Wisdom 9:13-18; Philemon 9b, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33
Today’s liturgy points us towards the economy of salvation. The word economy coming from the Greek origin tells us of the household management. The economy of salvation tells us how God manages his household and how he places us into his loving care. All of us have an invitation to come closer to God and commit ourselves to him. But we have to balance our considerations and make decision about our commitment, our self control and our detachment. In the Gospel of today Jesus tells how much it costs us to be his true disciple and enter into his divine economy. What does it cost us to enter into the divine household? He makes strong demands of us so that we are prepared to remain true to him till the end. He asks to put our commitments to him above all things including the family ties and remain close to him. He expects each one of his disciple to carry his daily cross and follow him. We have to count the cost to be with him. 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. In the second reading Paul from his prison speaking of Onesimus, the slave of Philemon says that for Christians Baptism establishes a new and radical relationship between Christians before which all others including that of master and slave, give way in favour of a new kinship in Jesus Christ.
Today’s First Reading from the Book of Wisdom tells us of man’s incapability of understanding the divine decrees. Because we are finite, limited beings, our knowledge is finite and limited. There are several finite and limited problems around us and we solve them only with divine help. The passage of today places before us five things. First of all, we as human beings are very limited in our reasoning because we lack Divine knowledge and understanding; we are limited in our ability of doing things and of knowing the Divine Will of God. Secondly, the author tells us that God sent the Holy Spirit to give us Wisdom. Thirdly, the Holy Spirit teaches us the way, the truth and the life just as Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would teach us everything, and remind us of all that He has done. Fourthly, through the Holy Spirit, we learn how to please God. And finally, through the Divine wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we are saved. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are born again. Thus the paths of those on earth were set right and people were taught what pleases God and were saved by his wisdom.
Today’s Second Reading taken from the Letter of St Paul to Philemon we learn that Philemon had been converted through the efforts of Paul. Philemon had a slave by the name of Onesimus who had runaway and Paul who converted him perhaps while in prison. Now, Paul was appealing to Philemon’s good will to welcome Onesimus back into his family. 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. 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 did 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. At the same time, Onesimus was obligated to serve Philemon in Christian fidelity. On his part he had to make right the wrong he had done as much as it was humanly possible. He was obligated to return to his master and rectify the mistake that he had done to his master. What Philemon was receiving was a greater gift from God than he enjoyed before, not just a slave, but a brother in the Lord. This did not imply that Onesimus should be treated as a member of the family without obligation to perform his duties, but rather that he should continue to serve Philemon by living his faith in Christ.
The message from today’s Gospel is “the cost of being a disciple.” Jesus is on the road, going from village to village to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. Here he speaks of the true discipleship. A disciple is one who is learning or has learnt from a master or teacher, or one who follows the teachings prescribed by a master or teacher. The demands of discipleship require a total dedication on the part of a Christian. For some time now, large crowds had been travelling with Jesus. The time had now arrived for Jesus to sift those who were truly committed from those who were not. Now was the time to see who was ready to deny himself, even to the point of death for Jesus. To make the choice and to discern, Jesus presents two parables. He compared the Christian life to a building project and to warfare. In the first parable, Jesus related that before someone builds a tower, he sits down and calculates the cost. If he does not have enough wealth to finish the tower, in all wisdom, he does not begin the project. Otherwise, the project will come to an end before it is completed and everyone will laugh at the builder. So it is with disciples. In the second parable, Jesus said that a king going to war against forces that are far more superior to his, must carefully calculate the cost. He must be cautious and carefully consider his chances of winning the battle. If he does not have any chance of winning or if the risk is too high, he must surrender unconditionally. So it is with Christian discipleship. A disciple cannot serve two masters. He must chose to either commit himself or to withdraw himself. He cannot stand halfway between both sides. He cannot be lukewarm, neither cold nor hot. If he attempts to do so, on Judgment Day, the Lord God will spit him out of His mouth.
Counting the cost is a very important factor when it comes to conversion. The potential convert must decide if he will receive the Sacrament of initiation or Baptism as a condition of his membership in the Body of Christ, the invisible Kingdom of God on earth. He must decide if afterwards, he will have the fidelity to remain righteous in the eyes of the Lord God. He must decide if he is prepared to commit his living faith in Christ on a daily basis until the end. He must carefully consider all the factors related to conversion and living one’s faith as expected by God and the Church. Therefore a true disciple must forsake everything to follow Jesus. He must love Jesus above all others. Jesus wants to discover this factor of fidelity to him. With the people all around him, Jesus suddenly stops in his tracks. He turns round and says words that were quite shocking to his hearers and sound pretty harsh to us too: “If anyone comes to me without hating father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes, and his own life, that person cannot be my follower or disciple.” The Jews, like a number of other ethnic communities, were recognized for their close family ties. Jesus himself showed close family bonds during his hidden and public life. It was Mary who stood by his cross where he intends to begin a new family. When Jesus said that His disciples must “hate father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself,” he means to cut off all relationships and have single hearted devotion to Jesus.
