13th Sunday OT Year C
Today we hear Jesus' invitation to follow him. Follow me, he said to the disciples in the gospel and to each one of us. In fact, as Christians this invitation makes up our identity. The name Christian means "one who follows Christ." Following Christ is more than just something we do, it is something we are. So let's think about this a little more.
Why do we follow Christ? First, he called us. We hear his voice. The story of Elisha is our story. Jesus comes to us in the midst of our everyday lives, throws his cloak over us and asks us to follow him. Elisha was plowing, he was carrying on his daily tasks. Yesterday I went to Fr. Andy Budzinski's priestly ordination. It reminded me of my own calling to follow Christ as a priest. It came in the midst of ordinary things. There was no voice from heaven. Rather, I was going to RCIA classes as a sponsor, I was reading the Catechism, I was trying to go to daily mass, and I just remember hearing the voice of Jesus telling me to consider the priesthood. Jesus asks each one of us to follow him, and he asks us in the midst of our ordinary lives, we have to develop the ability to hear his voice. Second, we follow Jesus because he is the only path to true freedom. We know this from experience. Our sins only lead us to misery and selfishness. But if we rely on God's grace, Jesus can set us free. This is what St. Paul is talking about. Being a follower of Jesus means that we are led by the Spirit and we are truly free. Our hearts really long for this freedom, only Jesus, and the freedom he gives, can truly satisfy us. So that is why we follow: because Jesus calls us and because he leads us to the freedom we crave.
How do we follow Jesus? We get some clues in the gospel today. At first blush, Jesus' reply seems rather harsh. Lord first let me bury my father, let me first say goodbye to my family. Jesus responds by saying let the dead bury the dead, or you are not fit for the kingdom. Harsh indeed. But, I'm convinced that Jesus is not so much responding to their requests as he is responding to the order in which they put them. Neither burying a father nor saying goodbye to a family is incompatible with Christianity. But they both asked if they may do those things "first." In other words, Lord I want to follow you, but do you mind if I put a few things before you? Do you mind if I put something else, even something good, before my relationship with you? The answer is a resounding no. If we are going to be followers of Jesus he has to be first, he has to be the most important. In one way following Jesus is easy, it simply means that he is the first, most important person in our lives. Nothing takes precedence over our relationship with Christ. Now we know that this doesn't exclude our family. Rather, our relationship with Christ makes us better mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, students, workers, etc. We just can't be those things before our identity as Christians. God asks for nothing less than everything, and he deserves it!
Finally, to where do we follow Christ? Being a follower of Christ means that we travel with Christ. We often call our lives a journey, and it is true. We travel with Christ. He leads us, he shows us the way. But, where is he going? The gospel today tells us that Jesus was resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem. So, Jerusalem is the destination of our own journey. If we follow Christ, this is where we will end. What did Jesus find there? He found death and suffering, it is true. As we follow Jesus we might find some suffering, we might find trials. But we are comforted that Jesus has walked this path before us. And, the journey did not end with the Cross. Jesus died, yes, but he also rose again. To follow Jesus means to follow him in freedom through death into new life.
Why do we follow Jesus? Because he invited us and only in him do we find the freedom our hearts desire. How do we follow him? By putting him first in our lives. Where does he lead us? Through death to life.
As we receive the Eucharist today we receive the strength and support we need to walk with Christ, to journey with him, from the slavery of our sins to the freedom of holiness, from death on the cross to the everlasting life of the resurrection.