Father Andrew Wadsworth offers a short commentary on this week's Sunday Lectionary readings.
To read the relevant Bible passage just click on the reference.
Before reading and reflecting on God's word you might like to use the following prayer:
who hast given us thy word
for a light to shine upon our path:
Grant us so to meditate upon that word
and follow its teaching,
that we may find in it the light that shineth
more and more unto the perfect day:
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Second Sunday after Trinity
And the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.
So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.
To a Christian the call of Elisha inevitably reminds us of the call of the first disciples of Jesus beside the Lake of Galilee: the unknown Jesus passes by, calls each pair of disciples, and they follow, magnetized, leaving their nets, their livelihood, their families. So Elisha deliberately destroys his livelihood, that is, the oxen and their gear. He seeks occasion to bid a quick farewell to his family, but even that does not seem to happen. Then he leaves everything and follows his master. Elijah’s answer to Elisha is enigmatic, a puzzling phrase which recurs in the Bible, literally ‘What is there between me and you?’ (Judges 11.12; 2 Samuel 16.10) Its most familiar occurrence is at the marriage-feast of Cana (John 2.4), when Jesus uses it to his mother. Is it a mild rebuke? Is it an expression of puzzlement? Is it simply a question of the exact nature of the relation of the two persons? In any case, the succession between Elijah and Elisha is the same as occurred between Moses and Joshua, and as will occur at the Ascension and Pentecost between Jesus and the Twelve. The one hands on to the other his mission and the power to accomplish it. In fact Elisha’s mission is rather more political, working within the political order, than Elijah’s, which critiqued the political order; but this still lies in the future.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
Paul is warning the Galatians against regarding themselves as bound by the Jewish Law. This is an external restriction, whereas Paul wants them to be led only by the interior Spirit of God, which will lead them in the paths of love. It is important to understand correctly the distinction between the flesh and the Spirit. The sins of the flesh are not merely ‘carnal’ sins like sex, greed, and over-indulgence. They also include such things as rivalry, jealousy, quarrels, and malice. So the flesh is more generally self-indulgence and lack of self-discipline, perhaps unrestrained natural desires. These are not in themselves evil, but they need to be harnessed and directed by the impetus of the Spirit. On the other hand, the Spirit is the life of Christ in us, and motivates everything that leads to Christ, not only – as Paul here lists – ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control’, but also everything that builds up the community in love, loving guidance, teaching, the healing touch, as well as the more striking gifts like speaking in tongues. In 1 Corinthians he explains that each of member of the community has a special gift, and all of these are needed for a healthy community.
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
The latter half of Luke’s gospel, as Jesus embarks on his great journey to his death at Jerusalem, is marked by Jesus’ teaching on the difficulties and challenges of discipleship. Right at the beginning comes the little lesson that the disciple must not be surprised or take vengeance at rejection. Then three lessons on the uncompromising demands of discipleship. These are not ‘counsels of perfection’ but demanded of every disciple of Jesus. First: The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. The disciple has no right to creature comforts. Second: perhaps the most counter-cultural of all Jesus’ demands, for burying a dead father was regarded as a sacred duty, and yet not even this may stand in the way of a response to the call of Jesus. Third: a more rigorous condition than even Elijah demanded of Elisha, no backward glance even to bid the family farewell. Not even the most sacred of natural ties may stand in the way of the demands of following Jesus. These conditions may seem unfeeling and unacceptably harsh: Jesus expresses his teaching with maximum vigour. This is partly the nature of the Semitic language, which rarely uses a comparative, ‘more than…’ It is either day or night, no dusk! But we must beware of softening what must remain hard.