13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Picture: cc Betsssssy
My dear friends, do you know what to do when you want to measure someone’s temperature? Do you know what instrument to use? Of course you do, right? To measure temperature, you use a thermometer. And what if you want to measure the speed of your car? You use a speedometer. And if you want to measure your blood pressure? You use something called a sphygmomanometer. A blood pressure meter.
But what if you want to measure something less tangible? Something like love? Is there an instrument for that? Something like a love-meter? Now that’s a stupid question, right? We all know that love is not something that can be measured the way we measure temperature, or speed, or blood pressure. At least not the kind of love we mean. Christian love. The love that comes to us from God, in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And yet, even if there is no such thing as a love-meter, isn’t there some other way by which we can tell how much we love something or someone? What do you think, sisters and brothers? How do you tell how much you love something or someone? How do you tell how much you love God?
I can think of one way. A way that relies not on a physical instrument. But on particular situations. Moments of crisis. Times when I’m forced to make a choice. Like when there’s a fire in my house, for example. What’s the first thing I try to save? Do I reach first for my family and friends? Or for my iPhone and Playstation? My spontaneous reaction in a time of emergency is a good indication of what I consider most important in my life. What I love or value above all else.
Crisis situations. Isn’t this also what we find in our Mass readings today? In the first reading, the prophet Elijah has received an urgent mission from God. One of the things that God has asked him to do is to anoint Elisha as his successor. And this mission is a matter of urgency. So it’s no wonder that Elijah seems to be in such a great hurry. When he calls Elisha, he expects him to commit himself immediately and completely. He refuses to give the poor man even the opportunity to say goodbye to his parents. As a result, Elisha is thrown into a situation of crisis. He has to make a difficult choice. At the drop of a hat. Follow or not. Now or never. All or nothing.
To his credit, Elisha is equal to the challenge. He chooses to follow Elijah. To do God’s work. And he expresses his commitment by burning his plough, and killing and cooking his oxen. These actions are signs of where Elisha’s heart truly lies. For him there is no turning back. Much as he loves his parents, his first priority is to do the will of God. By following Elijah. The servant of the Lord.
A crisis situation. This too is what the people in the gospel face when Jesus enters their lives. Like Elijah before him, the Lord expects them to follow him immediately and wholeheartedly. The mission to live and to preach the Gospel is urgent. There is no time to waste. No room for compromise. Nothing else is more important. Not even finding a place to lay one’s head. Not even burying one’s dead father. Or saying goodbye to one’s family.
But it’s important that we not get the wrong idea. The readings are not telling us that we should not love ourselves. Or that we should not love our family. But that we should love God most of all. And, indeed, in normal situations, our love for ourselves and for our family does not conflict with our love for God. Ordinarily, we love God by caring for ourselves and our family. By making sure that our basic needs are met. Needs for food and shelter. For rest and relaxation. For meaningful connection with others and with God. We preach the Gospel not just in words, but especially through our lives. By loving others. Caring for our family and our friends. As well as those who may need our help.
But we can only truly love ourselves and others, when we love God first and most of all. When we allow God to be our number one priority. The centre of our life. And it is this primary commitment to God that is put to the test in a crisis. When we are somehow forced to choose. As Elisha and those people in the gospel were forced to choose. And as even Jesus himself was forced to choose.
In the gospel, we’re told that as the time drew near for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely took the road for Jerusalem. In a moment of crisis, Jesus responds with sure and unflinching commitment. He leaves his family and friends, and goes to Jerusalem. Even though he knows that what awaits him there is the cruel Cross of suffering and shame. Leading eventually to victory and glory.
But let’s face it, sisters and brothers. To do this is not easy. To love God above everything and everyone else. To the extent of forsaking even our own life. To do this is not easy. How to meet the challenge? How to respond as we should in times of crisis? Parents nag their children to study hard, so that they can pass their exams in school. What must we do to pass the test of love?
We find an answer in the second reading. Where St. Paul speaks about what it means to be truly free. For Paul, true Christian freedom is not the ability to do whatever we want whenever we want. Whatever happens to be most comfortable and convenient for us at the time. For Paul, this is not freedom but self-indulgence. Not liberty but license. A form of slavery.
Instead, true Christian freedom consists in the ability to consistently choose love over selfishness. Even when such a choice may cost us. For the whole of the Law is summarised in a single command: Love your neighbour as yourself. And we learn to love our neighbour by allowing ourselves to be guided by the Spirit. Who reproduces in our own lives the life of Christ. A life poured out for us that we might live.
How then do we train ourselves to choose God in situations of crisis? To choose love, above all else? We do it through the choices that we make in ordinary times. By consistently exercising our God-given Spirit-inspired freedom to love and to serve others on a daily basis. Choosing to die to self-indulgence. And to live in the love of God. To speak the truth, for example, even when it may not suit us. To listen attentively when someone needs to talk. Even when we may not feel like it. To make time for personal and communal prayer. Even when we may be busy with something else. Just as school exams are passed through consistent study. So too is the crisis of love met by daily effort.
Sisters and brothers, there really is no such thing as a love-meter. But, whether we like it or not, we do encounter moments of crisis. Situations when true love is put to the test. Our love for self, for neighbour, and for God. What must we do, you and I, to keep preparing ourselves to pass this test? To answer God’s call, generously and wholeheartedly, today, tomorrow, and for ever?