13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)

Sunday's readings:
1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21
Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-11
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
Luke 9:51-62
Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The Call of Discipleship
In the First Reading, God tells the prophet Elijah to call young Elisha to discipleship and to prepare Elisha to succeed him as God's holy prophet to Israel. Answering Elijah's call, Elisha slaughters the twelve oxen with which he was ploughing when the prophet called him and burns the plowing equipment to provide a last meal with his family. It is an act that is symbolic of Elisha turning completely away from his old life never to return.

The Psalm Reading reminds us that the Lord takes care of those who belong to Him. Those who answer God's call to serve Him and His Church need not be concerned with material wealth because God is their inheritance and the things of the world no longer have any hold upon them. It is what St. Paul teaches in the Second Reading. We have been set free from the world by Jesus Christ. As His disciples, we live in the world, but we do not belong to the world. St. Paul defines Christian freedom as a freedom designed for love in serving Christ and His Church by extending God's love to those who most need His love.

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus begins His last journey to Jerusalem. It is time for Jesus to prepare His disciples for the greatest crisis of their lives when their loyalty and faith will be tested as Jesus faces His Passion and death by crucifixion. Answering the call to discipleship is not easy. It requires sacrifice and constancy in duty and obedience. While it is true that not all Christians are called to given up everything in life to follow the Lord, all Christians must be willing to make the sacrifice. Nothing can be more important than one's relationship with Christ—not even one's physical life. No earthly inheritance can compare with the promise of our heavenly inheritance through Christ Jesus. We must make the words of the Responsorial Psalm your own and praise God for our call to Christian discipleship: You are my inheritance, O Lord!

The First Reading 1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21 ~ The Calling of Elisha
16b The LORD said to Elijah: "You shall anoint Elisha, son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah, as prophet to succeed you."
19 Elijah set out and came upon Elisha, son of Shaphat, as he was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen; he was following the twelfth. Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak over him. 20 Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, "Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and I will follow you." Elijah answered, "Go back! Have I done anything to you?" 21 Elisha left him and, taking the yoke of oxen, slaughtered them; he used the plowing equipment for fuel to boil their flesh, and gave it to his people to eat. Then Elisha left and followed Elijah as his attendant.

Elijah from Tishbe in Gilead (1 Kng 17:1) was a 9th century BC prophet of God who was active in the northern kingdom of Israel. It was his mission to fight against pagan Baal worship and to call the people to repentance. Elijah's action in throwing his cloak over Elisha possesses a symbolism similar to that of imposing hands on another which indicates a transmission of power. Here it stands for transmitting the charism of prophecy. That no words are exchanged between Elisha and Elijah other than the request to make his farewell to his family shows that Elisha understood the significance of being covered with the prophet's cloak. At the end of Elijah's ministry, his cloak will be transferred to Elisha signifying the inauguration of Elisha as his Elijah's successor (2 Kng 2:11-15).

The detail of Elisha plowing with twelve teams (yolks) of oxen (24 oxen in all) is generally seen as a sign of the wealth of Elisha's father's estate and the material wealth Elisha is forfeiting to answer Elijah's call to discipleship. Elisha's request to kiss his father and mother show his commitment to the commandment to honor one's parents (Ex 20:12; Dt 5:16) and contributes to Elisha's characterization as caring and compassionate (i.e., see his fatherly role to the "sons of the Prophets in 2 Kng 2-8). When Elisha makes the request Elijah tests him by giving him a way out, Elijah answered, "Go back! Have I done anything to you?" But this does not deter Elisha.

2 Kings 19:21 Elisha left him and, taking the yoke of oxen, slaughtered them; he used the plowing equipment for fuel to boil their flesh, and gave it to his people to eat. Then Elisha left and followed Elijah as his attendant.

The slaughtering of the twelve oxen and the burning of the plowing equipment to provide a last meal with his family is symbolic of Elisha turning completely away from his old life never to return.

When Elisha's apprenticeship was completed and he saw Elijah assumed into heaven, he received a "double portion" of Elijah's prophetic spirit, becoming an even greater prophet as Elijah's heir and successor (1 Kng 2:1-18). Elisha succeeding Elijah as a greater prophet foreshadows Jesus succeeding St. John the Baptist who came in the spirit and power of Elijah (Lk 1:17; Mt 3:11-12; Jn 1:29-30). Elijah's name means "God is Yahweh" and Elisha's name means "God is salvation." Jesus' Hebrew name, Yahshua (Jehosua in the first century AD) can be seen as a combination of their names: "Yahweh is salvation."

