To read the texts click on the texts: 1 Kgs 19:16b,19-21; Gal5:1,13-18; Lk 9:51-62
“Rejection” seems to be one word that summarizes, at least partly, the readings of today. Other words are “perseverance, determination, and commitment”. As soon as Jesus sets out for Jerusalem where he will be finally rejected, he faces rejection in a Samaritan town. However, he will not be deterred. His face will be set like flint for Jerusalem because that is where the will of God will be finally accomplished. This is all that matters for Jesus: to do God’s will no matter the consequences. He is determined to see the completion of the task assigned to him. He is committed till the end. He will persevere.
The response of Jesus to James and John, who want to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans, is a double response. On the one hand, Jesus is not Elijah and so will not call down fire from heaven like Elijah did. On the other hand, Jesus’ response makes clear that his mission is not to pull down and destroy but to build up and enhance. He has come not to condemn but to save.
It is in this context that the call to the “would be” disciples must be seen. Though the mission of Jesus is not to win through domination and subjugation, but rather through unconditional and continual love, he will demand from his disciples an unconditional following. As a matter of fact, it is precisely because his way is more challenging than the way of conquest and invasion that there can be no half hearted or lukewarm response to his call. Unlike Elisha, who is allowed to go back and say farewell to his father and mother, Jesus demands radical and total commitment. This kind of commitment can result in being able to fulfil the task of discipleship. It is a decision that is not made lightly, but after much thought, consideration, and contemplation.
Jesus does not use coercion or force to gain disciples. He only invites. However, even as he invites, he makes it abundantly clear to those who would dare to follow what the consequences will be of their following. They will have to be as ones who have no security of home or hearth. They will have to be as ones who have no family to call their own. They will have to be as ones who are ready to face opposition, hostility, and conflict. They will be as ones who profess total and complete detachment. This is the kind of detachment that Elisha shows when he slaughters his oxen and uses the equipment that comes with them for fuel. Through this act, Elisha, though allowed to say farewell to his father and mother, demonstrates that he is prepared for an unconditional following of God through his mentor, Elijah.
The work of the kingdom which Jesus inaugurated is heavy and demanding work. It requires a persevering commitment. It is easy to get discouraged and want to give up in the face of trials and difficulties and what sometimes seem to be insurmountable odds. It is easy to give up in the face of rejection. It is because of this that Jesus states, in unambiguous terms, what it entails to follow him. The disciple who follows will have no place to lay his/her head.
Following Jesus will mean, as Paul explicates in the second reading of today, the desire to communicate love and to do it constantly, even in the face of fear and rejection. Love indeed sums up the whole law. Those who decide to follow will have to show through both word and deed this love which Jesus manifested when he was on earth. This means first, living by the spirit and not by the flesh. This means that any kind of behaviour which makes the self more important than others is unacceptable and not part of the kingdom. This means that, even in the face of haughtiness, arrogance, pride, and conceit, the disciple will always respond with modesty, humility, and love.
Like Elijah before him, Jesus knew that if the work of the kingdom had to be carried on, he had to choose disciples who would do this. To be sure, the disciples would not be perfect. They would stumble and fall numerous times and would pick themselves up again and again. Yet, the work of the kingdom would go on. Even Elijah, who had experienced God's providence and power, had his moments of darkness. He had been blessed with much success, but at the slightest sign of a reversal of fortune, he was ready to quit. He was quick to blame others for the situation in which he found himself. On numerous occasions, he felt all alone. Yet, just as in all these situations he was consoled by God and invited to carry on, so too will the disciples of Jesus who feel alone be consoled by him. They will feel the presence of God in Jesus even when they and their message are rejected and go unheeded. On their part, they must make it their constant endeavour never to give up, but to carry on with perseverance, determination, and courage. Rejection of the message of love must not be a hindrance to the disciples task of spreading this love to everyone they meet. They had been set free by Christ. Now it is their responsibility to set others free from the bondage of fear and self centeredness. Now it is their responsibility to free others for the true freedom of love.