Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C
[1Kings 19:16b, 19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9: 51-62]
Early this past week I was invited out to a restaurant for a dinner meeting. The place was packed with diners. At one point I commented to the server that I was pleased to see how busy it was, especially after so much pandemic emptiness. She replied that it was very good, certainly, but also shared that the staff are having a hard time keeping up; there are not enough of them.
Shortage of staff is also having negative impacts in other sectors. We need think only of the travel chaos caused by cancelled flights, or of the long lines of people at passport offices waiting – sometimes for days – to have their applications processed. One reason commonly cited as the cause of all these difficulties is insufficient personnel.
I’ve spoken to a number of people about this labour shortage, as I imagine you have also. There are many reasons for it, but one common factor is what I would call a “taking stock”. Time and again I hear of people who, largely because of what they went through during the pandemic, have been taking stock of their lives. They are slow to return to work, or perhaps will not return at all, because they have been re-assessing their priorities and asking themselves what they really want to be doing with their lives.
The scriptural texts today call us, as disciples of Jesus Christ, to do just that, to take stock. They invite us to a serious examination of our lives – the way we live, the priorities that govern us, the activities that occupy us – and assess them in the light of the Gospel.
Let’s look first at the text from Saint Luke. What jumps out at us from the start is this description of Jesus: “Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Behind this phrase is a divine “taking stock” of the tragic situation of humanity. God had taken stock of the need of his people to be rescued from slavery to sin and death. In response He sent His only Son to be that Saviour, to be that rescuer. Jesus, having taken stock of humanity’s need and of this mission he received from the Father, is resolutely determined to fulfill it. “Setting his face” is an expression that means having made a firm resolution. His resolve is to go to Jerusalem, the place of the Cross, where his destiny, his mission, would be fulfilled.
Now, in situations where institutions are facing the need of people for things like a meal in a restaurant, a seat on a plane, or a passport, they respond by trying to hire more and more staff. But notice that, faced with the need of all humanity of all time for salvation from sin, God sent just one person, His only begotten Son. Jesus is everything the world needs. He alone is humanity’s hope. Yet what he has done for the world by his death and resurrection needs to be made known. The announcement of the Gospel and the invitation to have complete faith in Christ has to take place. For this reason, Jesus summons people to follow him and be his witnesses in the world. When we Christians take stock of our lives by re-assessing our priorities and choices, we do so in the light of this call that Jesus issues to us. Am I living fully and completely in accord with my call to be a disciple?
I hear that, as people consider their possible return to employment, they will sometimes seek to set the terms. This could be things like looking for a shorter work week, or an insistence that they continue to work from home. As Jesus responds to three people who express their desire to follow him, we hear clearly that the only one who sets the terms for discipleship is Jesus. The world situation is so urgent that nothing can be allowed to take priority over, or distract from the mission. As we Christians take stock of our lives, the Gospel summons us to examine carefully if self-interest is in any way diluting our baptismal commitment, or the degree to which personal choices are distracting us from fidelity to our calling.
This takes us directly to the teaching of Saint Paul on freedom. He says this: “For freedom Christ has set us free.” What he means here is that, by his death and resurrection Christ has liberated us from slavery to the sin of self-indulgence in order that we might freely give ourselves to Christ and to the mission he entrusts to us. Jesus does not force us to follow him; he invites us to do so in freedom. He asks us to “take stock”, to be fully aware of all that discipleship means and the commitment to which we are called, and then commit to be his disciples, freely allowing him at all times to decide the path we are to take and set the terms.
One final point. The analogy with current labour dynamics does not mean that we consider ourselves to be employed by the Lord. We are not Jesus’s employees; we are his disciples, who recognize in him our sole hope for salvation, and who are united with him in a bond of faith and love. The context in which we take stock of our lives and re-commit to him is not one of transactional negotiation, but of fidelity issuing from a relationship born of complete love; his love for us, first of all, and ours for him.
This communion of love and mission we have in Christ is deepened and strengthened every time we celebrate the Eucharist. May the grace of the Eucharist we receive today help us carefully and lovingly take stock of our lives, so that, with the help of that same grace, we may knowingly, freely, and joyfully re-commit ourselves without condition to the following of Jesus Christ.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
June 26th, 2022