Responsorial Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-11 ~ The Lord Takes Care of Those Who Belong to Him
The response is: "You are my inheritance, O Lord."
1 Keep me, O God, for in you I take refuge; 2 I say to the LORD [YHWH], "My LORD [YHWH]are you..."
5 O LORD [YHWH], my allotted portion and my cup, you it is who hold fast my lot...
7 I bless the LORD [YHWH] who counsels me; even in the night my heart exhorts me. 8 I set the LORD ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed. 9 Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices, my body, too, abides in confidence 10 because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld [Sheol], nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption. 11 You will show me the path to life, fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.
[..] = literal Hebrew text, IBHE. Sheol in the Hebrew is rendered Hades in the Greek translation and refers to the "grave" or the "netherworld" which is neither the Heaven of the redeemed nor the Hell of the damned but a place of purification to which both the righteous and the wicked were consigned prior to the redeeming work of Christ. See Jesus' description of Sheol/Hades in Luke 16:19-31 and the Church's definition in CCC 633.

The superscription (introductory title) to this psalm identifies it as a miktam of David. This Hebrew term occurs six times in the psalm superscriptions, always with "David," however its meaning is unknown. In this psalm David expresses his trust in the Lord and the hope of a future eternal salvation in the divine Presence.

In his homily in Acts 2:25-28, after the miracle of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, St. Peter quotes verses 7-11 from this psalm from the Greek Septuagint translation (LXX): "For David says of him: 'I saw the Lord ever before me, with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed. 26 Therefore my heart has been glad and my tongue has exulted; my flesh, too, will dwell in hope, 27 because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.'"

Peter then makes the argument that this passage is a proof-text that David prophetically wrote about Jesus' death and resurrection: (Acts 2:29-36) "My brothers, one can confidently say to you about the patriarch David that he died and was buried, and his tomb is in our midst to this day. 30 But since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that neither was he abandoned to the netherworld nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. 33 Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you both see and hear. 34 For David did not go up into heaven, but he himself said: 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool." 36 Therefore, let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified."

In Acts 2:29-36 Peter quotes, without any additions or alterations, from Psalms 15:8-11 LXX (16:8-11 in the Hebrew text and in our reading). It is a psalm attributed to David in its title and is therefore understood to be a reflection of David's personal experience and understanding. According to Jewish tradition, King David was born and later died on the Feast of Pentecost c. 970 BC.

Viewing this quotation from the perspective of Jesus' Resurrection, the words and phrases appear to anticipate those God ordained events of Jesus' death, descent into the grave/Sheol/Hades (1 Pt 3:18-19; 4:6-referred to as "prison" in Pt 8:18), His liberation from the Sheol without the curse of corruption that is the fate of ordinary human beings, and His ascent to the "right hand" of the Father in Heaven (Mt 26:64; Heb 1:3). Jesus' death was real and because Jesus was fully human, His soul descended into Sheol like all humans who die. However, His flesh was not abandoned to Sheol/Hades nor did His Body suffer corruption. Prophetically the psalmist writes that even in His darkest moments on the Cross, Jesus did not despair because He knew God was with Him, and He knew the promise of His Resurrection (verses 9-11 in the psalm) and that He would ascend to the Father (see CCC 627).

Peter says (Acts 2:29) "My brothers, one can confidently say to you about the patriarch David that he died and was buried, and his tomb is in our midst to this day."
According to a long standing Christian tradition, dating back to the 4th century AD when St. Helena went to the Holy Land to identify the sites associated with Christ and the early Church, the Upper Room of the Last Supper and the site of the miracle at Pentecost is built above the tomb of King David. Most modern scholars dismiss this tradition, but in St. Peter's homily in Acts 2:29 you can almost see him standing outside the house with the Upper Room and gesturing to the tomb of David on the first floor. According the Scripture, David was buried in the holy city of Jerusalem (1 Kng 2:10). According to the Jewish historian/priest Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD), there could be no graves in the holy city of Jerusalem except those of David and his family and the prophetess Huldah (Antiquities of the Jews, 7.15.3; 13.8.4; Jewish Wars, 1.2.5).

