Homily for Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
June 26, 2016
Leaving All Behind
St. Francis of Assisi did not start out as a saint. He was born to a wealthy cloth merchant and for the first couple decades of his life, he lived the life of a Medieval playboy – parties, girls, drinking. But when he finally had his conversion and met the Lord, he knew he needed to make some drastic changes in his life. Feeling called to be in solidarity with the poor, Francis waited until his father went away on a business trip before selling all of his father’s expensive cloth and giving the money to the poor.
Needless to say, his father was not pleased when he returned. He angrily demanded that Francis somehow repay him for the lost revenue. Francis and he began to argue, and they brought their argument in front of the local bishop. Finally, in frustration, Francis took off all of his clothes in the middle of the town square and threw them at his father, declaring that he was no longer the son of such a worldly man. God would be his only Father now. The bishop quickly covered the naked Francis with his cloak and guided Francis on his journey of radical abandonment to God.
The prophet Elijah invites his young protégé Elisha to follow in his footsteps of radical service to the Lord. In order to do that, Elisha needs to forsake his past, his comfort zone, and even his family in order to do that. He slaughters his oxen and burns their plowing equipment as a symbol of leaving everything behind – there’s no turning back now, since he destroyed the source of his livelihood. He’s finding the freedom to follow God with radical abandon.
Two men approach Jesus in the Gospel promising to follow Him, but they qualify their offer: “I will follow You, Lord, but…” But let me bury my father. Let me say goodbye to my family. They are not free to follow the Lord because they’re hedging their bets, they’re thinking to themselves, “If this doesn’t work out, I want to be able to return to my old life. I’ll only give the Lord so much…but not all of me.” Although the Lord is patient with them, He invites them to give more, to love more, to follow more than just their half-hearted attempts.
To follow Jesus Christ requires freedom – freedom from anything that will lead us into sin! St. Paul reminds us that it is for freedom that Christ set us free – but what kind of freedom? Does freedom mean doing anything you want to do? Having no limits? The world offers false freedom – St. Paul says that some people use their freedom for the flesh and not the spirit – in other words, they think their freedom is all about doing whatever they want, when they want, with anyone they want. But is this true freedom? No, not at all. Freedom is having the ability to become the best version of yourself (which is Matthew Kelly’s definition of a saint!).
Let’s use an example. Let’s say two men sit down at a piano. One man is a concert pianist who has practiced three hours per day, every day of his life. The other man stopped taking lessons in third grade and never practiced. Which one has the freedom to easily play Mozart or Beethoven? Obviously, the concert pianist. But it certainly didn’t look like freedom to be practicing daily. He had to give up a lot of liberty in order to become good. But now that he has become an expert, it’s easy to make beautiful music. He has the freedom to play anything, unlike the other man who never developed his talent and is limited by his lack of discipline.
This is similar to our spiritual life. If we want true freedom, we have to give up the false freedom of doing whatever we want. People who want to have the freedom to follow Christ must be willing to give up those things that prevent us from following Him. Perhaps we have someone in our life who always leads us into sin – we need to cut that relationship out of our life. Perhaps we have something in our life that causes us to waste time when we could be using it to become a saint – we need to get rid of it (video games and iPhones come to mind…). Perhaps we have a bad habit – like drinking too much or judging others or just being a sourpuss – and we need to get rid of that habit. Perhaps we just have too many material goods which take up our time and our worries. Like Elisha the prophet or St. Francis of Assisi, we have to give up those things that prevent us from following Christ freely.
So, I ask two questions for reflection – first, do you truly want to follow Christ whole-heartedly, or do you like Jesus but are happy living a worldly, self-centered life? And if you DO have the desire to follow Christ, what is preventing you from following Him freely?