Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21
Psalms 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
There is a saying in the Jewish Hasidic tradition that goes, “Carefully observe the way your heart draws you and choose that way with all your strength.”
In today’s reading, we see Jesus resolutely determined to go to Jerusalem, to take the journey that would lead him to the cross. The English words resolutely determined are used to translate the Greek text which more literally reads, he “set his face” to go to Jerusalem. The expression “set his face,” communicates the sense of fixed determination against a strong opposition.
As Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem, three different disciples approach him saying that they will follow him on his journey. To the first, Jesus points out that he is completely dependent on the hospitality of others. Jesus lets the second disciple know that loyalty to him takes precedence over obligation to family. To the third Jesus says that more will be required of his disciples than was required of the prophets, Elijah and Elisha.
This gospel passage is challenging and raises many questions. Are we really to live in the world completely dependent on the hospitality of others? Don’t we find our way to God through and with our families, and if that is true, how, when, and why might we be called to abandon our obligations to family for the sake of Jesus? These questions trouble me when I read this passage, but I think we can get some insight for reading this gospel from the reading in Galatians.
The reading in Galatians is about freedom and love. Paul states that through Jesus, God has freed us for the sake of freedom so that we can love our neighbors as ourselves. Freedom and love, loving from freedom sounds wonderful but we all know that life pushes us in ways that make both freedom and love difficult. When we really love others, it is very difficult to remain free enough to love them without trying to control, manipulate, or possess them, to love them fully from the freedom of distance, to love them with and from the love we receive from God.
Every day we are asked to make choices about to whom and to what we will give our energy and these choices are not always clear, and not always easy. We are asked to sort through an array of responsibilities. We have obligations to work, to family, to friends, to neighbors, to our health, and to our communities. We are surrounded by the needs and demands of others and sometimes the noise of all the demands makes it difficult for us to hear the quiet, yet, deepest yearning of our hearts, to hear the love of God calling us.
Many times throughout the gospels, Jesus is also surrounded by the needs and demands of others. Earlier in the gospel of Luke, we are told about a time when Jesus had gone off to a deserted place to pray, the crowds found him, and even tried to prevent him from leaving them. Because of their need, the people in the crowd want to possess him. Jesus has compassion for these crowds but rising from his place of prayer he says, “To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent” (Lk 5:43).
Because Jesus makes time for withdrawing from others to pray in deserted places, he is able to sort through the demands before him and know the only essential demand, the demand to follow the path of love God has called him to follow. Jesus is continuing to follow the path of love God has called him to follow as he sets his face to journey to Jerusalem, to sacrifice his life out of love for us, on the cross.
God calls each of us on a journey of love. If we follow the lead of Jesus and spend some time each day withdrawing to pray, we will know the particular path of love God asks each one of us to walk. We will still be surrounded by demands, at times those demands might feel overwhelming, but prayer will help us to know which demands to heed and which to let go of in order to live out the call of God in our hearts. In prayer, we carefully observe the way our heart draws us, and with Jesus choose that way with all our strength.
By: Dr. Patricia Sharbaugh, Associate Professor, Theology, Saint Vincent College, Latrobe