Choosing one thing often means leaving other things behind. One occupation precludes others. Marrying one person eliminates the possibility of marrying others. Being ordained a priest or entering religious life rules out marriage.
The reading from the First Book of Kings describes the choice Elisha made when he became a follower and successor of the prophet Elijah. Elisha was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen when Elijah threw his cloak over him. Elisha asked Elijah, “Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and I will follow you.” Elisha slaughtered his oxen and, making a fire with the plowing equipment, boiled their flesh for people to eat. Then he followed Elijah. In becoming a follower of Elijah, Elisha made a drastic change in his life. He said goodbye to his parents, and converted his farm animals and equipment into food. Following Jesus requires a similar, but even more drastic, change in life.
The reading from the gospel according to Luke describes a major turning point in the ministry of Jesus. Up to this point Jesus has preached and worked miracles in Galilee. Now he begins traveling toward Jerusalem. Luke’s description of this journey occupies almost half of his gospel. As Luke understands it, Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is a journey toward his death, which is the common fate of God’s messengers to Israel (see Luke 13:31-35). This is why Jesus “resolutely determined” to go to Jerusalem; he is traveling toward a difficult destiny. But Jesus will not only die in Jerusalem; he will also be raised from the dead. Therefore, Luke says that Jesus began traveling toward Jerusalem when “the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled.” All of this indicates indirectly that following Jesus is a matter of traveling with him toward death and resurrection.
The reading also speaks explicitly about what is required to follow Jesus. When one person said he would follow Jesus, Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Following Jesus means giving up one’s home. When Jesus called another person to follow him, he asked to be allowed to bury his father first. A third person said he would follow Jesus after saying farewell to his family. Jesus rejected both proposals. Jesus asks for more than Elijah did of Elisha. Jesus’ followers must not even take leave of family when they follow him. This is not likely to be meant literally, but rather indicates how completely we must put everything else behind us when we become followers of Jesus.
The reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Galatians describes the demands of following Jesus in a different way. Paul begins by saying that Christ has set those who follow him free from slavery. Apart from Christ we were slaves to sin; in Christ we are free. However, we can use that freedom either to remain free or to return to slavery. In order to remain free we must take a completely different direction in life than we did formerly. We must be guided by the Holy Spirit that is within us. And if we are guided by the Spirit, we will love our neighbor as ourselves. We will serve one another and avoid biting and devouring one another.
Loving our neighbor as ourselves is certainly less dramatic than leaving everything to follow Jesus. It may, however, be just as difficult and just as much a participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection.