OT XXIII [C] Homily- One-page summary(L-19)
Central theme: Today’s readings challenge us to the true Christian discipleship of total commitment to the will of God, putting God first in our lives.
Scripture lessons summarized: The first reading, taken from the Book of Wisdom, instructs us to ask for the gifts of discernment and strength from the Holy Spirit so that we may do the will of God as His true disciples. The Responsorial Psalm (Ps 90), instructs true disciples to lead holy lives by remaining constantly aware of the brevity and uncertainty of life. The second reading, taken from St. Paul’s letter to Philemon, teaches us that detachment and renunciation are necessary for a true disciple of Christ. As a responsible Apostle and zealous disciple of Christ, Paul had to renounce the service of his new helper, Onesimus, and return him to his master. As a new disciple of Christ, Onesimus had to leave Paul, face his owner as a runaway slave and accept the consequences. Today’s Gospel reminds us to count the cost of being a disciple and follower of Christ because the cost is high: true Christian discipleship requires one to “renounce” both earthly possessions and possessions of the heart (i.e., one’s relationships). In today’s Gospel, Jesus lays out four conditions for true Christian discipleship. i) Renounce too much attachment to family, giving priority to God and His commandments. ii) Break off the excessive attachment to possessions by leading a detached life, willingly sharing one’s blessings with others. iii) Accept the hard consequences of discipleship which include daily sacrificial service done for others and even the giving one’s life for them. iv) Calculate the cost involved in following Jesus. Using the two parables of the tower-builder and the king defending his country, Jesus says: think long and hard about Christian discipleship before a decision is made.
Life messages: We need to accept the challenge of Christian discipleship with heroic commitment and practice it. We do so: 1) by daily recharging our spiritual batteries through prayer, i.e., by talking to God, and by listening to Him through the meditative reading and study of the Bible; 2) by sharing in God’s life through frequent and active participation in the Eucharistic celebration; 3) by practicing the spirit of detachment and the renunciation of evil habits; 4) by giving our time, talents and resources generously, for the Lord’s work in the Church universal, and especially in our parish community, relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, 5) by loving all God’s children, especially the less fortunate ones, through humble and selfless acts of kindness, mercy, forgiveness and service; 6) by showing true commitment to the obligations and duties entrusted to us by our vocation in life and our profession, like fidelity in marriage and firm adherence to justice in our living and profession.
OT XXIII [C] (Sept 8) Wis 9:13-18b; Phlm 9-10, 12-17; Lk 14:25–33
Homily starter anecdotes # 1: ‘We will drill you and drill you, then drill you again.” Each Fall, a lot of young boys aspire to become football players. But only a few will find their way onto the high school or university teams. Every year a coach challenges the hopefuls, explaining the cost involved: “Your muscles will ache from calisthenics. We’ll run you till you think you can run no more. We will drill you and drill you, then drill you again, every day, after school. There’ll be no drugs, no alcohol. Only if you work hard will you make the team. If you don’t, you won’t.”
The personal, economic, and emotional cost of becoming a professional athlete or an Olympics Medalist is still higher. Young children spend hours a day practicing their skills and submitting themselves to rigorous programs of diet and exercise to become great gymnasts or dancers. Others accept the cost of dedicating years to study and hard work to become outstanding doctors or lawyers or scientists or writers. In today’s Gospel, Jesus challenges his would-be followers to calculate the cost in following him, because they will have to leave their families and possessions and accept the pain and suffering involved in following him as true disciples.
# 2: Hating father and mother: St. Thomas More was the Lord Chancellor, when Henry VIII was the King of England. More was a successful lawyer, a great linguist and a renowned spiritual and political writer. His book, Utopia, has become a classic. When he refused to take an oath supporting the Act of Succession, which a) recognized the offspring of Henry and his second wife Anne Boleyn as the heir to the throne; b) declared Henry’s first marriage with Catherine as null and void, and c) repudiated the Pope, More was imprisoned in the Tower of London in the year 1534. Thomas More could not, with any honesty, approve Henry’s second marriage to Anne, and he could not acknowledge the King as the supreme head of the Church of England. His family implored him – for his sake and theirs – to take the oath. More’s beloved daughter, Margaret, took an oath to persuade him to do so, in order that the family might visit him in prison. With More’s wife and son-in-law, Margaret tried hard, but Thomas refused. He spent fifteen lonely months imprisoned in the Tower of London – in poor health, isolated from the other prisoners, deprived of his beloved books; not even paper and pen were given to him. Thomas More was convicted of treason, sentenced to death and, on July 6th, 1535, he was beheaded. On mounting the scaffold, Thomas More proclaimed that he was “the king’s good servant but God’s first.” St. Thomas More paid the price for his discipleship by loving God more than his wife, children, nay, even his life. (John Rose in John’s Sunday Homilies).
