1 Kgs 19:16b, 19-21
Ps 16 R/. You are my chosen portion, O Lord.
Gal 5:1, 13-18
As a teenager, I was different than the other kids: I was a ‘band geek’.Yes, I was big into band: school band, concert band, jazz band… and my favourite of all, marching band; but not the typical kind of marching band, doing parades. No, I was in a ‘hard core’ marching band, and the best part of it was the marching, or rather the drill. We would do choreography, different movements and patterns, on football fields all the while playing our instruments making music. Every summer we’d go on the road for three weeks doing tours and competitions throughout the western U.S., performing for crowds numbering even into the thousands. And we were pretty good: we always ended up in the top three of our tier. It was a blast!
But one of the key concepts I remember learning very early on was that you couldn’t just follow the person in front of you. If all you did was focus on the person in front of you, you were likely to hit them, but you were certainly going to lose the shape you were trying to show. In order to keep your instrument up straight and keep the choreography in step and in flow, you had to know the overall picture of the shapes and look down the line and out toward the boundaries of the fields. This was the only you could keep a straight line or keep the shape flowing. This meant you had to constantly check everything around you, without turning your head, and still keep playing the music. It required a lot of concentration and effort, but especially a lot of training and practice.
In our Gospel today, the Lord is giving us a very similar message: No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God (Lk 9:62). In other words, if you plough looking backwards, you’re going to lose your sense of direction and have crooked rows. That’s because we go where we’re looking: our eyes fix on a point of reference, and that’s where we head. So if you’re looking backward, you can’t plough straight because you’re not looking where you want to go: you lose your proper point of reference.
This is all the more true in the spiritual life. If our life of faith isn’t focused on Christ, then we won’t reach Him. It’s the same message He tells us elsewhere: where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Mt 6:21). In the spiritual life, we go toward what the eyes of our hearts and minds are fixed upon. If that’s Christ, then we’ll become holy; but if it’s the world, or distractions or sin, then we shouldn’t be surprised that that’s where we end up, very far from God and grace. With these words, Jesus is reminding us to keep the eyes of our minds and hearts fixed on Him, so as to arrive at our destination of holiness, peace and joy — the Kingdom of God.
But there’s also a second aspect to these words. No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. These words also speak of our conversion process. If we put our hands to the plough, that is, if we turn toward Jesus, we can’t look back to what we’ve left behind. How many times do we encounter Christians who lament that so-called ‘good things’ they left behind in order to follow Christ, or worse, who long to return to those things? ‘Oh, I wish I could lie and manipulate like I used to; I always got my way…’; or, ‘How I wish I could watch porn and have casual sex like others do; it looks like so much fun…’; or, ‘Why do sinners look so happy and free?’.
These questions and attitudes reveal a ‘looking back’ while still trying to plough forward. This is what St. Paul called self-indulgence and desires of the flesh (cf. Gal 5:13, 16f). Not only do they lead us off course, but they also increase our desire for these things and lead us into slavery to them.
But Christ, on the other hand, as St. Paul tells us, has made us free! He’s freed us from our base passions to lead us into the ways of holiness, but we’ll only arrive there through grace if we keep the eyes of our hearts and minds fixed on Jesus. Because, in truth, we haven’t left anything ‘good’ to follow Jesus, we’ve only left what hurt us, what enslaved us, what brought us pain and suffering. If we look beyond the veneer of the so-called happiness the world presents — wealth, pleasure, power, etc. —, we won’t find joy, but only pain, sorrow and selfishness, which lead to death. And this is precisely what the Lord Jesus has come to grant us freedom from: freedom so that we might be able to walk in His path of love. His is the only path that leads us forward to true joy, love, happiness and the Kingdom.May we, then, as His disciples, truly put our hands to the plough of Jesus, and not look back at our old lives with envy or desire, but look forward, earnestly focusing on Christ crucified and walking toward the Kingdom of God. Anything else will leave us bitter, sad and resentful, and God knows, we already have enough people like that in the Church and in the world. What we desperately need today are joyful Christians committed to life in Christ, joyfully walking toward Him in the ways of holiness and love. Only in this way will the world be able to see the true patterns of His love and mercy, and be moved by them to join the ranks of the saints and make joyful music to the praise of God the Father. Amen.
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