urged us to do: to ‘put on’ the mind and heart of Jesus. To allow our own hearts to begin to think and respond as his did.

And in today’s reading we’re invited to explore what his idea of commitment was. How urgent were things for him?

We hear two stories that are clearly intended to shed light on one another, like two bookends. They are stories of call and response.

In the story from Kings Elijah is told to go and call Elisha to become his assistant in order to pass on the mantle of prophecy to him. When Elijah calls Elisha’s answer seems reasonable enough. “Hey, I’m coming — but I need a little time to take care of some details. And Elijah’s answer is not perfectly clear, but from the context biblical scholars interpret him as saying, “OK, do what you have to do.” And Elisha takes care of his business and comes back to follow the prophet.

But in Luke’s Gospel when Jesus looks for followers it’s totally different. There is no delay allowed. The Lord is not only the number One priority, he’s the only priority. “I’m calling now, I want a response now, I want action now — and by the way, don’t worry about the past. The past will take care of itself.

If we’re to appreciate this priority we need to look at the way Jesus proceeded in response to his own call.

First there was a long period of preparation, of prayer before the Father. But then — when the moment, ‘his time,’ comes he goes into action. This passage represents the central hinge in the whole of Luke’s Gospel. Before this he was traveling around Galilee, gathering his disciples. Now is his time fulfilled, the time which will lead up to his death. As one translation puts it, “he set his face like flint.” We can almost see the line of his chin. And for what? He set his face toward Jerusalem. He’s going up to the holy city, and more significantly to the holiest place of all, the Temple. And he’s going to challenge the scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of the people, for their hypocrisy.

A lot has been written about Jesus’ political stances. People want to know how he acted on conflicted issues.

Different people pick out different Gospel passages to support their positions. (We all pick and choose our Jesuses, don’t we? There are passages we like because they agree with our own views — and other passage we don’t like to hear because they stretch us and challenge us.)

The pacifists love to refer to things like: if they strike you on one cheek, turn and give them the other one. Blessed are the meek. Jesus was led to the slaughter like a lamb. When you look at some artistic representations of Jesus you could almost think of him as “Jesus the Wimp.”

And then at the other extreme more aggressive types like to point to him saying “The time is coming when a man who has one sword must go out and buy another.” They love the picture of him going into the Temple precincts and throwing over the tables of the buyers and sellers, as his anger at what was going on.

What can we say?

We do know that in those days there were strong political movements in the air. There were people who wanted to start a revolution against the Roman oppressors. Remember, they were an occupied country. There was a party called the Zealots. We think of being a zealot as having a certain mentality, but in this case it’s question of an established political party. Like Joe the Republican, only it’s Simon the Zealot. He was one of Jesus’ closest disciples so Jesus would have been aware of the movement. (Some years after Jesus’ time they did attempt to overthrow the Romans, and they gathered a whole garrison at the fortress of Masada down in the desert, where they were butchered.)

But Jesus gives no sign of pursuing that response.

And it’s not because he was without feeling. We know from his responses that he felt things deeply. When his friend Lazarus died he was moved deeply and he wept. When his disciples just didn’t get it after all his teaching he groaned and said, “How long do I have to put up with you?”

But the first part of today’s Gospel gives us more insight into his approach. James and John were the two firebrands among the apostles. They were even named “The Sons of Thunder.” They must have agonized at the long time of preparation, so when they began the march to Jerusalem you can sense their excitement. They liked nothing better than a good fight. So when they pass through Samaria and the Samaritans don’t accept Jesus they’re prepared to have at it. They’re the Sopranos! “Just turn us loose, Lord, and we’ll whack those guys!”

And how does Jesus respond to their naive impetuosity? We read “he rebuked them.” Why? Because they lost the focus, what it was all about. They want to fight against. And we have plenty of religious leaders in our time whose whole agenda seems to be against everybody else. They want to go to war against a Godless supreme court or a Godless congress or Godless Hollywood and the media.

Jesus is on fire, that’s true. But he’s on fire for, not against. He’s on fire to do his Father’s will, not his own. He’s on fire to proclaim the vision of a God who is compassion, a God who identifies with the poor and the hungry and the homeless, with the naked and prisoners.

In truth, there is no one-for-one comparison between Jesus and the complex social and political issues we face, as if we might know exactly what Jesus would do on any particular public issue. He doesn’t give us that kind of easy answer, because he respects our freedom. We know only that his answer lies in identification with the poor and voiceless — whoever they might be.

What he does give us is the call to do as he did: To be single-minded in our search to learn and do the will of the Father. To pray endlessly for guidance. To expect contradiction and conflict, that not everybody will see things our way and walk lockstep with us. But after prayer, to risk taking action. With no assurance that we have the whole truth. To be prepared for failure. And always, always, to act out of love, in response to a God who has always been faithful.