In a parallel passage in Matthew we hear Jesus saying that whoever loves his father or mother more than Jesus is not worthy of him and whoever loves son or daughter more than Jesus is not worthy of him and finally whoever does not take up the cross and follow the Lord is not worthy of him.” The cross does not mean the cross Jesus carried but it the cross of our life, the pains privations and sufferings. It is quite obvious from the overall context of Luke’s gospel that Jesus could not mean us literally to hate our parents, brothers and sisters. Nor does Jesus literally mean to tell us to hate our own lives. People who feel that way effectively commit suicide. Hate and the anger and violence that it produces are the product of fear. On the contrary we are called to have love and compassion for every single person, irrespective of who they are or what their relationship may be to us. True love casts out fear. What Jesus is saying today is putting in another way what we have already seen in discussing other passages, such as, the story of the Good Samaritan and the Lord’s Prayer. Namely, those who are true disciples of Jesus recognize that, as children of one God, we all belong to one family, that we are all brothers and sisters to each other.
Luke in the Gospel clearly tells us that the following of Jesus in the most radical terms would mean to find him in all persons. In following Jesus, we have to go with him the whole way and have to accept totally his way of seeing life and then putting that into practice in the way we live. A Christian is someone who desires, at any cost, the Glory of God and his own happiness in the Heart of Christ Jesus. If it is necessary to go through the Cross, and it is indeed absolutely necessary, then the Christian, the true Christian, does not hesitate for an instant: in order to go to Jesus and to rest in his Love, the Christian renounces all things and carries his cross, following the Lord. The Heart of Jesus was opened on the Cross of Calvary in order that, by this same Cross, all those who truly want to might be able to eternally enjoy the happiness of the Love of God which is hidden at the bottom of this unique wound. “Whoever doesnot bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”
The essential condition for true discipleship demanded by Jesus was and still is total dedication, a total commitment of self to him. It is a complete surrender to the call of the master. Therefore Jesus says that whoever is not with him is against him. To be a true disciple one must live the Christian life every day and whole day. To be a disciple and follow Jesus is a life-journey. It involves a total involvement in the causes for him. This is what Jesus wants to make us understand through the examples or parables he tells us today. Both the man who wants to build a tower and the man who wants to go to war must act with prudence, a prudence that must lead them to reflect and to envisage what might happen to them if they follow the route they are considering. He who wants to build a tower must foresee the need for sufficient money to complete his construction, and he who wants to go to war must foresee the need for enough men to defeat his enemy. The same must be true for the Christian who wants to go to Heaven and be with Christ, and who wants, by this very fact, to avoid hell: to do this, the Christian must prepare himself andbe ready, in a boundless love of God, in holy hope, in firm faith, for the only thing he can foresee is precisely that the Lord will come for him at the very moment that was unforeseen.
In the Gospel Jesus makes other conditions to follow him, namely, self control and detachment. We have yet another phrase here, namely, “hating our own life”. This is just an extension of the earlier part. Jesus wants our lives to be lived in total truth and love. Our lives are not to be determined and manipulated by attachments, desires, ambitions or fears and anxieties which can become very much part of us. We are to live in total freedom. 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 early days of Christianity were difficult and challenging ones in the face of persecutions. The disciples had to make a choice and commitment to Jesus. The gentile converts had suffered much from their own parents and relatives. Ultimately what Christ wanted from his followers is the total dedication. He suggests that there cannot be half hearted relationship. To follow him is surely a life journey.
Finally true discipleship is to commit oneself to a life of self-renunciation. True discipleship cannot act on impulse, but only on a carefully considered programme of involvement. It is to embrace suffering, persecution, obedience, servitude and humility, all for the love of Christ. When such has been accomplished, it can be said that the believer has been saved by wisdom, by the Holy Spirit who has taught him and guided him step by step towards salvation and the eternal Kingdom of God. To sum up, as true followers of Jesus, we enter a new family where we recognize every person as a brother or sister. There are times when the needs of others precede family concerns. Often we do not seem to realize that commitment is the foundation of a genuinely loving relationship. While deep commitment may not guarantee the success of relationship, it helps more than any other factor to assure it. Let us try not to desire anything immoderately nor be attached to earthly things. For the Lord is the sole desirable Good, the only one we should desire wholeheartedly. It is by truly desiring him, and him alone, that we will be his disciples.
This is what we shall do, with the help of his grace, during today’s Eucharist. Let us ask Mary, the Most Holy Mother of God, to prepare our heart for the reception within us of the Lord Jesus.
Do you know the legend of the Cherokee Indian Youth’s Rite of Passage? His father takes him into the forest, blindfolds him and leaves him alone. He is required to sit on a stump the whole night and not remove the blindfold until the rays of the morning sun shine through it. He cannot cry out for help to anyone. Once he survives the night, he is a MAN. He cannot tell the other boys of this experience, because each lad must come into manhood on his own. The boy is naturally terrified. He can hear all kinds of noises. Wild beasts must surely be all around him. Maybe even some human might do him harm. The wind blew the grass and earth, and shook his stump, but he sat stoically, never removing the blindfold. It would be the only way he could become a man! Finally, after a horrific night the sun appeared and he removed his blindfold. It was then that he discovered his father sitting on the stump next to him. He had been at watch the entire night, protecting his son from harm. We, too, are never alone. Even when we don’t know it, God is watching over us, sitting on the stump beside us. When trouble comes, all we have to do is reach out to Him.
Fr Eugene Lobo S.J., Mangalore, India