Peter continues in Acts 2:30, referring to David: "But since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne..."
God made an eternal covenant with David. The essence of that unconditional, royal grant covenant was the unconditional promise that David's throne would endure forever and his descendant would rule an eternal kingdom (see 1 Sam 7:12, 16; 23:5; Ps 89:21, 29-30; 110:1-5; 132:11-18; Sir 45:25). That Jesus is the Messianic heir of David is announced at His Incarnation by the angel Gabriel (see Lk 1:32; the Messianic title "son of David" was often given to Jesus by others in the Gospels: Mt 1:1; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30; 21:9, 15; Mk 12:35; Jn 7:42).

In Acts 2:31 Peter says, referring to verse 10 of the psalm: "... he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that neither was he abandoned to the netherworld nor did his flesh see corruption."
Since God's anointed would not see "corruption" (Acts 2:27 and Ps 15:10 LXX; Ps 16:10 Hebrew translation) as is the case for all members of humanity, it can be assumed that David had foreknowledge of the Messianic heir's resurrection from the dead. Peter's point is that this prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth and proves He is the Davidic Messiah, as he states in Acts 2:32: God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Under the Law, two or more witnesses are needed to establish a fact in a court of law (Dt 19:15), and here all the members of the Christian community are testifying to the truth of Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension into heaven.

In fact, Peter tells them, they have proof of Jesus' true identity as the Son of God who sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven (position of honor and power) in what the Jews have witnessed in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that very day: (Acts 2:33) Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you both see and hear.

In Acts 2:34 Peter makes the point that David could not have been talking about himself in this psalm because he did not go up to heaven but was buried and confined to the grave and bodily corruption. But Jesus did ascend to heaven (as the disciples witnessed in Lk 24:49 and Acts 1:9). And to make the point Peter quotes from Davidic Psalm 110:1 (109:1 LXX), the psalm most often quoted by Jesus and the interpretation of which He taught the Sadducees and Scribes in Luke 20:41-44. Jesus taught that in this psalm David is referring to the Messiah and not to his earthly son because, Jesus says, "David here calls him Lord; how then can he be his son?" (Lk 20:44). David could not have been speaking about himself in the psalm because his body did experience corruption and he did not ascend to heaven: (Acts 2:34) "For David did not go up into heaven, but he himself said: 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool."

In conclusion Peter tells the crowd in Acts 2:36: "Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified." This is the conclusion of Peter's argument using the two Psalms of David. It is by the proof of His Resurrection that Jesus can be declared the "Lord" of whom Psalms 109:1 LXX (110:1 NAB) speaks and the Messiah referred to in Psalms 15:7-11 LXX (16:7-11 in our reading) who was not abandoned to Sheol and did not face corruption but was resurrected and ascended to the "right hand" of God the Father!

The Second Reading Galatians 5:1, 13-18 ~ A Disciple's Freedom in Christ
1 For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. 13 For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 15 But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. 16 I say, then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want. 18 But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

We live in the world, but we do not belong to the world. St. Paul defines Christian freedom as a freedom designed for love. The people of God no longer need the ritual purity laws or the animal sacrifice of the old Law of the Sinai Covenant that was a tutor and a guide to prepare God's people for the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah and His Gospel of salvation. Unfortunately, because of our limited human condition, we still need guidance and moral laws to control human behavior. However, the observance of those laws should always be guided and motivated by the Holy Spirit in love of God and love of neighbor, in which Jesus gave us a summary of the moral law of the Ten Commandments as the two greatest commandments (Mt 22:37-40).

The Gospel Luke 9:51-62 ~ The Personal Sacrifice of True Discipleship
51 When the days for Jesus' being taken up [of his assumption] were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, 52 and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, 53 but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?" 55 Jesus turned and rebuked them 56 and they journeyed to another village. 57 As they proceeded on their journey someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." 58 Jesus answered him, "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head." 59 And to another he said, "Follow me." But he replied, "Lord, let me go first and bury my father." 60 But he answered him, "Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." 61 And another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home." 62 To him Jesus said, "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God." [..] = literal translations from the IBGE, vol. IV.

This is the turning point in Luke's Gospel as Jesus begins the journey to His Passion in Jerusalem. His teaching ministry in the Galilee has come to an end, and Jesus now prepares Himself and His disciples for what the Gospel of Luke literally calls the days "of his assumption" (Luke 9:51) in Jerusalem. Instead of traveling down the eastern side of the Jordan River to avoid passing through Samaria, Jesus and His disciples are traveling the more dangerous but shorter route through Samaria on the way to Jerusalem. Only the Gospels of Luke and John record Jesus' dealings with Samaritans (Lk 10:30-37; 17:11-19; Jn 4:4-42). Once again we see Luke's focus on the universality of Jesus' Gospel of the Kingdom.

