As thoughts begin to turn towards the celebration of the
Fourth of July
, this is a good time to assess what the holiday actually represents. A week from now, there will be fireworks, parades, and stars and stripes everywhere -- but what does it mean to be
patriotic? Hugging a flag or singing the
Star Spangled Banner
does not make one a patriot any more than enjoying a family barbeque does. I believe the real patriot is the person who reveres the values upon which this country was established and who is committed to upholding those values.
Foundational to the celebration of the
Fourth of July
Declaration of Independence
and at the core of this document is the following statement:
hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—
The measure of our patriotism is the extent to which we live by this principle: if all people are created equal, then how do we treat them and how do we ensure that their rights are protected? In America today, minority groups are feeling less safe than ever, with hate crimes on the rise and white supremacists emboldened to spread their venom. As Christians, do we speak out? Do we come to the defense of the marginalized? Do we put our discipleship into practice by offering our support to those who are treated as less equal than others? Do we pressure our Representatives to bring about the legislative changes that will protect the most vulnerable among us?
Being a patriot also involves the willingness to say,
"Not in MY name!"
and to oppose government polices which are contrary to American ideals. Breaking-news stories this week have exposed the "concentration camp" conditions that migrant children are enduring at some detention centers -- the absence of soap, toothpaste, diapers, beds, etc. Separated from their parents, children as young as four months old are in the care of other children in settings that can only be described as barbaric. Is this what America stands for? What is the responsibility of every patriot, regardless of political affiliations or religious tradition? To stay silent and do nothing is to be complicit.
It's too early to wish each other a "Happy Fourth of July!" but it's not too early to ask ourselves 1) what our faith demands of us at this moment in history and 2) how we can best put our patriotic ideals into practice.
As they proceeded on their journey, someone said to him,
"I will follow you wherever you go."
"Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests,
but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head."
And to another he said, "Follow me."
But the man replied, "Lord, let me first bury my father."
Jesus answered, "Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
Another said, "I will follow you, Lord,
but first let me say farewell to my family at home."
To him Jesus said, "No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God."
LK 9: 51-62
Today's Gospel is sandwiched between
"The Mission of the Twelve"
(Lk 9:1-6) and the
"Mission of the Seventy-Two"
(Lk 10:1-12). As Jesus sends forth his followers, he gives them the same instructions on both occasions; they are to proclaim the Good News, heal the sick, travel lightly, and only stay where they are welcome. Between these two narratives, there is a great deal of activity -- the Feeding of the Five Thousand, two predictions of the Passion, Peter's statement of faith, Jesus' Transfiguration, the Healing of a Boy with a Demon and, last but not least, Jesus' explanation of the requirements for discipleship; these requirements are mirrored in the story of the call of Elisha, (1 Kgs 19: 16b, 19-21), our first reading today. We can summarize Elisha's call in this way:
He is leading a full, active life, helping to farm his family's estate.
Elijah calls him to be his successor by placing his cloak upon him.
Elisha immediately responds but asks if he can say goodbye to his parents.
Elijah's enigmatic reply ("Go back! Have I done anything to you?") suggests this is not the right response.
This is ambiguous but it seems that instead of saying goodbye to his parents, Elisha slaughters his oxen (2 or 24 -- not clear), burns his plow for fuel and cooks a feast for his servants. The alternate interpretation is that he does go back to say goodbye to his parents and then burns the plow.
Then he follows Elijah.
Jesus' requirements for discipleship closely follow this pattern: "would-be" disciples must be willing to let go their former way of life; their response must be immediate; there is no looking-back; and they must be willing to embrace hardships and uncertainty as part of the journey.
The Gospel message presents a very different kind of Christianity than most of us practice; in fact, this is not the Christianity that we typically hear preached on Sundays. Sitting in our padded pews, we usually hear sermons that reinforce our world view or at least fail to challenge us beyond our comfort levels. Too many homilists are careful to avoid controversial topics and instead focus on leaving the assembly "feeling good." Even the
Prayers of the Faithful
are safely "generic," avoiding the specificity that would startle, disturb or "wake up" the sleeping assembly.
But while "feeling good" confirms us in our mediocrity,
that Jesus proclaims is risky, costly and counter-cultural. It demands radical detachment from everything that we have worked towards, valued and cherished. Just as Elisha wants to say goodbye to his parents, the modern disciple must be willing to let go of everything, including family ties and friendships. Just as Elisha burns his plow, so modern disciples need to jettison everything upon which they previously depended for employment, status and identity -- unless, that is, God calls them to use these advantages in a new way. Instead of publishing "pulp fiction," for example, a writer may use his or her talents as a tool for evangelization; or instead of working in commercial banking, someone else might use his or her skills to raise funds for a homeless shelter or for another not-for-profit entity. When God calls, our task is to respond immediately and then see what God is asking of us: what to keep and what to let go, what to "burn" and what to "re-purpose," when to leave and when to stay, what doors to close and what doors to open.... If we are to be "fit for the Kingdom of God," our "yes" to the call must involve a total self-giving with no strings attached!