The first reading refers to Elisha’s call. In order to fulfill God’s call on his life, Elisha must follow Elijah. Elisha begins by offering up the remnants of his old life as a sacrifice. Reading this story in the light of the gospels, we see how the fishermen dropping their nets to follow Jesus echo the story of Elisha.
The gospel passage recalls elements of the Elijah story in two places. Like Elijah, James and John are zealous, wanting to call fire from heaven to destroy Jesus’ enemies (see 2 Kg 1:9-12). While Jesus corrects them, it is noteworthy that these men are two of the disciples who are closest to Jesus. Although they are wrong for wanting to do this, they are on the right track in the sense that their intensity is the proper response to the coming of the kingdom of God.
Jesus reveals the demands of the call of discipleship in his response to those who do not follow him immediately. The call to follow Jesus as a disciple requires an intensity, an energy, a willingness to drop what one is doing, as Elisha did, and to set off into the unknown.
Jesus’ rebuke is also important, because it shows the way we are called to respond to those whom we perceive as enemies. While Elijah called down fire from heaven on those hostile to the kingdom, Christians are called to bear witness, even if doing so leads us to death. Consider the Martyrs of Compiègne, Carmelite nuns who were fell victim to the guillotine during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. As Carmelites, they traced the roots of their ministry to Elijah and were committed to prayer and sacrifice. Following the footsteps of Jesus, they did not counter persecution by worldly means, but rather, they offered their lives for their people.
Freedom through Discipleship
In our current culture, we tend to think of freedom individualistically. We think, “I am free to the extent that I can do whatever I want.” But if true freedom can only be found in becoming who we are, then we see that Elisha achieves freedom through discipleship. He is freed to achieve great things for God, because he follows Elijah.
The epistle to the Galatians is likely St. Paul’s earliest letter, and in it, the Apostle begins to work out a complex theology of freedom with respect to the law of Moses. A central point he makes is that we are justified by Christ, not the law. His point is not to disparage the law but to emphasize the centrality of Christ. The law ultimately points to Christ and to life in the Spirit.
For Catholics, it's easy to fall into the trap of focusing on our obligations as mere obligations. We ask ourselves, “If I show up for Mass after the Scripture readings, does it count? What is the maximum I can eat on a fast day? Is it okay if I just go to Confession when I’ve done something really bad?” It is important to understand that our obligations are pathways to freedom. Rarely does a pianist, dancer, or athlete achieve excellence by doing the minimum. And yet, only the excellent pianist, dancer, or athlete is truly free (vis-à-vis their particular art). The goal of Christian life is communion with God by becoming conformed to Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. We don’t focus on obligations because we want to merely get by. Rather, we engage Catholic practices in order to become conformed to Christ, and thus to become free.
The purpose of freedom is that we might be servants of one another. Life in the Spirit is always oriented toward love and service for others. Catholics express this spirit of service in public life and in charitable services such as adoption and foster care.
When St. Paul enjoins us to serve one another, we can hear the Apostle reminding us of our solidarity with our persecuted brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. We are called to bear the burdens of all members of the body of Christ. Therefore, it is imperative that we reflect on the lives of our fellow Christians, like the Christians who suffer persecution in places like Nigeria or the Middle East, and that we pray for them, for the conversion of their persecutors, and that we seek out ways to be in solidarity with them.
Strength in the Hope of the Steadfast and Faithful Lord
Our good is with God. The image of God as a refuge recurs throughout the Psalms. There may be conflict in this life, but God is faithful, and with him we find life and peace, as the psalmist says.
God shows the psalmist the path to life. And the psalmist knows that he can trust God, for God will not allow those who follow this path to be separated from him.
The psalmist gives us the prayer of a person who is confident in the faithfulness of the Lord, and therefore steadfast in following him. In the Lord, we find true security, joy, and freedom. The Lord gives us the hope that is our source of strength.