# 3: “The beauty remains; the pain passes.” French artists Henri Matisse and Auguste Renoir were close friends and frequent companions despite the fact that Renoir was twenty-eight years the senior of Matisse. During the last several years of his life, Renoir was virtually crippled by arthritis; nevertheless, he painted every day, and when his fingers were no longer supple enough to hold the brush correctly, he had his wife, Alice, attach the paintbrush to his hand in order that he might continue his work. Matisse visited him daily. One day, as he watched his older friend wincing in excruciating pain with each colorful stroke, he asked, “Auguste, why do you continue to paint when you are in such agony?” Renoir’s response was immediate, “The beauty remains; the pain passes.” Passion for his art empowered Renoir to paint until the day he died; those who continue to admire the enduring beauty of his smiling portraits, his landscapes, his still life studies of flowers and fruit will find no trace therein of the pain required to create them. Most will agree that the cost was worth it. (Patricia Datchuck Sánchez).
Central theme: Today’s readings challenge us to make a total commitment to the will of God, putting God first in our lives.
Scripture lessons summarized: The first reading instructs us to ask for the gifts of discernment and wisdom from the Holy Spirit, so that we may obey the will of God as disciples. The Responsorial Psalm (Ps 90), instructs those who would be Jesus’ disciples that they must constantly be aware of the brevity and uncertainty of life. The second reading teaches us that detachment and renunciation are necessary for a true disciple of Christ. As a responsible Apostle and model disciple of Christ, Paul had to renounce the service of his new helper, Onesimus, and return him to Philemon, his master. As a new disciple of Christ, Onesimus had to leave Paul, face his owner as a runaway slave and accept the consequences. Today’s Gospel reminds us to count the cost of being a Christian because the cost is high. Christian discipleship requires that one “renounce” both earthly possessions and possessions of the heart (i.e., one’s relationships). In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus lays out four conditions for true Christian discipleship: i) renouncing the attachment to family by putting God first, before other relationships and self-interest; ii) severing the attachment to possessions by leading a detached life, willingly sharing our blessings with others; iii) accepting the hard consequences of discipleship which include offering daily sacrificial service to others and even losing one’s life for them. We must also be faithful in our stewardship, faithful in our worship attendance, faithful in our sexuality, honest in our business practices and accurate on our tax returns — and we must show compassion for the less fortunate; iv) calculating the cost involved. Using the two parables of the tower-builder and the king defending his country, Jesus says: think long and hard about Christian discipleship before a decision is made.
The first reading, Wisdom 9:13-18 explained: This selection tells us that the will of God can only be discerned by the help of God’s Wisdom (the Spirit of God). God gives us this Divine Wisdom directly in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, and the Spirit empowers and instructs us through Divine Revelation in Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Hence, we must prepare our plan of action in Christian discipleship, relying on the power and light of the Holy Spirit. Our decisions as true disciples of Christ must flow from our religious values, what the author of Wisdom calls “things
are in Heaven.” This means that we are called to make decisions as disciples of Jesus, not as merely foolish people caught up in the cultural values of our time. (The book of Wisdom was written in Alexandria, Egypt a century before Christ. It was the work of a pious Jew and was intended to bolster the Faith of his fellow-Jews who were tempted to “assimilate” into the dominant pagan culture). Today’s passage is about deep theological issues, such as the ability of the human mind to grasp the ways of God, and the interaction between body and soul. God’s mind is so unique that we must constantly, and deliberately, pray for Heavenly wisdom.
The second reading, Philemon 9-10, 12-17 explained: This letter provides another lesson in the detachment and renunciation necessary for Christian discipleship. The cost of his discipleship had already landed Paul in prison once, probably in Ephesus (ca. AD 52-54). Philemon was a wealthy Colossian and a friend of Paul. Philemon had been converted to the Christian Faith through Paul’s ministry. Philemon had a slave called Onesimus who had robbed his master and fled to Rome. God’s grace led Onesimus to the prison where Paul was being held, and the Apostle took compassion on him, leading Onesimus also to the Christian Faith. Then Paul sent Onesimus back to his master in Colossae with a letter pleading with the master, not only to spare Onesimus severe punishment, but also to show him sympathy, affection and Christian brotherhood. Paul asked Philemon to receive Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother in the Lord, as a spiritual sibling and to welcome him as he would welcome Paul himself or even Christ himself. Paul means that Onesimus should not be marked by a red-hot iron with a F for “fugitive” on his forehead. We hear this appeal in the second reading. As a responsible Apostle and model disciple of Christ, Paul had to renounce the service of his new helper and return him to his master. As a new disciple of Christ, Onesimus had to leave Paul, face his owner as a runaway slave and accept the consequences. Paul challenged Philemon to express his commitment to Christ as a true disciple by treating Onesimus “no longer as a slave but a brother,” thus transforming the relationship between master and slave, bravely facing the contempt and scorn of his social equals and incurring social and economic liability as well. (The traditional belief is that Onesimus was later made the bishop of Ephesus and suffered martyrdom in Rome.)
