It takes a fair amount of power to wash away 50 years’ worth of grime.
A couple of my brothers and I discovered this semi-obvious fact last week when we teamed up to clean a pad of concrete in our mother’s backyard, to prepare for the sale of her home.
“Her home”…as in “our home” – the place where we grew up in the 1960s and 70s. The very backyard…and basketball court…where we honed our skills and dreamed our dreams of a future as professional baseball or basketball stars.
Those aspirations faded long ago, of course. The memories today seem almost as ragged as the homemade backboard and hoop that still tower over the concrete. It’ll be a while though before we let them go—the blessed memories of our youth and the loving (if sometimes feisty) family in which we were raised.
Not even a power-washer operating at 4,000 P.S.I. could wash all that away.
Nor should it: There’s something holy, something sacred, in the bonds of brotherhood we shared. It’s a truth that surfaced again and again as we spent the afternoon forcibly removing the accumulated layers of dirt and mildew. Our work revealed what’s worth saving: the original bright concrete, hard and solid as a brother’s loyalty…and love.
In all honesty, though, reflecting on that gift makes it difficult for me to come to grips with the message we encounter in scripture this Sunday. In the first reading from 1 Kings, a would-be prophet is initially rebuked for his family loyalty:
Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and I will follow you.” Elijah answered, “Go back!
In the gospel reading, Jesus strikes a similar theme as he issues invitations to several followers:
As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”
And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Harsh stuff, coming from the lips of Love Incarnate.
‘But Lord,’ I want to protest, ‘I have obligations. I have commitments. I would dearly miss the family who has loved me into being.’
Reasonable observations, all.
And working through them, like a blast from the nozzle of a power-washer, the Lord shows me where my heart often lies…and how thickly encrusted it can become.
Reminding us, perhaps, that removing encumbrances is necessary work if we want to enter the Kingdom.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.