What would you say if I told you I needed to leave right now to go home and check some burgers I left on the grill? Or I needed to run to the gas station because I thought I was out of gas? You’d think I was crazy, that’s for certain. You’d also wonder why I was here in the first place, why I accepted this mass when I had other plans. It’s not like I really gave you a good reason to go, either. You’d think I was irresponsible and never trust me again, and definitely would believe any commitment I’d make. Ideally, if you say you’re going to do something, you do it, right? At least, that’s the world we’d like to live in. Lame excuses for not doing something are universal: when I was a kid and asked girls out on a date I was usually told they were washing their hair. For some of them it was a seven night job!
Today’s readings are mostly about commitment. Elisha makes a very dramatic commitment in the First Reading, and if we think about it, he’s making a very extreme one. Giving up farming is one thing, getting rid of your livestock and equipment is a bit more, but butchering your plow animals to feed the neighbors and burning your gear to cook everything isn’t just giving up, it’s liquidating your assets and getting nothing in return. Elisha isn’t just going to be a prophet, he’s going to be poor prophet.
The Gospel starts with a dramatic event that brings up something that’s easy to imagine: Jesus is refused hospitality by a Samaritan town (who wouldn’t normally be hospitable to a passing Jewish rabbi in the first place), and James and John want to call lightning down out of the sky to punish them. It’s almost certain that most of the people who heard Jesus speak, who met Jesus, didn’t believe He was the Messiah. It seems logical and just to think disbelief should result in the same punishment Sodom and Gomorrah got. But Jesus say no and tells them they’re on the wrong track, and it makes sense: a God of universal Love wouldn’t rain down fire on people for something like this (if at all). Setting people on fire and destroying their houses doesn’t quite work with ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
The passage where He calls people and has them turn him down is also a bit far fetched when we unpack it. The man with the newly deceased father (and he’s been dead for nor more than a day or two in that climate) wouldn’t be out in public in that culture. Someone who has to take leave of his family isn’t his own person in the first place, and really can’t make an independent decision for or against anything. People are turning Jesus down for silly reasons, and yet He makes no move to punish them beyond naming their thin excuses.
Making a radical commitment to love our neighbors as ourselves is a very difficult one, as difficult as Elisha’s was to give everything away before setting off on his new path. We want be a pious believer on Sunday, an aggressive profit taker during the week, and sower of wild oats on the weekend without realizing the impossibility of be true to all those identities. We want to think there’s a bigger Me that Christianity is just a part of, and that piece is unrelated to everything else in our lives except being nice and happy.
C. S. Lewis once said: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” Our great temptation is to see our faith as moderately important, and it’s a temptation our society asks us to give into. Christ wants us to put aside everything to follow Him. Church isn’t supposed to be a place we inhabit from time to time, it’s supposed to be part of our core, an integral part of who we are.
We come together as Church to remember Christ is the center of our lives, the beginning of who we are. The call of Christ to love one another means we don’t give into anger, wonder why God isn’t punishing people we think deserve it, why He doesn’t do what we think is Right. The Eucharist calls us to stay on track, to stay with the program, to remain in God’s infinite love, and to let go of everything and every attitude we don’t need. The Eucharist reminds us Christ is part of our core, and part of all our priorities.