The term "Samaritan" was originally a geographic distinction for one from the city of Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel founded by King Omri in the early 9th century BC. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BC, who exiled the ten northern Israelite tribes into Assyrian lands to the east and imported five different groups of Gentile peoples to resettle the conquered territory. These people brought with them their own gods but also adopted the worship of Yahweh, who they considered the regional god. After the 8th century BC, "Samaritan" became an ethnic and religious name for the people who came to inhabit the region between the Galilee and Judea to the west of the Jordan River. The Jews despised the people known as Samaritans-at the worst as Gentiles who falsely claimed to worship the God of Israel at their illicit Temple on Mt. Gerizim or at best as half-breed Jews who were apostates from the true faith.

By Jesus' time there may have been some intermarriage between Jews and Samaritans, but the two groups generally disliked each other. The Samaritans only accepted the Torah in their canon (the first 5 books of Moses) and did not worship according to the Law of Moses, as Jesus told the Samaritan woman: You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand because salvation is from the Jews (Jn 4:22).

The 1st century AD Jewish priest/historian Josephus wrote of the Samaritans:

Josephus also wrote of the Samaritan's hostility and ill treatment of the pilgrims who traveled from the northern regions to the Jerusalem Temple by passing through Samaritan territory (Antiquities of the Jews, 20.6.2; Jewish Wars, 2.12.3). It was for this reason that most of the people of God traveled to Jerusalem down the east side of the Jordan River, passing through the Decapolis and Perea and crossing over near Jericho (Mk 10:1). The Samaritan town in Luke 9:53 refused to receive Jesus since it was His intention to continue on to Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple that was a rival to their own.

Luke 9:54-55 When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?" 55 Jesus turned and rebuked them, 56 and they journeyed to another village.
James and John Zebedee are offended by the attitude of the Samaritans and offer to destroy the town for rebuffing Jesus. The brothers' desire to inflict a fiery punitive judgment on the Samaritans recalls Jesus' nick name for them: "the sons of thunder" (Mk 3:17). The Zebedee brothers' desire to punish the offenders with fire recalls the work of the prophet Elijah in dispensing a fiery judgment against those who offended God in 2 Kings 1:1-12. However, Jesus separates Himself from comparisons with divine judgment associated with the prophet Elijah and rebukes James and John. Jesus' rebuke of James and John reminds and them and us that as professed emissaries of Jesus Christ we must demonstrate our love and not our anger if we want to win souls for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ (see Lk 6:27-35). Divine judgment belongs to God and we are not qualified to judge the condition of another's soul.

Luke 9:57-62 As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." 58 Jesus answered him, "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head." 59 And to another he said, "Follow me." But he replied, "Lord, let me go first and bury my father." 60 But he answered him, "Let the dead bury their dead. But you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." 61 And another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home." 62 To him Jesus said, "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God."

In this next section Jesus gives three teachings to would-be disciples that are warnings to those who want to join Jesus' mission. The focus of the teachings is that one needs to count the cost of discipleship weighed against personal relationships and commitments. Three men express the desire to follow Jesus, but Jesus counters each man's spoken desire to follow Him with a warning on the cost of discipleship:

In summary there are three sacrifices Jesus calls each would-be disciple to make:

  1. The sacrifice of personal security and comfort.
  2. The sacrifice of family duties and obligations.
  3. The sacrifice of parental connection and to separate oneself from one's past life.

Luke 9:62 To him Jesus said, "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God."
Jesus' mention of "a hand to the plow" recalls Elisha's turning away from his old life as a farmer to follow God's call in the first reading (1 Kng 19:19-21). The radical transition of the New Covenant in Christ made earthly ties a part of the things that one must be willing to leave behind when one becomes a disciple of Jesus Christ. Then as now, the decision to follow Christ cannot only be an emotional enthusiasm but must be a resolute determination.

Catechism References:
1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21 (CCC 436)
Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-11 (CCC 627)
Galatians 5:1, 13-18 (1741, 1748, 2744, 2819)
Luke 9:51-62 (CCC 557, 544)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013