Perhaps you have heard the fable about the pig and chicken walking along a highway when they see a billboard depicting a large plate of bacon and eggs with two pieces of toast – the perfect and healthy breakfast. When the chicken says to the pig, “Isn’t it wonderful that we can help so much in providing healthy meals for humans,” the pig quickly responds, “Well, that seems easy for you to say. After all, yours is a contribution….mine is total commitment!”
All of the readings today speak to us about call, which not only involves a willingness to make a contribution to God’s mission, but also requires an everyday response of genuine commitment that is deepened over a lifetime.
In our first reading, Elijah calls to Elisha to be not only his disciple in the work of prophet, but also eventually, his successor, one of Israel’s greatest prophets. Elijah throws his mantle over Elisha to symbolize God’s choice of him as the new prophet, and Elisha is gifted with Elijah’s authority and powers of miracles.
Despite the obvious urgency of this call, Elisha pauses, offering an excuse to not respond so hastily, wishing to kiss his family, friends, and previous life good-bye, and possibly, cancel his credit cards and pack a change of clothing.
Then with laser-like focus, Elisha comes to an awareness that the voice of God rumbles like thunder within his very spirit, and his life will be upside down and inside out. He hastily responds by leaving his former ways, willingly trusting in his new life as voice and heart of God’s mission, boldly proclaiming God’s faithfulness. This sacred call is an invitation that will require Elisha to claim his courage and wisdom, contributing everything as disciple and committing wholeheartedly to God‘s reign while being wrapped in the “mantle of mission.”
Our Gospel today is from Luke, beginning with this section called the Journey to Jerusalem. For Luke, Jerusalem is the focal point of Jesus’ life. It is there that the disciples will form a new community to continue the work of Jesus; and, it is from there that it will spread to every corner of the world.
Jesus, faithful to God’s mission, moves forward with his small company of disciples on the long, dusty road from Galilee to Jerusalem. It will not be just another journey. “He is on the march and will not be turned back,” setting his face toward the holy city.
While passing through Samaria, where centuries old conflicts continually incite mutual retribution, Jesus rebukes his disciples for their need to seek revenge upon the Samaritans. He desires no part of violence or hostility, warning them not to respond with aggression or to seek vengeance against those who reject or oppose them. This is yet another mini-lesson in Discipleship101, preparing them for their future mission.
In the next part of the story, Jesus encounters three potential disciples who ask to join him, and he puts forth rigorous consequences for those seeking to serve in mission. His first response stresses mobility, a radical discipleship, no shelter or home; the second, to be urgently immediate, moving forward to care for those beyond one’s family; the third is to resolutely look forward, relentlessly proclaiming the reign of God.
For us, this may sound like a “not so nice Jesus,” fierce, perhaps startling us with his intensity and harshness. But Jesus uses this occasion to speak about the true nature of discipleship and the implications of following him. An eager contribution is not enough; he demands a radical commitment, a “radical love and a life of service sharing in the mission of God with the possibility of suffering for the faith…not an easy lesson to learn for the disciples of times past or for ourselves as 21st Century disciples!”
Therefore, in the words of Daniel Berrigan, priest, poet, and peace activist who died this past April, we must envision and speak of this call to discipleship in this way . . . and I quote: “If you are going to follow Jesus, you better look good on wood.”
So what is the Good News for us as we ponder God’s Word today?
God’s calls are purpose, passion, and choice all rolled into one, somewhat clarifying, yet terrifying, taking us beyond the confines of what we thought we knew to regions of high risk and the unknown.
Much like Elisha and the three enthusiastic visitors who requested to follow Jesus, we are quick to establish timelines, agendas, plans, and excuses. We truly desire to contribute to God’s mission, but the call demands a growing into a deepening commitment, which may provide us an opportunity to look good on wood. Oh my!
Every Christian is called during his or her lifetime, each in a different and particular way . . . again and again. It is a lifelong conversation with God, as we continue to encounter subtle or glaringly obvious hints to recognize the guidance to become what we are meant to be, or to do what we are meant to do. It is only gradually that we glimpse what God imagines our life might become, ever challenging our insights, abilities, hopes, and gifts.
We are all called to become the best version of ourselves, empowered, sent forth, enwrapped into the “mantle of mission,” proclaiming God’s compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and redeeming love; for, “we must go wherever there is need, encounter whoever is in need, and do whatever it takes to bring the good news of redemption” and hope, so as to reawaken and restore meaning and purpose in people’s lives.
So - In an age of renewed awareness of the suffering of innocent people through human trafficking, exploitation of third world countries, or the tragic systematic death of peoples by means of torture, famine, and genocide, we can be sure that disciples, wrapped in mission, will tirelessly fight to alleviate the suffering of humankind.
In an age of clash between human dignity for all and the restrictive power of a few, we can be sure that disciples, wrapped in mission, will name injustice and call it social sin.
In an age when Christians are often confronted to choose between life and death for the sake of the Gospel, we can be sure that disciples, wrapped in mission, will be there with a holy resiliency, boldly standing in the mess and muck of it all - choosing life - and willing to stare death in the face for the sake of God’s reign.
When discrimination, elitism, or oppression operates in society, governments, or churches, we can be sure that disciples, wrapped in mission, will be there “to proclaim the reign of God, to be voice and heart, call and sign of the God whose design for this world is justice, mercy, peace, and love for all.”
Finally, I suppose we need to ask, What happened to the chicken and the pig? Well, I believe they have become our teachers, showing us that we are all called to be…
• disciples of “Good News-ing”;
• team players, promoting social justice causes
• catalysts for change, as we ponder the bewildered state of affairs in our world;
• bold and strong of heart, meeting the challenges wearying our planet; and
• wrapped in the mantle of mission.
Thus, we learn from them that our purpose, once neither opaque nor transparent, now becomes a dazzling light in which we unmistakably sense God’s thunder within us as we continue to live out God’s mission, and respond wholeheartedly to the call of the God who loves us unconditionally, compassionately, always and forever!