1 Kings 19:16,19-21, Galatians 5:1,13-18, Luke 9:51-62
What it Means to Follow Jesus
No Christian would deny not being a follower of Jesus. Almost every person will accept to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Our baptism introduces us immediately into the Christian fold.
Hence, when we meditate through the readings of today, we will observe that to follow Jesus goes beyond being a churchgoer. There is a cost to being a true disciple of Jesus.
It is a journey that is full of sacrifices, a vocation that demands total commitment and a life devoid of selfishness. To follow Jesus is not ordinarily going to church every day while our life remains the same, without repentance, No. it goes beyond being a mere churchgoer.
What it means to follow Jesus is when our motivation for going to church is due to our love and relationship with God.
It is when we have that hunger for God, to the extent we are willing to cut off anything that can stand in between this relationship.What it means to follow Jesus is not merely cramming some bible texts and pouring them out, speaking in tongues competition, and self-appraisal as a powerful man or woman of God.
What it means to follow Jesus is true relationship and total dedication to God. It means avoiding and slaughtering anything that may stand in between our relationship with God
The readings of today give us a glimpse of what it means to follow Jesus. Let us take them in step by step analysis.
Be willing to Sacrifice anything.
To follow Jesus truly we must be willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of the gospel. We must be willing to sacrifice anything that may distract us.
In Matthew 13:44, Jesus says, that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and sells everything he has to get that treasure. He sells everything that he has, I mean everything just for the sake of the Kingdom. Therefore, whatever he has is nothing compared to the gains of having Jesus, the greatest treasure.
Therefore, in the first reading of today, we see this kind of attitude in the encounter between Elijah and Elisha. Elijah came on Elisha when he was ploughing behind twelve yokes of oxen. Elijah passed near to him and threw his cloak over him. Elisha left his oxen and ran after Elijah.
When he decided to follow Elijah, Elisha slaughtered the pair of the oxen and gave them to His men and then followed Elijah. To understand this clearly, we have to refer to the life of farmers in the time of Elisha.
At that time, any farmer that has a good number of oxen is a wealthy person, so presumably, Elisha must be a wealthy person or must come from a wealthy family.
Now by slaughtering them, and following Elijah, it means that whatever He has, is nothing compared to working for God or becoming God’s mouthpiece as His prophet.
No wonder Saint Paul says: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
Therefore, to truly follow Jesus is not when we promise to love him but when financial gain comes in between, we forget Jesus and lose our faith. To follow Jesus truly demands total acceptance and willingness to do anything for and because of Him no matter the cost.
In Matthew 6:31-33, Jesus says “so do not worry, about what you shall eat or ‘What you shall drink or ‘What you shall wear? For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well“.
Therefore, what it means to follow Jesus is when we consider God first. It is when God is more important in our lives than any other thing.
In the first reading, when Elijah came upon Elisha, as he was ploughing the field with twelve yokes of oxen. Elijah threw his cloak on him.
Throwing the cloak on Elisha means that Elijah was passing over the mantle of authority upon him and calling him to take on a new responsibility to be a prophet.
Elisha understands the message immediately. So, without hesitation, without asking Elijah why, also without seeking more explanation on how He will fare, Elisha accepted the new vocation.
This is the message Jesus is trying to let those who wanted to follow him and the people he asked to follow him in the gospel of today understand.
What it means to truly follow Jesus is not when we show people how powerful and prayerful we are, but when we put God first in all our decisions.
Be willing to Count the cost.
To follow Jesus is not only by mere professing with our mouth. It goes beyond this. To indeed follow Jesus, we must be willing to count the cost. We have to understand that following Jesus will cost us comfortability, pleasure, financial gain and earthly acquisitions.
In the gospel, As they travelled along they met a man on the road who said to Jesus ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’
Here, Jesus reminds him that to follow him is not a journey of pleasure. It is not a journey of comfortability. It has costs.
Therefore, it will cost us a lot.
In the first reading, when Elijah found Elisha with twelve pairs of oxen, as I pointed out before, this indicates that Elisha belonged to a family of considerable wealth. Elisha also knows that leaving the oxen behind is like abandoning fortune and wealth for the sake of God. But Elisha has to obey the prophetic call which would mean doing so at a considerable personal loss, financially speaking.
He did not consider His loss, rather, He considered God first. He knows the cost of the decision that He made but still decided for the sake of God. Therefore, Elisha counted his financial security as a loss and became a mouthpiece of God.
Therefore, what it means to follow Jesus is when we do not consider our loss in comparison with the love we have for God.
The Cost of True Discipleship.
In the gospel, we see Jesus reveal to us the cost of being a true disciple of His. Therefore, it is not a journey of mere profession. It is a journey of total dedication and commitment. Hence, to follow Jesus is costly. We must be willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of the love that we have for Him.
