It’s not uncommon for people in business to call a special meeting to address an important issue: what is our mission? What are we about? How do we accomplish it? It was not uncommon for Catholic parishes to do this as well, developing “mission statements” which they posted on their websites.
How well do these work? Do we not see businesses collapse in spite of all the meetings they have? I often have to drive by an abandoned Sears or Kmart store. Revlon closed last week though folks are not using less makeup. CNN spent years preparing for CNN+ which collapsed two weeks after it began.
Sometimes the problem is outside the company or organization; but sometimes it’s within the people who make up the organization. The scriptures point to some of these today. In the Gospel we see how easy it is to not understand what the mission is all about. Jesus’ own apostles are ready to use violence to teach people a lesson. As if the use of violence doesn’t contradict Jesus’ basic teaching.
Others express a desire to follow Jesus, but not completely. “I will follow you,” they say to Jesus. But Jesus points out that there is a cost to this, a cost that people are not really willing to pay. Their commitment is incomplete and provisional. Others take a step forward, but their minds are elsewhere, thinking back to the way things were, absorbed with nostalgia. Is it not the case that many people are absorbed so much in their fantasies about the “good old days” they do not attend to the tasks before them?
The second reading gives us yet another internal issue: people think that faith is all about themselves and what they get out of it rather than about the mission and how we care for others. Paul worried that the very freedom people experienced from forgiveness would set them up to abuse that freedom. How many people in the name of religion have exploited others, even the vulnerable? Our freedom is not about ourselves but about how we serve others. It might be money, or power, or sex that drives this exploitation. But all of it is distorted.
The first reading gives us a fuller account of following the mission. Elijah, the great prophet, knows that his days are numbered. God sends him to find a successor. He finds Elisha who is plowing the field on an obviously large farm since they have twelve plows going. He throws he cloak over Elisha who gets the message right away. He seems to be wavering; he wants to hang with his family before following the prophet. But then we see him burning the plows and ready to follow Elijah with all his energy.
All of us have something that wants to keep us from the mission—of following Jesus and helping others follow him. We all get self-absorbed, righteous, or afflicted with nostalgia. But that does not negate the call we have received or the choice we need to make to continue on that call. Our call may not come as dramatically as Elisha’s but it nevertheless has come: in our baptisms, in our commitments like marriage, in our journey in service of the Kingdom.
The opening of the Gospel points to how Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, the city where he would die. It ends with the observation that many begin something but never complete it. Jesus completed his mission to show us the hope that comes from his Resurrection from the dead. He sends us his Holy Spirit so we can complete our mission with him.
Reflection question: What keeps me from answering Christ’s call completely in my own life?