Sunday: Elisha’s Plow and Yours

At first glance, the first reading this Sunday (the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C) from the Old Testament and today’s Gospel reading seem opposed to each other.

In the reading from Kings, Elijah chooses Elisha to be a kind of “coadjutor” prophet. Elisha will accompany him, with the understanding that he’ll succeed him. Elijah calls him as he is plowing, and Elisha leaves his plow to follow Elijah. But he says, “Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and I will follow you.” Elijah lets him go.

In the Gospel, when Jesus calls a disciple who want to take care of family business first, he doesn’t let them go.

One says, “First let me say farewell to my family at home.”

Another says: “Lord, let me go first and bury my father,” says one.

The reply: “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Each of these requests seem as compelling as “Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye.” Why doesn’t Jesus allow his followers the courtesy the prophet did?

The answer lies in what Elisha did next — and in the difference between what people say and in what they mean.

Elisha said he wanted to kiss his parents goodbye, but his actions show what he really intended to do: He intended to destroy his plow and oxen, and use them to provide food to his family. In other words, he wanted to give all he had to the poor and follow God.

In the Gospel, one gets the sense in the would-be disciples’ replies to Jesus that they are simply making excuses. And Jesus’ advice to them is essentially to do what Elisha did: Leave their way of life behind for their new mission.

In fact, his advice might be a direct reference to Elisha: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God,” he says.

What does all this mean for us? We can easily give the same reply to Jesus that these disciples did. “I’ll pray more — when the kids are older.” Or “I’ll do more for the parish. When the stress at work dies down. Or “Once I get through the next four months, I’ll be ready to serve God better.”

The message of today’s Gospel is to treat our family as place for Christian action rather than an excuse for Christian inaction.  Is God asking you to pray more? Wake early and offer a 10-minute morning meditation for your family. And pray with your family – though be sure to make it family-friendly rather than difficult and off-putting. You want to do more for the parish? Find a way to do something this week.

“For freedom Christ set us free,” says the reading from St. Paul to the Galatians. Christianity should not be a kind of drudgery. “Rather, serve one another through love.”

Ultimately, what Elisha had and the two disciples lacked was love. We don’t make excuses to be away from the one we love. We find ways to make it happen. If we love Jesus Christ, we will find ways to serve him. If we don’t, we won’t.

Lord, give us the grace of love so that we start looking for ways to serve you, and stop looking for ways to avoid you!


The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.