In arranging the readings for Sunday Mass, the Church often wants us to see a thematic connection between the first reading and the Gospel. And the second reading often deals with a different theme, though there’s always an extended sense in which we can make connections between all the readings.

It might be tempting to look at this Sunday’s first reading (1 Kings 19:16B, 19-21) and Gospel (Luke 9:51-62) and conclude, first, that they’re both about recruiting disciples, and second, that Elijah is a much nicer recruiter than Jesus is. Jesus seems to be a lot more demanding of His would-be followers than Elijah is of Elisha.

In fact, these readings are not a meditation on “niceness” at all. But it is right that we see the contrast between Elijah and Jesus because that contrast highlights the essential difference between Jesus and all the great figures of the Old Testament.

Jesus makes a unique claim on His followers because He is an utterly unique Person. He is not merely a man, but is also the Son of God. Those words are so familiar to us that they have lost a lot of their “punch.” But we need to be shaken out of our familiarity from time-to-time, and that’s what this Sunday’s Gospel does for us.

One after another, we see three people encounter Jesus, and each is told he’ll have to give up a heck of a lot in order to become a disciple. And notice that the things they’re asked to give up are not bad things. Jesus isn’t telling them they have to stop drinking, smoking, partying, whatever. A disciple does have to turn away from sin in order to follow Jesus, but that’s only the beginning! Christ also calls His disciples to prioritize Him over everything, even family, financial stability, and our normal human duties.

When we hear a Gospel like this, I think it’s natural to personalize things very quickly, and to become a little bit afraid. Almost immediately, I begin to wonder what Jesus might be asking me to give up, and I start to get a little bit sick to my stomach, knowing how hard it would be to give up some of the people and things I love.

When we hear a Gospel like this, I think it’s natural to personalize things very quickly, and to become a little bit afraid. Almost immediately, I begin to wonder what Jesus might be asking me to give up, and I start to get a little bit sick to my stomach, knowing how hard it would be to give up some of the people and things I love.

First, I’ll offer a word of consolation, and then a word of challenge. The word of consolation is really three points:

• You can be 100 percent certain that whatever God calls you to sacrifice for the sake of following Jesus, He will equip you to give up with peace and even joy;

• God always gives back to us more than He takes from us;

• Most of us are not called literally to give up exactly the kinds of things those in today’s Gospel were called to give up. Most of us get to live in good homes and to stay close to our families and friends throughout our lives.

Now the word of challenge. Every one of us is called to put God first in her or his life, not just as an idea, but in actual fact. It’s easy to say God is No. 1 in my life, but am I really ready to sacrifice anything in order to make that a reality? If I’m a young person, am I willing to accept any vocation from God, even a vocation to the priesthood or religious life? Who in our archdiocese is willing to give up his or her homeland for the sake of becoming a missionary, to spread the Gospel in another part of the world? There ought to be some of us called and ready to make such a sacrifice!

All of us should ask ourselves, “Am I willing to face death — my own death and the deaths of those I love — with grace and trust in the Lord?”

We should ask, “Am I willing to stand up for Christ, to stand up for the truth, to live a moral life, no matter what it costs me? Am I willing to give up a certain job, certain forms of entertainment, some of my leisure time, some of my friendships, if they stand in the way of doing God’s will for my life?”

Not so many years ago, a priest friend of mine told me that in his parish there was a young man who decided that he wanted to become a priest. When he told his parents — who were church-going Catholics, by the way — they were so upset that they went on a hunger strike in order to pressure him to give up the idea of going to the seminary! That story shows us how sometimes our choices can be very much like those in today’s Gospel. Sometimes, we really do have to have to choose Christ even over our families.

But Jesus asks nothing of us that He hasn’t done Himself for us first. At the beginning of today’s Gospel, we hear that Jesus was “resolutely determined” to go to Jerusalem. In the original Greek, the literal meaning of the words is that Jesus “set His face” toward Jerusalem, which recalls Isaiah 50:7:

“The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
Therefore I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.”

Jesus went to Jerusalem to die for us, to save us from sin and death and give us new life. In the Sacrifice of the Mass, He comes to us in the Holy Eucharist. The same love that brought Jesus to the Cross becomes present on our altars at every Mass.

So, to paraphrase Isaiah, the Lord God is our help; therefore, we are not disgraced. Christ in the Eucharist empowers us to set our faces like flint, knowing that when we follow Him with absolute dedication, we shall not be put to shame.

Fr. Charles Fox is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit currently assigned to the theology faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He is also a weekend associate pastor at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township and chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren.