A pig and a chicken were walking down the road. As they passed a church, they notice that a potluck charity breakfast was under way. Caught up in the spirit, the pig suggested to the chicken that they each make a contribution. “Great Idea!” the chicken cried. “Let’s offer them ham and eggs!” “Not so fast.” said the pig. “For you, that’s just a contribution, but for me, it’s a total commitment.”
The Scripture readings today are all about commitment, total commitment. And because the Scriptures are living words and never just stories about people from the past, they are calling forth commitment from us.
We heard in that first reading about Elijah, a mighty prophet who lived some 800 years before the birth of Jesus. He was a person totally committed to God. He risked his life by standing up to his own Jewish king and called him on his hypocrisy. Towards the end of Elijah’s life, God made it clear to Elijah that he must pass the torch, so to speak, to his apprentice, Elisha. As a symbol of passing on this responsibility, the responsibility of speaking courageously in the name of God, Elijah threw his cloak over the shoulders of the younger Elisha. Elisha knew what this meant but didn’t understand the seriousness of the gesture. So, he says, “Let me first kiss my father and mother good-bye, and then I will follow you.” Elijah was disappointed in this junior prophet’s response, so he said to Elisha, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” Elijah is saying to Elisha, “Do you get what I have done to you? Do you understand that the cloak meant I was naming you my successor and that this is no small matter?” When Elijah said, “do you understand what I have done to you?” it is almost the exact same words Jesus used, 800 years later, when he washed the Apostles’ feet: “Do you know what I have done to you?…I have washed your feet…you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Both Elijah and later, Jesus, know what it means to be the pig, they know what it means to make a total commitment. Both are trying to draw out the same commitment from those they are passing the torch to. They are not looking for gratitude; they are looking for imitation. Do as you have seen me do. I don’t want you to thank me; I want you to imitate me.
The pattern of apprenticing the next generation, as Elijah was trying to do, is repeated in the gospel with Jesus and his would-be followers. When Jesus asked people to follow him, he did not exactly get a whole-hearted response. The first response was total bravado, all words, no action: “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replies with, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” You want to follow me? Fine, but, are you willing to be homeless? Are you willing to be in solidarity with the poor of this world? Nobody is getting into heaven without a letter of reference from the poor.
The second response was, “First Let me go and bury my father” which seems to be the proper thing to do…it’s just not the first thing we ought to do.
The third response was very similar to what Elisha said 800 years earlier, “Let me first go home and say good-bye to my family.” Jesus will not let this person do this, not because Jesus is opposed to families but because following Jesus, all the way to the cross, is deeply transformative. In other words, once you say “yes” to Jesus, you can never go back to the way things were before. Jesus is not just looking for disciples, yes men; he’s looking for discipleship that is whole-hearted. The proclamation of God’s Kingdom is that important and that urgent.
The proclamation of God’s Kingdom of love, mercy, and forgiveness was so uppermost in Jesus that he was willing to lay down his life for it. At some point Jesus stopped talking about it and just did it.
The opening line of today’s gospel passage is very telling. It says, “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up…” To be taken up refers to Jesus being taken up in glory at his ascension. But before he is taken up into heaven, he is first taken up on the cross. He is willing to be raised up in suffering and death so his Father can raise him up in glory. Jesus is ready, willing and able to make the ultimate commitment. In that same opening line it says, “…Jesus set his face to Jerusalem.” What is Jerusalem? It is the place of crucifixion and resurrection. It is the place of total commitment where Jesus demonstrates his love for God and us par excellence.
In following Jesus, what are we ultimately committing ourselves to? Love. Not only love but a love that even includes love of enemy. No founder of any major religion dares to speak of loving one’s enemies except Jesus! The telltale sign of our commitment to following Jesus is our love of neighbour, even and especially the ones we don’t agree with our get along with.
The second line of today’s gospel says as much when it says that Jesus went into a village of the Samaritans and they did not receive him. They clearly must be the enemy. And if the enemy, surely we are justified in commanding fire to come down from heaven and burn them up as James and John, the Sons of Thunder, suggested. This rejection of Jesus in Samaria is a foretaste of the rejection he will experience in Jerusalem. Rejection or not, Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem and he wants his disciples to follow him. This is the test of what is to come. This is the nineth chapter in Luke’s gospel. He is rejected by the Samaritans. In the very next chapter, chapter 10, Jesus is telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. He is obviously not jaded by the fact that Samaritans rejected him. He doesn’t label them all as bad, but obviously sees good in all people including the Samaritans, the so-called enemy of the Jews. A few chapters later, Luke goes on to tell the story of Jesus cleansing 10 lepers, yet only one of them thanked Jesus, and he was a Samaritan.
I like what the late Brennan Manning says, when he wrote: “Commitment to Jesus Christ without compassion for his people is a lie.” I would add, commitment to Jesus without compassion for the child in the womb is a lie. Commitment to Jesus without compassion for a pregnant woman, who is feeling overwhelmed, is a lie. Commitment to Jesus without compassion for the sick, the imprisoned, the neglected, the lonely, the addicted, the homeless, etc., is a lie.
On this historic weekend in the United States, one which many of have been praying for, for decades, let us remember our commitment as Christians is to all life in all its forms, especially to those who are weak, powerless and without a voice of their own. To be pro-life is not simply to be pro-birth; it is to support as sacred all life at all stage from conception to natural death. To commit ourselves to love, even enemy love, is really to put our hand to the plough, as Jesus did, and not look back.
As the pig tells the chicken, “It’s not merely a contribution; it’s a total commitment.”
Fr. Phil Mulligan