Sunday Sermon for June 26, 2016, the Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: 1Kgs 19:6b, 19-21; Gal 5:1, 13-18; Lk 9:51-62
In the second reading today St. Paul reminds us that we are called to freedom. We have to make a few distinctions here because of the general misunderstanding of freedom. First of all, we were made to be free because we were made in the image and likeness of God. We are persons and a person is defined as a living being with a mind and a free will. So, by our very nature we have freedom and it is a freedom that cannot be taken away.
However, if we have always been free, then why would St. Paul say that it is for freedom that Christ set us free? The freedom about which St. Paul is speaking in this context is the freedom from sin. Along with that, there is the freedom from the yoke of Satan so that we can live as children of God.
Americans have a particular problem with the concept of freedom because it is part of the Constitution and has always been upheld as a central aspect of life in America. The problem comes, however, that many Americans do not have a proper understanding of what freedom is. All too often freedom is understood as being synonymous with license: “I can do whatever I want and no one can tell me any different.”
While it is certainly true that this would be a valid exercise of our free will, it is an abuse of freedom wherein we use our freedom to enslave ourselves. It is an oxymoron. This is why St. Paul tells us not to use our freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. Most often when we hear this we assume that he is speaking of chastity, but the context suggests that there was bickering and selfishness going on.
This is what we see in the Gospel as well. Jesus had to rebuke His Apostles because they wanted to call down fire upon the Samaritans who refused to offer them hospitality. So we see that “the flesh” regards not only chastity, but anger, vengeance, pride, etc. In a word, any area of selfishness is covered under this broad heading.
This would explain why St. Paul tells us that we are to use our freedom for love. Love is the opposite of selfishness and always seeks the good of the other. When we love, we are using our freedom in its fullness. This is what we were created to do and it is the only way we are going to find fulfillment.
It is in this light that we have to understand our Lord’s words in the Gospel when He says that anyone who puts his hands to the plow and looks to what is left behind is not fit for the Kingdom of God. If we have accepted our Lord’s gift of the restoration of our freedom, then we have chosen to follow Him. To follow Him implies that we will love and sacrifice ourselves as He did.
Also, since it is a freedom from sin and selfishness, not only can we not return to our sins, but we cannot be thinking back and fantasizing about or longing for those sinful activities again. If we have been set free, why would we want to return to the slavery? Perhaps one could respond that there is a comfort in it because it is what we have known. There may be some truth in that, but why would we want to forfeit our freedom, our dignity, our purpose for being, in order to return like a dog to its vomit?
That is pretty gross, but it is exactly what Scripture says that fools do. We recall that St. Paul says that we are to be wise. We have to reject foolishness. The foolishness of the world tells us that sin, pleasure, and selfishness are freedom. Think back on any of these things and you will find emptiness. They cannot and they do not fulfill. Only love can fulfill because it is the purpose of our creation.
So, we need to learn from Elisha when he was called by Elijah: he slaughtered his oxen and burned his plowing implements. This is not because there was anything sinful about these things, but they represented the way of life prior to his calling. He made a clean break from his former way of life so that he could fully embrace what God wanted him to do.
Elisha never looked back; he threw off the natural plow so that he could put his hand to God’s plow. Elisha’s life was not an easy one, nor will ours be if we truly follow Jesus. But it is not about ease, it is about freedom, real freedom from sin, Satan, and selfishness: it is about loving God and neighbor.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.