When authors of the Christian Scriptures narrate someone's call to follow Jesus, they're always describing an invitation to follow a specific person's way of life. They know nothing about someone being called to obey a set of rules or regulations.

These authors loved the scene in Sunday's first reading (I Kings 19: 16, 19-21). It made them reflect on the implications of their own call. Yahweh commands Elijah to anoint Elisha as his prophetic successor. Surprised by Elijah's symbolic act of throwing his cloak over him, Elisha asks for permission to tell his parents goodbye before "I follow you."

Yet to show he has not intention of returning to the way he lived before his call, he kills his team of oxen, chops up his plow, sets fire to it and boils the meat over the flames. Then, after treating his family and employees to the meal, he leaves with Elijah.

Called by name

Luke presumes Jesus' followers answer His call with the same dedication. Because Luke revolves his double-volume work around Jerusalem, the Gospel (Lk 9: 51-62) is one of the most important in Luke/Acts. The Romans had actually destroyed this most famous of biblical cities 15 years before Luke writes. So he isn't limited by its geographic location. For him, Jerusalem becomes the place where Jesus and those who respond to His call suffer, die, rise and receive the spirit. Those who have the courage to travel to "Luke's Jerusalem" will arrive at the turning point of their life.

Jesus and His disciples actually start down the road to this dying-rising-spirited place in the Gospel. So everything He says to His followers in this passage is extremely significant.

Jesus permits nothing to distract His disciples from reaching Jerusalem. No one (not even Samaritans) should turn them from their goal.

Notice how He emphasizes what His followers are to give. First, they're to renounce any quest for security: "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."

Second, they're to end any relationship which stops them from reaching the life He offers: "Let the dead bury their dead!" (Scholars presume the prospective disciple's father hasn't just died. The individual seems to be saying, "Wait until my father -- who doesn't understand my call -- dies, then I'll follow you to Jerusalem."

Third, they're to give up any longing to return to the way things were: "No one who...looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God." Luke believes those who respond to Jesus' calls had best kill their oxen immediately.

Follow Jesus

Perhaps the most important of Sunday's three liturgical passages is the second (Gal 5: 1, 13-18). In his letter to the Galatians, Paul deals with Christians who have replaced following Jesus with a keeping of the 613 Torah laws.

Throughout this biting epistle, Paul reminds his readers that Jesus has liberated them from all laws except the essential demand, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." He can't understand why anyone would make all the sacrifices Jesus demands of His disciples and not rejoice in the freedom their discipleship brings. Why follow Jesus if you don't have a more fulfilled life than you had when you followed rules and regulations?

Paul argues that those who give themselves over to Jesus will eventually rid the world of the evils which the Law of Moses was geared to eradicate. The spirit will fight those battles for us. Yet, at the same time, Paul knows how easy it is to replace dedication to a person with dedication to a system.

The main problem with such a switch is that those who engage in it are no longer permitted to call themselves Christians. That title is reserved only for those who follow the person of Jesus the Christ.

(06-28-01)