1. The first thing that we have to know about following Jesus is that we must be willing to obey Him at all costs.
The voice we are to follow is not our voices, our imaginations, what a friend tells us, what a parent advises us etc if they are anti-Christian, but obeying whatever Jesus says. In Matthew 28:18-20, He says that all authority has been given to Him.
Therefore, if all authority has been given to Jesus, we must obey Him at all costs. This is the first thing that happened in the gospel.
When James and John asked Jesus ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up?’ Jesus rebuked them.
After this, you will find out that these disciples did not respond further. They accepted what Jesus said. In John 2;5, the Blessed Virgin Mary advises us saying “do whatever he tells you”.
2. This is the mistake that the three would-be disciples who encountered Jesus in the gospel today, failed to keep. They all had their excuses and they followed their excuses instead of What Jesus demanded.
What it means to follow Jesus is when we consider whatever He demands first. The point is that He has ultimate authority. Therefore, Jesus has the right to tell you what to do in your life and what not to do. Hence, the implication is that we must do whatever Jesus tells us to do.
I Will Follow You Wherever You Go: Our Decision.
To follow Jesus we must be willing to follow Him wherever. We must decide to exercise our faith both in good and in bad times.
The gospel says today, that as they travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’
Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Here, we did not know whether the disciples accepted or not but the silence here depicts that nothing happened further after the response.
Some interpretations of this particular verse explain that this person may have assumed that following Jesus is a journey that is lucrative, full of enjoyment and earthly acquisition. So, He may have been disappointed when Jesus tells him that He has nowhere to lay his head.
Therefore, this means that following Jesus wherever He goes, involves the joy and the challenges, the happiness and the suffering. Remember that Jesus was already on the way to Jerusalem to suffer, therefore, the road to suffering is also part of where Jesus would go.
In essence, if we are to truly be a follower of Jesus, we must be willing to stand up during crisis. We must not lose our faith when things do not go the way we want.
It means also embracing the crosses. No wonder Jesus says in Luke 9:23 “ If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross every day and follow me”.
Therefore, as Christians, our decisions should be to follow Jesus wherever, whenever and in whatsoever.
To be Willing to Follow Jesus
Therefore, to be willing to follow Jesus, we must do these:
1. Choose the Kingdom of God First
Our first task is to be willing to spread the message of God’s kingdom first. We must live our lives to touch souls. As true Christians that we profess to be, we must make it a duty to spread the message of love, peace, holiness, unity, mercy, forgiveness etc. It should be our priority.
In the gospel, Jesus saw another person and said to him ‘Follow me, He replied ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’ But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’
Therefore, it does not mean that Jesus is against burying the dead, remember that burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy, rather it means that spreading the message of God’s kingdom should be our priority before any other thing.
When you are faced with the option of choosing your gain and choosing to make peace, bring unity and forgive etc, that of peace, love and forgiveness should come first. Therefore, we have to choose the kingdom of God first, we have to focus on eternity first than any other choice we are to make.
2. Slaughter the Oxen.
In the first reading, Elisha slaughters the oxen; first, before he follows Elijah. The Oxen signified His wealth, His possessions, acquisition etc. The Oxen could also serve as a point of distraction. He knows He cannot serve both God and wealth, He has to make a choice.
Therefore, Elisha slaughters the Oxen to be able to face His task. In the same way, we are to concentrate and face our call, we have to slaughter every ox in our possessions.
Anything that will deprive us of the presence of God, any possession or earthly acquisition, any friend whose intent is to lead us away or far from God must be removed totally.
In the gospel, Jesus rebuked James and John for seeking revenge, he rather turned to the other village. In the same way, we have to slaughter any form of revenge, hatred, or jealousy.
We have to slaughter any form of negative attitude toward anyone but turn our back to the side that will lead to our destination, which means that we have to focus.
We do not allow anything to distract us from gaining the reward of eternity. In the second reading, Paul advises us to live in love and hence beware of biting and devouring one another. We must slaughter it.
3. Willing not to submit to the Yoke Of Sin.
In the second reading, Saint Paul asks us to stand firm and not to submit again to the yoke of slavery. Saint Paul clarifies that the freedom given to us by Christ is not a licence to sin but the unfettered capacity to fulfil the law of love. We exercise this God-given freedom by placing ourselves at the service of our neighbour.
4. Be willing to Break Away from the Past.
By Slaughtering the Oxen Elisha prepares himself for the task ahead. He breaks away from the former life to a future and awaiting life.
Elisha slaughtered the animals he used for farming. He also burnt the wood, which was his farming equipment. Therefore, by doing so, Elisha is breaking away from His past. He is making sure that nothing will bring him back to his former life again.
It also means that Elisha trusted in God’s provision. He was burning his source of livelihood and entering a livelihood that he did not know how he would survive. This shows deep and total trust in God’s provision and care.