Gospel exegesis: The context: Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem where he would be crucified. But the crowd thought that he was going to Jerusalem to oust the Romans and to reestablish the old Davidic kingdom of Israel. Jesus was enormously popular with the crowds as a great healer, brave teacher and miracle worker. Looking at the cheering masses, however, Jesus frankly put before them the strenuous conditions for discipleship.
1) We must renounce family relationships, giving priority to God. Today’s passage in Luke puzzles a lot of people, because in the Middle East, anyone who deliberately cut ties with family and social network would lose the ordinary means of making a living. Further, a person’s life and family relationships were a necessity for security and identity, regardless of social position. Why was Jesus, who had been recommending that his followers love everybody –including their enemies–suddenly announcing that no one could be his disciple unless he hated his own family? The word hate, as used in this case, “is Semitic exaggeration and may reflect an idiom which means ‘love less than’ (Oxford Bible Commentary). So, it is clear that Jesus’ “hating” one’s family is a Semitic hyperbole or exaggeration, spoken for effect. Matthew’s Gospel makes it clear. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10:37-38). This is Semitic hyperbole or exaggeration-for-effect. The word “hate,” in Hebrew, does not mean “detest” but to “put in second place. Jesus is not calling us to hate father and mother but is instead calling us to a commitment above all other commitments, including commitment to family. When Jesus said, “hate your family,” he was talking about spiritual detachment, the ability to put God first, before other relationships and before self-interest. Without such detachment, one does not have the ability truly to follow Jesus. Jesus cannot just be a part of our life but the center.
2) We must bear our crosses: Though “bearing a cross” is often equated with welcoming chronic illness, painful physical conditions, or trying family relationships, it also includes what we do voluntarily, as a consequence of our commitment to Jesus Christ. Further, it is the spirit in which we freely and deliberately accept and endure the pain, difficulties and even the ridicule involved with these choices, that transforms them into real cross-bearing. We need to be prepared to suffer out of love for Jesus. For the early Christians, however, cross-bearing had a far more literal meaning. Just as Jesus went to the cross, some of his followers would also taste death for their devotion to the Master. Only if the disciple is firmly committed to Christ will he be able to spend his life in sacrificial service for others. We observe this in Christian doctors, medical students and pharmacists who refuse to take part in any way in abortions, even if they might suffer professionally; in people who stick up for Christ and his teachings (even when they suffer derision as a result), at school, work or in their families; in those who sacrifice money and time to care for others and for the mission of the Church. “Discipleship not only means to follow the Master with our ‘cross.’ It also means to reveal the crucified Christ to others. In other words, through our struggles and the consequences of Faith, Christ is present, to us and to those who see us.” CCC 618).
3) We must calculate the cost of discipleship: Using the two parables of the tower-builder and the king defending his country, Jesus says: think long and hard about Christian discipleship before a decision is made. In the first parable, the builder was not financially able to finish the building. The second parable spoke of a king planning strategy against a belligerent opponent. Could the king win the battle against an army twice the size of his own? Or should he sue for peace? Just as a tower builder needs to have enough in the budget for materials and as a general to win a war needs to have enough well-trained troops to defeat his opponents, so we to be a follower of Christ need to know the commitment it’s going to take. Perhaps these parables also illustrate that discipleship is not a one-time decision and that the commitment involved needs to be an ongoing decision to persevere in the ministries that are integral to following Jesus. When we first decide to follow Christ, we know simply that there will be a price to pay. Only as life unfolds can we begin to assess the full cost. Jesus warns us to expect significant cost overruns because the cost for him was the cross at Calvary.
4) We need to say good-bye to possessions: The fourth condition for being a disciple of Jesus means not only surrendering material possessions but sometimes one’s very life. In today’s reading, we hear the phrase, “whoever does not renounce all of his possessions and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” Jesus asserted it in the Sermon on the Mount: “No one can serve two masters; for he will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt 6:24). When Jesus says that we must give up all our possessions in order to follow him, he doesn’t mean that we must all hold a giant yard sale and live as mendicants on the streets. He means that we should lead a detached life, willingly sharing our blessings with others. The four conditions of discipleship as outlined by Jesus indicate a kind of total commitment that every follower of Christ should be prepared to live. The radical demands of Jesus call us to center our lives on the suffering and risen Christ.
