The readings for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time illustrate that we can’t enter heaven unless that is our primary and determining commitment. Striving for the kingdom needs to be our daily focus.
Jesus uses the example of setting one’s hand to the plow. While horses or oxen pull the plow, the farmer works the plow carefully to make sure that it does not tilt. If the farmer turns around to look at what he just plowed, there is the danger that the plow will either come out of the ground or go too deep into the soil.
So it is with everyone striving to enter the kingdom of heaven. In the first reading, we are given the example of Elijah calling Elisha to become a prophet. As soon as Elijah threw his cloak over Elisha, Elisha knew he was called to follow Elijah. He makes the proper arrangements with his family and immediately follows.
Not long after, Elijah was taken into heaven in a fiery chariot, and Elisha was to carry on the prophetic ministry.
It seems that Jesus is more demanding than Elijah. However, when Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God,” I don’t think that He was suggesting that we do not owe our parents and family our undivided attention. Rather, He says don’t let serving your family be an excuse for not pursuing the kingdom of God.
In the second reading from Galatians, St. Paul tells us: “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” We are not to use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. “Rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
When we love our neighbor as our self, we keep our eyes focused on the kingdom of God. He says: “I say, then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other.”
To keep our eyes on the kingdom of heaven, we need to nurture our spirit daily with prayer and the word of God. The more we are inundated daily by these two, the easier it will be to keep our eyes focused upon our destination in the kingdom.
The responsorial psalm is a good example of how we can nurture our life in the Spirit. “Keep me, O God, for in you I take refuge; I say to the Lord, ‘My Lord are you. O Lord, my allotted portion and my cup, you it is who hold fast my lot.” In other words, God is our food and drink which nurtures our spiritual life. This spiritual strength can ward off the temptations of the flesh.
Some of our strongest temptations come from the plethora of images available on computers and smartphones. Prayerful people, who know their weaknesses only too well, wisely put away electronic devices when they become sources of temptation. They know they will retrieve it the next morning when the lure is less significant.
In addition to temptations to lust, we also deal with temptations to anger, resentment and negativity. Here again, if we don’t seek help from God, these temptations become stronger and we become more depressed and discouraged. Eventually, we can begin to hate ourselves and condemn ourselves.
We can give these angry and negative feelings to God by simply praying for the individual who is the cause of these thoughts. When we enter into intercessory prayer for the other person, we enter into what God is doing in their lives. This brings us relief.
It might be that we are the objects of our anger. This is such a waste of time. Even when you are angry, the Heavenly Father looks down upon you and sees you as His beloved daughter or His beloved son. We look at ourselves through our past history of sin, but God doesn’t.
In fact, if the Father sees in us His beloved Son, and we hate ourselves, in a sense we blaspheme Jesus. The Father sees in us His beloved Son and we say: “No, it is not Jesus, but the Evil One!” That is what we do every time we enter into self-hatred and self-condemnation.
If in moments like this we turn to the Lord in order to bless Him, we get great relief! The responsorial psalm tells us: “I bless the Lord who counsels me; even in the night my heart exhorts me. I set the Lord ever before me; with Him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.”
When we are caught up in the darkness of negativity, it’s a relief to turn our heart to blessing the Lord. “Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices, my body, too, abides in confidence because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.”
The word of God is keener than a two-edged sword. Therefore, we need to inject His word into our negativity to bring relief into our darkness and joy to our spirit. It puts the kingdom back into focus.