13th Sunday in Ordinary Time Reflection by Paul Nicholson

Paul Nicholson

By way of full disclosure let me begin by saying I find these readings difficult at best. Between the present moment and these ancient readings, the vast distance of time and place weigh heavy on my understanding. So bear with me as I cautiously sift through these words.

Today’s psalm portion is the least foggy for me. The idea of “inheritance” is on my mind as I continue to serve as executor for the estate of my deceased friend, Brent. There have been many moments along this 16-month journey since his death that I truly wanted to set the responsibilities aside, to let go of the proper way of estate management, to expedite the process according to my own understanding, and selfishly, to get on with my life. Though I am weary of the task, I see the wisdom of the counsel given by attorneys and accountants, and I realize in my heart that I would be all to seek if I did not follow their advice. To them I “hold fast my lot.” In this way I understand that the psalmist is observing the limits of human wisdom and strength, expressing a desire to keep priorities clear, even though I may balk at the portion allotted to me. Though I have fear and anxiety about the state of our society, though I grapple with the aging of my mind and body, I am invited to hold fast to the God who is Life and Love, who gives me all that I need.

The Old Testament story has a murkiness about it. I suspect I am so far removed from ancient Middle-Eastern farming, patriarchal/tribal government, and Jewish ritual that most of this is lost on me. What qualifies Elisha to be a prophet? What is the significance of throwing your cloak on someone? Why does Elijah respond as though he had done nothing? I don’t have answers, just some observations. I believe the number of oxen is significant, as there were twelve tribes in the nation. Significant too that Elisha is following behind the last one. If this detail is allegorical it suggests that Elisha will care about and govern all of the tribes, down to the last one (though the slaughter of them in the end makes for a poor recommendation). Interesting too that Elisha perceives a change-of-status brought on by the cloak but wants to first take care of things important to him—saying goodbye to family. Elijah may be speaking with sarcasm when he responds, possibly intending to goad Elisha into compliance. This seems to be another story telling of God’s invitation to align priorities with the Spirit, not to fret about the details and to trust in the Lord.

Paul’s words to the Galatians has a familiar tone to it; they are struggling with the new freedom in Christ and the old ways of the Mosaic law. One thing is clear to me: the Galatian Christians are not getting along. This seems to be a matter of conflicting priorities (again) with some insisting that a few hoops need to be jumped through before membership in the community is granted, while others have abandoned the old ways and have freely set about doing their own thing.

In the Gospel reading one of the words that catches me by surprise is “resolutely.” I wonder why that word was used. Was Jesus wishy-washy at other times? Was the writer putting a positive spin on it rather than using “bull-headed” or “stubbornly?” But I also see the idea of clear priorities running through this reading, like the others. Jesus had his priorities straight. He wasn’t interested in the internecine conflict between Jews and Samaritans that, apparently, James and John were eager to engage. In front of his followers and disciples he wasn’t glossing over his homeless, itinerant status. When asked to hold off on kingdom proclamation for the sake of funeral rituals for the dead he said, “no.” When confronted with cultural norms, familial customs, and all that humans create (including poverty and misery) to order their world, Jesus said resolutely, “no.”

When I reflect on these readings I consider what my priorities are and wonder what I hold to resolutely.