The following is a homily for the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time, year C. The readings for this Sunday can be found here.
What would you give up to have the opportunity to follow Jesus? He walks in the door right now and says, let’s go, what would you leave behind?
Would you leave you credit card and all your money?
Maybe a bad habit, a sin you often commit? Could you stop it right now if that’s what it took?
What if… and I’m just throwing this out there hypothetically, don’t shoot the messenger… what if Jesus was actually a fan of the Florida Gators? Could you wear blue and orange to follow Christ?
Jesus’ words today might seem kind of hard to us at first. People come to him wanting to be his disciples, and he tells them that they can’t go home to say goodbye; he tells them that they can’t even bury the dead. It would seem, at first, that Jesus is being quite heartless, a bit insensitive.
But of course, he is being neither. What he is expressing, rather poignantly, is what God has asked of his people since the very beginning: he wants our utmost love. Nothing, not even our family, not even ourselves, should come before God. In order to follow after Jesus, he must be the most important thing in the world to us. We must be prepared to give everything else up.
That’s exactly what was asked of Elisha, was it not? Sure, he said goodbye to his parents, but he still got up at a moment’s notice and left his home to go to another country. He slaughtered his oxen, burned his plow for fuel so that he could follow God untethered. It might not seem like much to us, but in those acts, he became a man with no family, no livestock, and no means of earning a living. In the ancient world, he was essentially nothing. He gave up everything to follow God.
And why does he do this? Why does Jesus make his disciples leave it all behind? Because God wants them to know that following after him means putting complete trust in him. There is no keeping a little something on the side in case things go wrong; no holding back in case we need to take care of ourselves.
Either we trust in God… or we don’t. Those who trust in God give up everything. Not just their wealth and comfort, but everything.
Jesus is rejected and the disciples want to burn the city down. No, Jesus tells them. You have to leave your anger, your need for revenge, your sense of entitlement. You have to leave it all behind. You cannot follow me and carry those things.
Someone comes up to him and say that they want to follow him. Okay, Jesus says, but just know that we are homeless. We have no comforts. You have to leave your comfy body pillow, your safety, your favorite foods. You have to leave it all behind. You cannot follow me and carry all of those things.
You have to leave behind anything that binds you, everything that gets in the way of true discipleship. Jesus is not being harsh in demanding these things. No, quite the opposite: as St. Paul writes in the letter to the Galatians, all that Jesus wants for us is that we be free, free of the things and people and situations that trap us, that keep us where we are, unable to follow him.
And so I wonder again: if Jesus were to walk through that door right now, what would you have to give up to follow him. What do you carry with you that gets in the way of true discipleship, weighing you down, wrapping so tightly around you that you are stuck where you are, trusting and believing in yourself and not him?
Maybe it’s money and creature comforts, sins and bad habits. Let them go.
But maybe it’s something else. Maybe for you it’s nothing in any of these readings. Maybe what’s holding you back, preventing you from being free, is a negative view of yourself, a distorted body image. Leave it behind, and begin to see yourself as God does.
Maybe you have an incessant need to be right, to be in control, preventing you from working well with others. Leave it behind, and let Christ be in charge.
Maybe you constantly struck by fear, overwhelmed by anxiety, always afraid that you are doing something wrong. Leave it behind, and trust that God truly loves and protects you.
Maybe you hold a grudge against another, filled with anger and refuse to let it go. Leave it behind, and learn to forgive others as Christ forgives you.
Or maybe… maybe what holds you back are the wounds you bear, the pain you shoulder each day and the memory of those who have hurt you. Leave it behind, and let Christ heal you.
I tell you, as long as you cling to these things, as long as you let them rule your lives, you will never be free, and you will never be able to follow Christ as he asks.
And what a shame that would be. As pope Francis reminds us, “The Lord asks everything of us, [but] in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence.” Don’t settle what what you have on your own. Give it up, leave it behind, and follow Christ wherever he may lead.