Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray.
The Liturgy Orients Us to Christ
In today’s first reading for the thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – C Cycle, the Lord tells Elijah to anoint Elisha as prophet to succeed him. Elijah finds Elisha plowing a field with oxen. He goes over to him and doesn’t immediately anoint him, but, rather, throws his cloak (his most valuable possession) over him; thus signifying his abandonment of self and his new commitment to disciple the young man. Elisha seems to know what is taking place, that he has been called to follow the prophet; so he runs after Elijah and says, “Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and I will follow you,” to which the prophet replies, “Go back! Have I done anything to you?” Elisha then returns not to his parent’s house, but to his field, slaughters his oxen, destroys his plowing equipment and then uses it as fuel to boil the oxen’s flesh and gives the food to his people to eat; thus signifying his abandonment of his old life and his new commitment to follow Elijah.
In the second reading Saint Paul is writing to the Church of Galatia. What Paul is dealing with in this whole letter is an issue in Galatia where some false teachers have been confusing these new gentile converts to the faith; telling them that to follow Christ they were still required to observe many of the old Mosaic laws. And here Paul admonishes them strongly to not return to their former life saying, “stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” He reminds them that the Mosaic Law is fulfilled in one teaching, “… namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He then encourages the Church to live by the Spirit, for, “if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
In the Gospel reading, Luke gives an account of an anonymous person saying to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go,” to which Jesus responds “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Then Jesus says to another anonymous man, “Follow me,” but that man replies, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father,” which prompts Jesus to offer “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Then yet another person in the gathering says to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord.” To him Jesus harkens back to the call of Elisha, saying, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Together, these readings point to a central teaching of the liturgy; that God is calling us to orient our lives to Him alone; and we are reminded of the command from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to never be anxious to satisfy the cares of the world, saying “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these thing shall be yours as well.”
Indeed, whenever during the liturgy we move to process to the sanctuary, during the opening, the offering, and the Communion rite. Whenever we stand or knell to pray or confess. Whenever we sit to attend our ears towards what is being spoken from the ambo or sanctuary, what the liturgy is doing is teaching us to orient our lives to the Lord. In the older liturgies and older churches, everything was oriented towards the seat of God’s revelation; Mount Calvary. To Mount Calvary the prayers and confessions of the Priest and the People were liturgically and physical oriented. In the Novus Ordo Rite, we are liturgically and physically oriented to the divine altar where through the memorial sacrifice, the promises of Calvary comes to life in Real Presence of Christ Jesus. In this way, through this liturgical and physical orientation, the divine hope of the Church is that who we are during the liturgy is who we will be when we return back to the world. In the instant case, that Him who we have orientated ourselves to during the liturgy is Him who we will orientate ourselves to in the world.
For, the cares of the world are many. Even during the liturgy, how easy is it is to get distracted about the plows of the world – what are you eating for dinner? what bills need to be paid? what’s going to happen at work tomorrow? what are the kids doing? – And the world is always pressing against us its cares. The world want us to care about this plow and that plow, this war, this election, this tragedy, this new thing, this and that, this and that – the cares of the world are never-ending. Now, we can attend to these things, but we cannot orientate ourselves to them; that is, they are not consequently in the direction we that are moving towards. Try orientating yourself toward your finances and see what a wreck your life becomes. Try orientating yourself towards your job or towards your kids – keep playing this game where you straddle the fence by plowing in the world, while trying to live out the call of your Baptism. Duplicity never ends well. As the liturgy is teaching, we first must orient ourselves to Christ, always be processing towards Christ, and through that orientation and narrow direction to which we move, we can then attend to those cares out of that orientation and direction.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the liturgy and how the liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the liturgy.