Embrace life with open eyes and ears

By Vinal Van Benthem | For The Compass | June 26, 2019

At first glance, the readings this Sunday seem to be speaking in opposites. In the Book of Kings, Elijah the Prophet invites Elisha to follow him. When Elisha asks for time to kiss his father and mother goodbye, Elijah encourages him to “Go back.” However, when the young man in Luke asks permission to go bury his father, Jesus almost seems to snap at him! What’s the difference? Why is one man encouraged and the other reprimanded? And what could Jesus mean when he says, “Let the dead bury their dead.” What sense does that make? Surely the dead can’t do much of anything. Or maybe that’s the point.

One summer afternoon a few years ago I found myself being swept along by crowds of people at lunchtime in downtown Chicago. Many stared straight ahead, looking neither right nor left. Some listened to music on various devices. Some were engrossed in cell phone conversations. But generally speaking, most of them seemed totally oblivious to their surroundings. They were like dead men and women walking, no more alive to what was going on around them than the buses and taxis that roared past. “Let the dead bury their dead.”

Later I walked over to Millennium Park. Here, too, there were crowds of people, but somehow these people seemed different. These people were alive! Parents pushing babies in strollers; lovers holding hands; wide-eyed tourists excitedly turning their cameras from shot to shot. Here there was conversation and laughter, flowers and trees, and a place for weary walkers to rest and enjoy the music of the city orchestra rehearsing nearby. In other words, here, in a myriad of ways, the living kingdom of God was being proclaimed.

Jesus says to each one of us, “Follow me.” How do we respond? Do we walk through life head down, eyes averted, deaf to what’s going on around us? Or do we greet the day with open eyes and ears, ready to receive whatever gift it offers? Do we embrace the future with a kiss? Or do we remain forever stuck in saying goodbye to the past?

Van Benthem is a longtime pastoral minister in the diocese.

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