RCL Year C, Proper 8
I Kings 19:15-16 and 19-21, Psalm 16, Galatians 5:1 and 13-25,

Saint Luke 9:51-62

The second half of the Gospel today has its own heading in one of my Bibles, and the heading reads, “The Would-be Followers of Jesus.” And so they are. There are three of them.

The first one says to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”[1] Jesus says to that one that the Son of Man has “nowhere to lay his head.”[2]

To another one, Jesus says, “Follow me.”[3] And he says to Jesus, “Lord, first let me go bury my father.”[4] And the third one says to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”[5] The would-be followers of Jesus—the first promises more than he delivers, and the others make excuses. For them all Jesus lays down the principal teaching of this proclamation, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”[6]

Which brings us to Elisha son of Shaphat in the Old Testament Lesson. And Elisha is plowing, of all things. Elijah, as the Lord commands, calls Elisha to succeed him. He calls Elisha by throwing his mantle over him. And Elisha’s reaction is interesting. At first he says, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.”[7] He sounds like the two excuse-makers in the Gospel, who triangulate their call with their family obligations.

And Elijah’s response to the apparent excuse is interesting. Elijah pushes him toward the symptom of excuse-making. Elijah says, “Go back again [to your plow]; for what have I done to you?”[8]

To which Elisha slaughters his oxen, using their yoke, boils their flesh, and feeds it to the people. “Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.”[9]

Elisha exemplifies Jesus’ teaching about discipleship. To be Jesus’ disciple, we cannot look back. We cannot triangulate discipleship with family obligations or ties. Jesus’ teaching is stern; it requires genuine and complete commitment. Beyond Elisha, in fact, Jesus himself best exemplifies his teaching. He sets his face toward Jerusalem where, he has already predicted, he will be given into the hands of sinners and be killed. And, on the third day, rise again.

If we find discipleship a heavy yoke to bear, if we really are more like the would-be followers, still there is Good News: Jesus does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

[1] Saint Luke 9:57.

[2] Saint Luke 9:58.

[3] Saint Luke 9:59.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Saint Luke 9:61.

[6] Saint Luke 9:62.

[7] I Kings 19:20.

[8] I Kings 19:20.

[9] I Kings 19:21.