23rd Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
First Reading: Wisdom 9:13-18b Second Reading: Philemon 9-10, 12-17 Gospel Reading: Luke 14:25-33
'WHOSE SIDE YOU ARE ON?'
One of the most faithful members of a Church was also the most unlikely for the role. The man was deaf and mute. He had never heard a single note of music nor a single syllable from the Pastor's lips. He had never responded audibly to a worship service nor to a pat on the shoulder from a fellow member. Yet this faithful fellow had learned to communicate by scribbling his responses on a notepad which he faithfully carried.
One day someone questioned the reason for his constant attendance at each and every Church gathering. The person inquired, “Why do you attend if you can't sing, hear the music, hear the sermons, nor respond if spoken to except to scribble?” The disabled man responded on his notepad, “I just want everyone to know whose side I'm on !”
Right. And is it possible for others to detect 'whose side we're on?' We very boldly and proudly call ourselves Christians, the disciples of Christ. Are we really on his side?
Today is the 23rd Ordinary Sunday and on this Sunday we once again reflect upon the theme of radical discipleship. Christian discipleship is a total commitment to Christ; i.e. Christ is to be our first priority. All of us have an invitation to come closer to God and commit ourselves to him. As followers of Christ are we fully committed to him? Is Christ our first priority? Are we really on the side of Christ?
TO BE ON GOD'S SIDE:
The first reading of today taken from the book of Wisdom tells us that commitment to God, even when his plan lies beyond our human understanding, is the true way to wisdom. It reminds us of our limitations as human beings and our incapability of understanding the divine decrees. By ourselves, we cannot understand God and His ways. We have enough trouble trying to figure out the world around us! But if we have the gift of God's spirit of wisdom, we can learn to walk in God's ways. We can grow in our knowledge of God's intentions for us. And in this way we will really be on God's side.
During the American Civil War a lady exclaimed effusively to President Lincoln: “Oh Mr. President, I feel so sure that God is on our side, don't you?” “Ma'am,” replied the President, “I am more concerned that we should be on God's side.” Are we really concerned to be on God's side?
TO BE ON JESUS' SIDE:
Of all the Gospels, St. Luke’s presents the following of Jesus in the most radical terms. From the very beginning, it presents a Jesus who seems to have had a passion for making repulsive statements. In today's gospel Jesus is at it again. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and for some time now, large crowds have been traveling with him. The time has now arrived for Jesus to sift those who are truly committed from those who are not. He wants to get the point across that he must be at the center of his followers' lives. He insists that no one can be his disciple who does not consider him before family or self or possessions. Such demands require a total commitment on the part of a Christian, even to the point of death for Jesus. The disciple must be willing to renounce or give up everything out of love for Christ. All of these things can and should be loved, but each loved in a way that is proper to them, not in a way that makes them rivals to loving God.
a) Hating one's family … even his own life:
The first and foremost demand for discipleship, which Jesus declares in today's Gospel passage is, 'Hating one's family, and even one's own life.' Without question, this is one of those strange and unlikely sets of words we don’t expect from Jesus. We don’t often associate Jesus with hate, and when we do see Christians who seem to hate, we immediately talk about how non-Christian that concept is. But, here it is in black and white.
From the overall context of St. Luke’s gospel, it is quite obvious that Jesus could not mean us literally to hate our parents, brothers and sisters. Nor does Jesus literally mean us to hate our own lives. On the contrary we are called to have love and compassion for every single person, irrespective of who he/she is or what his/her relationship may be to us. Jesus, of course, is not saying that we should not love and respect members of our family. But he is asking where our priorities in life really are. To be a disciple is to make Jesus and his mission the first priority in our lives. To be a true follower of Jesus a person must be ready to sacrifice even what is nearest and dearest to him, if it comes between him and Christ. Whatever hinders his relationship with the master must be cut off. The disciples had to make a choice and commitment to Jesus.
b) Carrying one's own cross:
Secondly, a part of following Christ authentically is to take up our cross; i.e. to be prepared to lose our lives in order to truly find them. Jesus' ways are demanding ways and we must choose freely to follow him along the way of the Cross. Jesus is in some way already bearing his cross as he makes his way to Jerusalem, and he will carry it physically on Good Friday to his place of execution. There he will defeat evil by submitting himself to the worst evil can do and overcoming it. All that - and its consequence for those who follow - is encapsulated in his words, “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
c) Counting the cost:
Discipleship, which is a deliberate and total commitment of one's person, entails renunciation or a spirit of detachment. To make the choice and to discern, Jesus presents two short parables. He compares the Christian discipleship to a building project and to warfare:
The first is a parable about construction. When someone is about to build a building, he would be foolish if he didn’t sit down and estimate the cost of it and know if he can really afford to do it. Otherwise, the project will come to an end before it is completed and everyone will laugh at the builder. Similarly, the follower of Christ needs to know what it is going to cost to follow Jesus.
