A Reading from the Second Book of Kings (2:1-2, 6-14)
Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
1 I will cry aloud to God; *
I will cry aloud, and he will hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; *
my hands were stretched out by night and did not tire;
I refused to be comforted.
11 I will remember the works of the Lord, *
and call to mind your wonders of old time.
12 I will meditate on all your acts *
and ponder your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy; *
who is so great a god as our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders *
and have declared your power among the peoples.
15 By your strength you have redeemed your people, *
the children of Jacob and Joseph.
16 The waters saw you, O God;
the waters saw you and trembled; *
the very depths were shaken.
17 The clouds poured out water;
the skies thundered; *
your arrows flashed to and fro;
18 The sound of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lit up the world; *
the earth trembled and shook.
19 Your way was in the sea,
and your paths in the great waters, *
yet your footsteps were not seen.
20 You led your people like a flock *
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Galatians (5:1, 13-25)
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (9:51-62)
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) – so begins today’s second reading.
I have no doubt that, when those who put together our Lectionary selected that particular passage for today’s liturgy, they must have had in mind our nation’s upcoming celebration of Independence Day. This reading, paired with our first and gospel readings, reflects on what true freedom is and what it is not. That is a subject that is always timely; and it certainly is one that deserves particular attention in our time as the word “freedom” is bandied about both by our politicians and by people in our society in general.
In this fifth chapter of the Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul continues his thoughts on true freedom by quoting Leviticus 19:18. He reminds his hearers: “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus, of course, quoted that same verse as the second of the two great commandments. Our readings today explore the implications of that commandment.
In our first reading, we heard about the passing on of Elijah’s prophetic work to his successor, Elisha. As Elijah made his final journey, Elisha did not have to accompany him. He was free to go. Elijah even told him so, three different times. But Elisha realized that true freedom required him to focus first, not on what he could do, on what he was at liberty to do, but on what he should do: on faithfully serving the needs of someone else, in this case, his mentor and master.
St. Paul, as he continues his instructions to the Christians in Galatia, reminds them that the freedom with which Christ has set us free necessitates a life of service to others, focusing not on what we supposedly have a “right” to keep to ourselves, but on our responsibility to serve the needs of others and to respond to them generously, just as God has responded to us.
And Jesus, as he begins his fateful journey toward Jerusalem, not only teaches but lives a life of complete self-giving for the sake of others. Jesus found the ultimate freedom, not by detaching himself from the needs of others, but by becoming the slave of all and by giving everything, even his life, for the sake of the world.
True freedom consists, not in trying to detach ourselves and our actions from the needs of others, but in serving the needs of others. It consists not in focusing on what I can keep for myself, but on what I am able to give to serve those who are in need.
That is a message that is critical for us, living in this country at this time. And it is a message that we need to keep before our local, state and national leaders. As we celebrate this Independence Day, we need, as a people, to ask ourselves about the nature, the implications and the responsibilities of true freedom. Is it an exercise of true freedom, for example, when we cut the amount of food available to feed hungry children, by way of SNAP funding and support for summer feeding programs, in order to preserve tax breaks and subsidies for those who are already well-off? Is this in any way an real act of freedom, as is sometimes alleged, or is it merely another attempt to rationalize our lack of concern for others and our desire to focus on our own wants rather than on others needs?
Those who advocate such actions not only ignore the scriptures. They also apparently forget the document whose signing we are celebrating this week: the Declaration of Independence. That monumental pronouncement concludes, not with an assertion of individualism, not with an affirmation that each of us has a right to keep whatever we have for our own use and enjoyment, but with an assertion that we are all in this life together and with a solemn pledge that we will give whatever we have to serve the needs of all. As the declaration puts it: “for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Freedom, true freedom, does not mean that we can simply go about life, doing whatever we want, using our time, talent and resources for whatever suits our fancy at any given moment, without regard for our God-given obligations toward others. Such isolated individualism is alien, not only to the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, but also to the biblical message that we are all children of the one God and Father and that we are, in fact, our brother’s and sister’s keepers.
Writer Jacques Ellul, in his book The Ethics of Freedom (pp. 124-5), puts it this way: “The glorious liberty of the children of God is not the happy fluttering of a butterfly from one attractive flower to another. It is joyous, but it also radical, hard, and absolute… Giving us our burden, God launches us into an unsuspected adventure, a conflict, which is finally that of freedom.”
It is that radical, hard, and self-sacrificing freedom that Jesus exemplified as he made his way toward Jerusalem. And it is that same radical, hard, and self-sacrificing freedom to which we are called in his name. That is the life into which God invites us, if we are to be truly free.