13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (June 27, 2016)

Last night I spent some time with a friend whose life, of late, has beenburdened by a great deal of suffering and grief. In speaking about howshe copes with these difficult circumstances, she said she has foundconsolation and inspiration in a particular quotation from the movie,”Shawshank Redemption.” A character in the film, who has beenimprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, sees himself as faced with achoice: He can “Get busy living or get busy dying.” My friend has chosento get busy living. Our readings this week set the same stark choicebefore each of us.

In our Second Reading from the Letter to the Galatians, St. Paulframes the question in terms of flesh or Spirit. We must choose to live byone or the other. Now, when we encounter a reference to “flesh” inScripture, we immediately think of “sins of the flesh,” and when we thinkof “sins of the flesh” we think of sexual sins. This is not the meaning thatPaul intends. For him, the way of the flesh refers to the values thatordinarily govern human life in the world the struggle to get ahead byany means necessary the “law of the jungle” that characterizes our”dog eat dog” world. He warns the Galatians, “if you go on biting anddevouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by eachother.” To live this way, Paul tells them, is to submit to a yoke of slaveryfrom which Christ has set them free. Played this way, the “game of life”always ends in death. A cynical aphorism claims, “He who dies with themost toys wins.” The Christian response is, “He who dies with the mosttoys is still dead.”

When I lived in the UK I’d sometimes follow debates in Parliament.When a controversial measure was under consideration, the losing sidewould sometimes wring a concession from the winners. Yes, the billwould pass, but its implementation would be delayed for a year or two.The losers would then portray this delay as a kind of victory. I never sawthe point. The result they dreaded was going to occur. Whether ithappened now or in two years seemed immaterial. The same is true ofthe “game of life.” If we are deft players we might manage to postponethe inevitable outcome for a while, but the end is already ordained. Thegame ends in death.

When we meet Elisha in our First Reading, he appears to be winningthe game. He is out plowing with twelve yoke of oxen and following thetwelfth. He is young, strong, rich and good at his job. Yet, when Elijahthrows his mantle over Elisha’s shoulders, Elisha is inspired to burn hisyoke, leave his old life behind and follow the prophet. He abandons thegame, and gets busy living.

Jesus lays out the same choice for us in the Gospel, in brutally frankterms: “Let the dead bury their dead. But you go and proclaim theKingdom of God.” In other words, “You are following the way of the flesh.In effect, you are busy dying. Don’t be. I offer you life life in the Spirit.Get busy living. Follow me. Now.

Fr. Charles Gordon, C.S.C.

Rev. Charles B. Gordon, C.S.C., is co-director of the Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture at the University of Portland. He writes and records a regular blog called “Fractio Verbi.”

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