The second parable is about warring nations. The King needs to judge before he goes to war whether he has enough troops to be successful. He must be cautious and carefully consider his chances of winning the battle. Otherwise, he needs to go and arrange a peace treaty so that his nation will not be conquered and depleted. Is Jesus asking us to make a treaty with God if we don’t think we can quite meet His extreme expectations? Maybe.
d) Renouncing all one's possessions:
Lastly, Jesus says that to follow him one has to give up all his possessions. Wow! That is a big one, isn’t it! To renounce means to no longer use or engage in. So, again, Jesus doesn’t literally mean that one can have no possessions but that he must lose his dependence on material things. Possessions are necessary for life, but they can assume such an importance that they can become obsessions. When one is so consumed with the things that one could have, so much so that one no longer hears the urgent call of God, then one has indeed got one’s priorities all mixed up. Quite honestly, for many of us Christians these priorities often take precedence over our following of Christ. What is more important to us – God or our possessions? On whose side are we? God or our earthly possessions?
AN EXAMPLE - ONE, (St. Paul) WHO IS ON CHRIST'S SIDE:
In the Second Reading of today from St. Paul's Letter to Philemon, we have an example of someone who has been living his life in the way Christian discipleship demands. The Letter of St. Paul to his friend Philemon is one of warmth and beauty. It is the shortest of St. Paul's Letters and the shortest Book in the New Testament. St. Paul was an old man and was imprisoned and chained in Rome when he wrote this letter, and he is obviously carrying his cross.
In today's passage, St. Paul is making an appeal for Onesimus, Philemon's slave who has run away to be with Paul in prison. The apostle has not only converted Onesimus but has become a close and affectionate friend with him. Now he is sending the slave back to his master and asking Philemon to treat Onesimus not as a lowly slave but as a brother in Christ. This is a call for forgiveness. Onesimus may well have done wrong but it is clear that, with his conversion, he is now a changed person who can be trusted and relied on. Even more, as a Christian, he is in a special way a brother to Philemon, for Baptism establishes a new and radical relationship between Christians before which all others, including that of master and slave, give way in favor of a new kinship in Jesus Christ. Paul did not order him to accept back his slave even though he had the capacity to do so, but rather he makes an appeal in the name of Jesus and shows fatherly love towards this converted slave.
We must note here Paul does not approve or condemn slavery; but Paul places a delicate situation that since both the master and slave are baptized they ought to look at each other with Christian love. St. Paul, then, is a perfect example of one who tries to follow the path of Jesus. He is the one who was once on the opposite side, but now he is totally on Christ's side.
Discipleship has a personal cost for every single one of us. It is not just for those who are extraordinarily holy, or those who receive a special, unique calling from God. It is addressed to every Christian without exception. In following Jesus, we have to go with him the whole way. We have to accept totally his way of seeing life and then put that into practice in the way we live. There cannot be, as is the case with practically all of us, a kind of wishy-washy compromise, trying to have our cake and eat it too.
Discipleship is an all-consuming vocation that must be accepted with mature deliberation. A Christian disciple cannot act on impulse, but only on a carefully considered program of involvement. It is clear then that cost of following him is the readiness to give up, when this is required of us, everything that is dear to us: close family members, loving relationships, material possessions, personal comfort. Anyone who has ever been in a situation that required from us renouncing what was very dear to us for the sake of Jesus knows how costly his call is. All of us have only to think for a moment about the people and things that are very dear to us and imagine that Jesus might require us to give them up; then we appreciate the enormity of the cost.
However, the cost appears enormous to us only because, in our human limitation, we do not have a clear vision of what is to be attained in return. Actually, the renunciations we make are only apparent losses. All that we give up comes back to us, purified and multiplied or intensified, as he promised. But this is possible only if we have the courage to make the heroic step into the dark tunnel of renunciation and trust in Jesus. And if any of the things we have given up does not come back to us, we discover that it was not worth keeping anyway, and we do not miss it at all. It may have served its purpose at a certain time, like the cocoon of a butterfly that helps it to grow to maturity as long as the body is tender and unprotected. If the butterfly were to look back it would realize that the cocoon is no longer needed. In fact for it to go back to the cocoon would be a form of imprisonment.
To end, 'WHOSE SIDE YOU ARE ON?' During this Mass then let us pray for the grace that we be truly Jesus' disciples and ever be on his side. And this is the Good News of today.