Sunday, September 5, 2010

Whoever Comes To Me Without Hating Father and Mother, Brothers And Sisters, Wife And Children, And Even His Own Life, Cannot Be My Disciple.

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Wisdom 9:13-18b
Who can know God's counsel,
or who can conceive what the LORD intends?
For the deliberations of mortals are timid,
and unsure are our plans.
For the corruptible body burdens the soul
and the earthen shelter weighs down
the mind that has many concerns.
And scarce do we guess the things on earth,
and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty;
but when things are in heaven,
who can search them out?
Or who ever knew your counsel,
except you had given wisdom
and sent your holy spirit from on high?
And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 90
In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
You turn man back to dust,
saying, "Return, O children of men."
For a thousand years in your sight
are as yesterday, now that it is past,
or as a watch of the night.
In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
You make an end of them in their sleep;
the next morning they are like the changing grass,
Which at dawn springs up anew,
but by evening wilts and fades.
In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
Fill us at daybreak with your kindness,
that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.
And may the gracious care of the LORD our God be ours;
prosper the work of our hands for us!
Prosper the work of our hands!
In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Reading II
Philemon 9-10, 12-17
I, Paul, an old man,
and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus,
urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus,
whose father I have become in my imprisonment;
I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.
I should have liked to retain him for myself,
so that he might serve me on your behalf
in my imprisonment for the gospel,
but I did not want to do anything without your consent,
so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.
Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while,
that you might have him back forever,
no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a brother,
beloved especially to me, but even more so to you,
as a man and in the Lord.
So if you regard me as a partner,
welcome him as you would me.
Luke 14:25-33
Great crowds were traveling with Jesus,
and he turned and addressed them,
"If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me
cannot be my disciple.
Which of you wishing to construct a tower
does not first sit down and calculate the cost
to see if there is enough for its completion?
Otherwise, after laying the foundation
and finding himself unable to finish the work
the onlookers should laugh at him and say,
'This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.'
Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down
and decide whether with ten thousand troops
he can successfully oppose another king
advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops?
But if not, while he is still far away,
he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms.
In the same way,
anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions
cannot be my disciple."
Today’s First Reading asks a very simple question: Who can ever learn the will of God? Or, to phrase it more specifically: How do we learn to do what God wants of us? We can’t learn God’s will just by thinking it through, because our spiritual souls are weighed down by our earthly human nature. The best we can do is to make guesses about things we don’t understand. And if that is true about earthly things – like physics, chemistry, biology – how can we even hope to understand heavenly things?

No one has ever learned God's will, unless God gave them wisdom, and sent the Holy Spirit to guide them, even in ancient times. But in the New Age, He gave us an even greater gift: He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to teach us the truth. And the Son, born in the flesh of the Blessed Virgin Mary, loved us so much that He gave his life on the cross so that through his sacrifice, we might be saved. In this way, God’s people on earth have been set on the right path, have been taught what pleases God, and, provided that they pay attention, and cooperate with God’s grace, have learned wisdom and have walked along the safe path that leads to salvation.

Today’s Second Reading is the first part of a short letter written by Paul while he was in prison in Rome between A.D. 61-63. It concerns Onesimus, a slave who had run away from his master Philemon. Paul sends him back to his master with this letter:

I’m an old man now, and a prisoner for Christ Jesus. I appeal to you on behalf of my child, Onesimus, as I have become like his father while I’ve been in prison. In the past, Onesimus was not useful to you, but now he is useful to both of us. [Here Paul is making a play on words: the Greek word onesimos means useful.] Paul is sending him back to his master with this letter asking him to welcome him back not as a slave, but as a brother in Christ. That is a lot to ask of anyone, but Paul knows Philemon well enough to raise the question. He reminds his friend that everyone who believes in God and places hope in Christ Jesus is member of the Lord’s family. Onesimus is “a brother, beloved to me, but even more to you. If you consider me your partner, then welcome him as you would welcome me.” Here Paul is voicing an idea which was revolutionary in the early church: that all of God’s children are created equal, and have been endowed by the Creator with the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” [It is ironic that this principle was included in the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson, of Virginia, a student of the secular philosophers Rousseau and Voltaire, not by delegates from the colonies that had established religions. [But that’s a topic for a lecture some other time – not a homily for today.]

In today’s Gospel, we read that great crowds of people followed Jesus wherever he went. On this occasion, he said to them: If you want to learn from me, you must love me more than your brothers and sisters. You must love me more than your parents, or your spouse, or your children. You cannot follow in my footsteps unless you love me more than your own life. If you want to be my disciple, you must carry your own cross, and come with me to your own Calvary, before you can join me in the Kingdom of the Father in Heaven.

The crowds that followed Jesus thought that he was going to be a powerful leader. But He told them that he was going to suffer and die. His followers must be ready and willing to suffer, and even die for their faith. But relatively few of Jesus' disciples become martyrs, in the usual sense of that word. By the way, the Greek word "martyr" doesn't mean "someone who dies for their beliefs", but "someone who bears witness to their beliefs". It often means giving up our own plans, comforts, and ambitions. That can be difficult, and painful. But, at the end of the day -- the last day of our life -- the reward is sharing in eternal life.


Sarah in the tent said...

When I was a child, 'I hate ...' were forbidden words. I was definitely not allowed to say I hated any person, but I couldn't even say 'I hate cabbage' - it had to be 'I don't like cabbage'. I think it is probably a good verbal habit to acquire because, by the very act of saying 'I hate' you are abandoning yourself to a harmful passion and telling others it's okay to hate. If I had ever said 'I hate my brother/sister/father/mother' I would have been sent straight to my room! So Jesus' words here shock me. For the Jews, it was no less shocking. Jesus seems to be teaching against one of the ten commandments with the risk that 'He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.' (Ex 21:17)

I think Jesus must have wanted to shock people. Crowds were following him, perhaps including families making a day of it with picnics and singing. They may not really have thought about what they were doing. Many may just have been going along with the rest of their family, not really following Jesus.

The process of coming to faith can be a bit like building a tower and ascending it to obtain a better overview of life. In the Bible, a watchtower sometimes actually represents God Himself (as in the treaty between Jacob and Laban). When you ascend the tower, you not only see the beauty of God in His creation, but also the threat from 'powers and principalities' - the approaching army. If you make peace with that army, you will never ascend the tower again, i.e. you cannot be His disciple. You and your family may survive, but no invader trusts an enemy to occupy high places. The true disciple will fight the army to the bitter end, risking everything for the sake of discipleship.

The family is the first school of love, but later we learn in faith that, by loving God first we love our families better. There is, though, a momentary rejection of the family in the initial impulse of turning to God, but it's more like switching love into a different channel - with a faster bit rate and more band width!

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

Sarah, my mother used to say the same thing to me and my brothers and sisters: "Don't say 'I hate liver', instead, say 'I don't like liver'.

Jesus' words in Luke 14:26 "... without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life ..." are echoed earlier in Luke 9:59-62, where one young man wants first to bury his father, and another to say farewell to his family. Jesus answers: "Let the dead bury the dead" and "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks behind is worthy of God's kingdom."

Jesus gives the same in a more positive tone in Matthew 10:3"Whoever loves father or mother, son or daughter, more than me is not worthy of me..."

Clearly, the message of the gospels is not one of hatred, but one of love. The admonition to these reluctant disciples must be taken in the same context as these words of Jesus:

Luke 6:27 -- “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. ...

32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. ...

36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.