General, Joy of the Gospel

Comment on the Readings for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary time Year C

Fr. Dumisani Vilakati, Diocese of Manzini, Eswatini

Sunday, 26 June 2022

The readings emphasise the importance of a radical embrace of a vocation. Each one of us has a vocation from God which s/he must nurture carefully so that God’s plan may come to fruition.

The first reading recalls the calling of the prophet Elisha. His willingness to follow Elijah is a courageous act given the ruling elite at the time in Israel which composed of shady characters like Jezebel and Ahab. Elijah had just escaped from the evil queen and yet Elisha is determined to follow in his footsteps as God’s prophet. His total embrace of this new vocation is seen in the slaughtering of the oxen and burning the yoke of the oxen as he cooked the meat for the people. Henceforth, his total trust will be on Divine providence.

With the psalm, we see the situation of the one who has responded to the Lord’s call. Such a one trusts in the Lord and is full of joy. When joy is full, it flows over with the result that it is shared. Thus, we can see the matter of the gospel here, which is a joyful announcement.  Those called by God continually announce God’s glad tidings.

The letter to the Galatians continues with the same thread as it speaks about those who have been called into a life with Christ. St. Paul speaks of the two ways of life; one of freedom and the other of slavery. Those who have embraced Christ have freedom and those who have not yet embraced him are in slavery. Those in the freedom of Christ are of the spirit and those of the yoke of slavery are of the flesh. We are in a polemic with Judaizers who emphasise circumcision, a matter to do with the flesh as one cuts his foreskin. Paul had been saddened by some of the Galatians who had abandoned the gospel and, having been deceived, had returned to the practice of circumcision. Moreover, their understanding of the freedom in Christ was perverse as they did not live in harmony with others; “biting and devouring one another”. On the contrary, their true vocation should be in the Spirit. Life in the Spirit finds expression in serving one another in love and loving one’s neighbour as oneself.

The gospel maintains the same thread as it narrates vocation stories. Its beginning marks an important moment where Jesus sets his face on the journey for Jerusalem. This is the city in which, as was indicated in his conversation with Moses and Elijah in the transfiguration, he was to accomplish his Exodus. Jesus responds to his vocation in a radical manner. Even as he faces obstacles of passing through Samaria he resolutely makes for Jerusalem. This is seen in him using the route which passes through the Jordan Valley (this would be the normal route for Jews from Galilee heading for Jerusalem so as to avoid going through Samaria) right down to Jericho and then going up to Jerusalem.

Those who wish to follow him are called to leave everything behind and focus on the task at hand. This is a very serious mission. “Let the dead bury their dead. But you go and proclaim the kingdom of God”. Burying ones parents would have been a noble duty for any Jew in those days as today. In fact, burial rites were elaborate as people would be placed on a tomb and a year later or so their bones would be removed and placed with the bones of their ancestors. This meant remaining at home for a good while.

The vocation to follow Jesus seems to lack respect, especially for Africans who esteem, and rightly so in fact, burying their parents and loved ones. Yet, I am reminded of earlier missionaries who came to our shores having left everything and immersing themselves into missionary service. Most of them, having come to Southern Africa by boat. They never buried their parents and relatives. Some of them never ever returned home as they died and were buried here in this continent. They were sustained by the grace of God and today we proudly stand as the fruits of their labour. They did the planting and we owe them a great deal of gratitude for clinging to their vocation.

This Sunday’s gospel invites us to recall the words Jesus spoke to Peter at the beginning of his Galilean missionary activity; “Push into the deep and let down your nets for a catch”. At that moment Peter was invited to do what seemed to be, as far as he was concerned, an impossible task as the prospects of success in getting fish were not extent during the day. Todays’ gospel also marks the end of Jesus’ Galilean missionary activity and the beginning of the Journey to Jerusalem missionary activity. Again, we are called to a radical following of Christ as seemingly the demands of discipleship seem to be quite onerous. Only the one who throws into the deep, lays his hands on the plough and looks forward is fit for the kingdom of God.