Thirdly, it also means that Elisha is prepared for whatever He is going to face. It shows strong faith, trust and willingness to depend totally on God’s grace.
Elijah demonstrated a dogged determination in making a resolute decision to accept the road of the cross as Jesus did. Remember that Jesus is already on the way to Jerusalem, in today’s gospel.
Therefore, we have to break away from our past lives, be willing to accept our future and changed lives, trust in God’s provision and then demonstrate a deep sense of trust and faith in God.
5. Show Undivided Attention.
In the gospel, Another person said to Jesus, ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say goodbye to my people at home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’
We have to know that Jesus lived in an agricultural age, So, He uses an agricultural term familiar to his audience so that they can understand what Jesus Christ exactly means.
The point is that for a ploughman to be successful in His work, he must concentrate on the work he is doing. The only way is forward. He should not be distracted by the things He left behind.
If the ploughman starts to look back, his plough line would become crooked. If such a thing happens, the field he is ploughing will not yield a full harvest. Therefore, we have to show undivided attention to Jesus.
If truly we have decided that we are going to commit our lives to God. We have to be serious about it and avoid looking back. We have to be focused. When we keep on looking back, we won’t be able to plough a field properly and because of that, we will not have plenty of harvests.
1. We have to know that the life of a prophet or a servant of God is not a life of luxury. It is not a life we must be seeking only for pleasure and comfortability. The life of a servant and true follower of Jesus is a life of dedication, commitment and sacrifice.
When Elijah throws his mantle over Elisha, it signifies immediately that Elijah is initiating Elisha into the life of a prophet. This particular mantle was the official garment of a prophet. We have three types of mantles. This is the `adderet, which is a cloak made of animal hair.
This garment distinguishes between kings and prophets (1 Kings. 19:13, 19; 2 Kings. 2:8, 13-14; Zech. 13:4). It automatically marked a man as a prophet, a mouthpiece of God. This particular mantle is a symbol of sacrifice and commitment.
Therefore, it is saying to Elisha that the life he is called to choose is not a life of luxury. Therefore, this is what it means to follow Jesus. We have to be deeply committed and dedicated.
2. When we choose God first above everything, it shows true love and good relationships. If we truly have a good relationship with God, we have to choose Him first, always as the first in our lives.
This is what Jesus was demanding from the would-be disciples in the gospels. But their eyes were already in another place. When we choose God, it shows total submission to the will of God over our own will. For example, what Elisha does is an indication that he loved God more than his business and his own life.
This is not when we say we love God, but our lives are very far away from Him, we do not even have time for Him, No. This is not when we say we love God but we have no love for one another, we are not peaceful with anyone, hence we close our eyes and watch evil reign before our eyes.
A prophet speaks out in a time of evil and tribulation. He does not keep quiet and allow the devil to steal souls from His hand. A servant of God chooses God first in everything He does.
Therefore, if God is truly first, nothing should come in between our relationship with Him. This is a sign that we truly Love Him.
3. By slaughtering his oxen, it means that Elisha abandoned everything” that could have become an obstacle to his decision to serve God. He also overcame the temptation to keep them. This was the proof of his total commitment to God.
Therefore, if we love God, if we say we are true followers of Jesus, what is still drawing us away from Him. Why is it still hard for us to keep our hearts focused on Him? What have we sacrificed, and what is our evidence of it? What can we sacrifice? Therefore, this life is much more than we think.
4. In the gospel, as Jesus calls those would-be disciples, is the same way he calls us often to follow him. From His response to them in the gospel, you would discover that what Jesus needs from us is not “no, maybe or later”.
The answer that he needs from us is yes, I will, I am available. When He called His apostles, no one gave him a no answer or a waiting answer. Rather, they dropped whatever they were doing and followed Jesus.
This is what Jesus wants from us. Therefore, Jesus is calling you to work for Him, Jesus is calling you to repent and serve Him, and He is calling you to join and stop the evil in our land. What is the answer we are to give to him “yes, no or wait?
5. Therefore, Are you ready and willing to follow Jesus wholeheartedly? Can we put aside anything that may keep us away from God? Or do we put God’s call off until later, to first go and bury departed loved ones? Are we ready to allow Jesus to occupy the first place in our life?
Can we keep our faith strong despite the problems and difficulties? Can We still love God whether our prayers are answered or not? Do we remain true followers in thick and thin, sickness and health, until death calls us home? If we truly love God above all else, these should be a hobby even.
6. As Saint Paul says in the Second reading, Our Lord Jesus Christ has set us free, but sometimes we use our freedom to offend Him still instead of embracing Him.
He has taught us to live a life of denial, sacrifice, commitment and dedication but we constantly crave material comforts as if they were the most important thing in our lives. In our craving to acquire, we forget that our souls also need attention. As we work to take care of the body, also remember the soul.
May God bless and help us to follow Him in spirit and truth. Amen. God bless you.