Sunday, June 30, 2019

Shooting Satellites into Space

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Picture: cc NASA Goddard

My dear friends, do you know what a satellite is? We rely on these objects orbiting around the earth to perform many different functions. There are, for example, weather satellites, communications satellites, observation satellites, military satellites, and so on. But how do all these heavy gadgets get up into space? It’s not easy, because, as you know, in order for them not to fall back to the earth, they must somehow escape its gravitational pull. And for that to happen, the satellite needs to be connected to a rocket that is strong enough to overcome gravity. So it’s the rocket that does all the work. What the satellite has to do is really just to maintain a strong connection to the rocket, so as to allow itself to be carried to its destination.

Getting into space by hanging on tightly to a rocket. It may sound strange, my dear friends, but isn’t this something like what we find in our readings today? Both Elijah, in the first reading, and Jesus, in the gospel, are actually on their way to the same destination. The first reading is taken from somewhere near the end of the first book of Kings. Later, early in the second book of Kings (2 Kg 2:1ff), we’re told that, after completing his mission on earth, Elijah is taken up into heaven. Similarly, in the gospel, we’re told that the time drew near for (Jesus) to be taken up to heaven.

Like rockets, both Elijah and Jesus are about to shoot straight up into the sky. How do they do this? Elijah, as you know, undergoes many trials and persecutions, in order to carry out the mission given to him by God. And, similarly for Jesus, the gospel says that he resolutely took the road for Jerusalem. He is determined to walk the lonely and painful Way of the Cross. In the readings, like powerful rockets, both Elijah and Jesus are able to blast their way up into the heavens, only by laying down their lives on the earth.

But, again like rockets, they don’t just depart this earth on their own. As they go, each of them takes the trouble to call disciples. To lead others to the place where they are going. To share with chosen companions the same glory and happiness that is their proper reward. In the words of the responsorial psalm, you will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, at your right hand happiness for ever.

Could this be why both Elijah and Jesus appear to make such unreasonable demands on their disciples? Elijah doesn’t allow Elisha to kiss his parents goodbye. And, even worse, when the one Jesus calls asks for time to bury his father, the Lord tells him to leave the dead to bury their dead. Why so demanding? Why so unreasonable? Could it be because, just as the connection between a satellite and its rocket needs to be strong enough to survive the journey into the heavens, so too must the bond between the disciple and the master be stronger than any other attraction. Stronger even than one’s natural affection for, and filial duty towards, one’s parents. Important though these may be.

For just as a satellite needs to be tightly connected to its rocket, in order to escape the force of gravity, so too must we allow ourselves to be so closely bound to Christ in love, that we are enabled to finally escape the downward pull of selfishness and sin. Isn’t this what St Paul is writing about in the second reading, where he encourages the Galatians to exercise the freedom won for them by Christ, by serving one another in works of love? For it is only by being connected to Christ in this way, and by being guided by the Spirit, that they are able to escape the danger of yielding to self-indulgence.

All of which may help us to reflect on our own lives. We who so often struggle and fail to overcome our lower impulses. Our temptations to feed our egos, to nurse our resentments, and to stab our enemies both in the front and in the back. We who just as often struggle and fail to heed our higher calling. To feed the hungry, to welcome the stranger, and to lay down our lives for our friends.

What are we to do when, however hard we may struggle, we simply cannot seem to escape the gravitational pull of selfishness and sin? Perhaps the solution is not so much to burn ourselves out by applying ever more effort, as it is to deepen our relationship with the One who has already blazed a path for us from death into life. For just as satellites manage to reach their destination only by remaining connected to a rocket, so too are we able to enjoy the freedom of the children of God, only by clinging ever more tightly to God’s only begotten Son.

Sisters and brothers, what will you be doing to strengthen your bond with Christ our Rocket today?

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