Slavery or Freedom?

1 Kgs 19:16b,19-21 • Gal 5:1,13-18 • Lk 9:51-62

In his commentary on today’s Gospel, Rev. C. Edward Bowden of Philadelphia wrote about the use of time. He mentioned a survey that found that 40 percent of us would willingly spend two hours shopping for underwear if we knew we could save 50 percent. Underwear at a savings of less than $10 versus two hours of our time? Nowhere near the same 40 percent would spend two hours studying Scripture! Nowhere near the same 40 percent would be willing to spend two hours at a Sunday Mass! For half off on underwear, however, 40 percent of us will offer up two hours of our lives. Strange. 

Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian in the Confessional Church in Nazi Germany. His daring to speak out against the policies of the Nazi party earned him a spot in a concentration camp. While in the camp, having inspired the guards, Bonhoeffer received permission to minister to fellow prisoners. He wrote a book called, The Cost of Discipleship . In it he wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer was correct. The concentration camp was literally days away from liberation when Bonhoeffer was executed. 

Paul tells us today that it was “for freedom that Christ set us free.” But he adds a warning, “Stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Freedom is important because it was given to us for a purpose. We were freed from sin so that we could have the freedom to choose God. Our decision to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, must be just that: a decision. It is a choice that has to be motivated by love for Christ. Without freedom, there can be no love. Unfortunately we too often use our freedom to choose to become slaves again. As in the example of the time survey, many have become slaves of materialism.  

The first book of Kings tells of the selection of Elisha to succeed Elijah. Elijah’s cloak served as a symbol of his prophetic office. Placing it on Elisha symbolized Elijah transferring his power and authority to Elisha. It is similar to the laying on of hands at ordination. 

With this act there was a transition in style and in the prophetic word from one man to the other, and this can be seen in their names. “Elijah” means “My God is the Lord.” “Elisha” means “My God saves.” Elijah had to remind Israel of who God is. Because the king had introduced idols and false gods, Elijah’s ministry was to point God’s people back to the God who had chosen them. The ultimate moment of his career was in a contest with the court prophets. When Queen Jezebel’s court prophets could not light a sacrificial fire, Elijah called down fire from heaven to ignite it. (The queen had her court prophets executed!) 

Elijah proved that Israel’s God was the true God. Succeeding Elijah, Elisha brought a complementary message that God will save people who have been abandoned by their kings. Both prophets emphasize an important component in our relationship with God. We must choose Him. Without this conscious choice, we distance ourselves from God. Jesus — even more than Elijah — emphasized this choice as well. 

Elijah’s response to Elisha’s request to kiss his mother and father goodbye sounds harsh, yet he didn’t forbid the request. Prophets often said things through symbolic action, and Elisha is no exception. When the writer of Kings tells us that Elisha was plowing with 12 oxen, we learn that Elisha belonged to a very wealthy family. No one actually plowed with 12 oxen, but the symbol of the number 12 is important. It means that something is complete; thus, Elisha had it all. The act of burning the farm implements and cooking the oxen tells us that Elisha’s choice to follow Elijah and become a prophet for God was so complete that he was ending his former life completely. 

In Luke’s Gospel, we see hints of the story of Elijah and Elisha. Elijah called down fire from heaven to prove God more powerful than the gods of Jezebel. When the disciples wanted to call down fire to prove who God is, Jesus told them no. Coercion is not how people will come to Jesus’ message of love. Luke reminds us of Elisha’s desire to kiss his parents goodbye, yet when asked a similar question, Jesus again said no. There can be no hesitation, no looking back. A decision must be made. 

Jesus won our freedom so that we would be free to choose to follow Him or not. Our readings today show that this is not an easy choice. For too many people, choosing slavery seems to be easier than choosing the freedom offered by Christ. TP