5) The paradox of Jesus’ strenuous conditions: Jesus commanded us to make disciples of all nations (not “make members”). On the one hand, our text repeats the necessity of putting Jesus first – an extremely demanding condition. On the other hand, even “street people” are generously invited to the banquet. The only “demand” is that we come, eat, and enjoy the feast that has been prepared. Do we live in this tension between free grace and costly discipleship? Is there a difference between believing in Jesus and being a disciple? Yes! Just being an active Church member is not enough. Jesus doesn’t want disciples who just “go along with the crowd.” He wants committed Christians — those who are aware of the costs of following him — who choose to follow him anyway. Being Jesus’ disciple has never been convenient. It is costly — costly in terms of money, time, relationships, and priorities.
6) Cheap grace and costly grace: According Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran theologian, martyred by Hitler, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, Baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, and grace without Jesus….Cheap grace costs us nothing (in the short term). Costly grace costs us our life, but it is also the source of the only true and complete life.” (The Cost of Discipleship). (http://peterfaur.com/2012/12/18/study-guides-for-dietrich-bonhoeffers-the-cost-of-discipleship#axzz4JI86fUOI) Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price for which the believer is willing to sell everything he/she has. Costly grace is the Gospel which must be lived and preached; it is the gift which must be asked for, the door at which every disciple must knock. Costly grace means following Jesus, aware of and prepared for the pitfalls of discipleship but still willing to meet them and manage them daily with his help. “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing. “(Martin Luther). It is strange to see how the present followers of Martin Luther preach and practice a diluted, cost-free Christianity, assuring eternal salvation to all who accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and ask his pardon and forgiveness for their sins – and that is “preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance”!
7) Cafeteria Christians versus committed Christians: Soren Kierkegaard said that there are a lot of parade-ground Christians who wear the uniforms of Christianity, but few who are willing to do battle for Christ and his kingdom. When it comes to doing battle for the Lord, too many church members are just sitting on the premises instead of “standing on the promises of God.” Jesus does not want a large number of “half-way” disciples who are willing to do a “little bit” of prayer, a “little bit” of commitment, a “little bit” of dedication, a “little bit” of love. Jesus wants disciples who are truly committed to prayer, to discipleship and to being ruled by him as their king. With a few such dedicated disciples, Jesus could change the world. Today, more than a billion people gather to worship, but many of them are half-hearted Christians. We are tempted to forego the call to faithful stewardship, faithful worship attendance, faithful sexuality, honest business practices, accurate tax returns and compassion for the less fortunate. Ironically enough, Churches with high standards attract people with high standards. Integrity and commitment attract others. On the one hand, Jesus makes it very difficult to be his disciple. On the other hand, Jesus is making it impossible to be his disciple just using only our own abilities. When we confess, “I can’t,” then we are open for God’s “I can.” With God’s grace everything is possible.
Life messages: 1) We need to practice true Christian discipleship. In the book Power Surge, Mike Foss lists “six marks of discipleship for a changing Church” which he expects Christians to practice: 1) daily prayer, 2) weekly worship by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, 3) diligent study of the Bible, 4) service in and beyond the parish, 5) spiritual friendships, and 6) giving time, talents, and resources to the Lord’s work.
2) We need to accept the challenge with heroic commitment: Jesus’ challenge of true Christian discipleship can be accepted only if we practice the spirit of detachment and renunciation in our daily lives. Real discipleship demands true commitment to the duties entrusted to us by life, circumstances, the community, or directly by God Himself, and by loving acts of selfless, humble, sacrificial love offered to all God’s children around us. Let us remember that all this is possible only if we rely on the power of prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Mother Teresa said, “If we have our Lord amid us, with daily Mass and Holy Communion, I fear nothing for the Sisters nor myself; he will look after us. But without him I cannot be. I am helpless” (MFG, p. 26).
JOKE OF THE WEEK: 1) President in search of a true Christian disciple: Abraham Lincoln was debating whom to hire as Indian Commissioner. He called his advisors Ben Wade and Senator Daniel Voorhees for assistance in selecting the right man. “Gentlemen,” said President Lincoln, “I want an honest, decent, caring, moral Christian man, a man frugal and self-sacrificing!” “Mr. President, I feel certain you won’t find him,” said Voorhees. “And why not?” asked the President. “Because he was Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified eighteen hundred years ago,” said the Senator.
2) Christian burial for a non-disciple? One morning Rev. Desmond went to the front door of his rectory to get his newspaper and found a dead mule on the street. He quickly called the city health department and asked to have the mule disposed of. The smart secretary on duty said, “Hey, Reverend Pastor, I always heard that you pastors buried your own dead even if they are not practicing Christian disciples”. “Yes, we do, “the pastor, replied. “But not in all cases. In this case, I would like to meet the deceased’s close relatives in the Health Department in person to offer my condolences and to give a special blessing!
Prepared by: Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.