First Reading Commentary
In this Reading we see God calling Elisha to be a prophet. Notice that Elisha was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before Elijah approached him. This was his vocation. But then, Elijah threw his cloak over him which signifies that God has now called him to another vocation. This occurs in our own day. There are priests or religious who were employed in secular vocations before they heard God’s call.
“Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, ‘Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and I will follow you.’ Elijah answered, ‘Go back! Have I done anything to you?”’ This exchange can be a bit confusing. What it is meant to convey is that Elijah is telling Elisha that he is not the one who called him to be a prophet. Elijah is telling Elisha to go and follow the Spirit of God since He is the One Who called him. When Elisha slaughters his yoke of oxen and feeds it to his people, this is signifying that he has abandoned his former vocation or occupation and has accepted God’s call.
Throughout the Old Testament God called some to be priests, some to be prophets and others kings. When God became Man in the Divine Person of Jesus Christ, He was a Priest, Prophet and King.
When reflecting on this Reading from a modern day perspective, how sad it is to go through the laundry list of things that enslave our brothers and sisters today: Pornography, drug or alcohol addiction, lusting after the almighty dollar, an insatiable thirst for power, and the list goes on and on. People are always searching for ways to be happy or looking for things that will help them forget about their troubles. These are our brothers and sisters who bear the weight of the cross of this life just like we all do; but for reasons unknown to us they have either turned off of or have never been shown the virtual Via Dolorosa. They are not on the path that follows the Way, the Truth and the Life. The road they are on is full of people biting and devouring each other.
The Good News about Jesus Christ doesn’t necessarily have to be presented in words. Peter, Paul, James, John or any of the evangelists probably would have had little or no success if they weren’t living what they preached and believed. Living what you believe is probably the most powerful form of evangelization. Genuine Christian freedom requires good works done in charity. The Cross of Christ has gained for us our freedom and our salvation. But by using our God-given free will we have to graciously accept our Lord’s free gift to us by following the Spirit because as Scripture teaches: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).
Saint Paul teaches us that the Spirit and the flesh are opposed to each other. When we were baptized we died to the works of the flesh, but the final victory over ourselves or our enslavement to temporal things is not gained until we earnestly and deferentially follow the Spirit.
This Gospel passage is part of what has often been called the “Journey Narrative” because it follows the progress of what is thought to be Christ’s final journey to Jerusalem to fulfill the divine will of His Passion. Also, this passage has a bit of a twist because the words of Jesus seem a bit severe. We’re more accustomed to His words being filled with gentleness and compassion. Christ’s message to us here is pretty clear. If we are to be His disciples and follow Him, we must overcome all obstacles.
As we read in the opening verse, Jesus was resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem. Our journey to the fullness of the Kingdom of God must be approached with that same determination. Most interpreters believe that the messengers Jesus sent ahead of Him were the apostles James and John. Saint Jerome, however, believes that the messengers may have been angels because the word for messengers used in the Greek text generally signifies angels.
Our Lord was not welcomed with open arms at the Samaritan village. James and John wanted to call down a fire from heaven to consume the inhabitants of that town. It was these sorts of character traits which earned James and John the title of “the sons of thunder”. Their zeal for our Lord was so great that revenge was their solution in defending Him. They would soon learn that revenge was not the way of our Lord.
It’s highly unlikely that Jesus is suggesting that burying our departed loved ones is a waste of time or conflicts with discipleship. There’s a couple of possibilities as to what He did mean: First, some Scripture commentators have theorized that “let the dead bury their dead” is Christ’s way of teaching that those who are not focused or preoccupied with the Kingdom of God are spiritually dead. The other possibility is that Jesus is looking for disciples who are willing to make Him and the Kingdom of God first in their lives because all that is embraced in this world will eventually pass away but His Kingdom shall never pass away. This explanation would also seem fitting for Christ’s words about the plow. You can’t plow a straight furrow unless your eyes are fixed on the mark. Likewise, you can’t journey to everlasting joy if your eyes are not fixed on heaven.