23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“It Is Not Easy To Follow Christ!”
In today’s Liturgy we celebrate the ‘Self-sacrificing Love’ of Christ, the unfathomable ‘Wisdom’ of God, who was prepared to give up everything out of love for humankind.
Jesus did not want to deceive anybody about the difficulty of being his disciple. In the Gospel, Jesus is setting down three very difficult conditions and demands. If one wants to be his disciple, one must break away from one’s family, good’s and one’s own life.
These demands are unacceptable by one who is led by human arguments. They can be understood and accepted only by one who has been granted the ‘wisdom from above’, as we learn in the first reading.
The Letter to Philemon is a beautiful example of the practice of love, forgiveness and detachment from material goods.
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation are from the published works of priests who have by their Divine inspiration become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and generally reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a Prayer are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. We will begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator.
“Allow the Spirit of God to break the chains that keep us from understanding and accepting the word of God.”
We must not confuse the ‘wisdom’ we find in the Bible with the many ‘tenets’ (theories) that we learn at various institutions of learning. The author of the Book of Wisdom was a very intelligent and learned man. He had studied science, mathematics, and physics; he knew the movements of the stars, the behaviour patterns of animals and the medicinal roots for healing (Wis 7:16-21). Yet he still felt the need to ask God for ‘wisdom’, because the kind of ‘wisdom’ he was searching for can only come from God. He is the only one who grants it gratuitously.
There are many very important decisions in life that will not be solved from a wisdom that one learns academically. How do you for example decide if you should take revenge against one who caused harm to your daughter, or if you are going to be happy accumulating riches through dishonesty or if it is worthwhile looking after your family interests and forget about your neighbour? To find the fitting response to these cases you need ‘wisdom’, that is the ‘Light’ that comes from God.
The reading tells us that humans alone cannot find what the Lord’s will is because our line of reasoning is unclear and uncertain. Our minds are weighed down and influenced by our corruptible bodies and it is already so difficult for us to understand the things of this world, how can we pretend to discover the thoughts of God? Many are the elements that lead our minds astray! Our options and choices are conditioned by our type of education, our experiences, family and community traditions and culture, political propaganda and influential friendships. We cannot decide ‘freely and wisely’; we cannot keep a straight course if God does not guide us by his Light from above. The human mind is so spiritually weak, that it should come as no surprise that the Gospel contradicts it so often. How can we even contemplate to trust more our minds, our human intellect, our arguments and not the ‘word of God’?
Psalm 90: 3-6, 14, & 17.
The Psalm too is a prayer for ‘wisdom’ of heart’. Life is short, and for the psalmist, its end was a return to the dust from which it came (Gen 3:18). Even such a short life became worthwhile if lived in the consciousness of God’s love and praise. The Christian in contrast knows that our destiny is to ‘be with the Lord’ (1Thes 4:17).
Philemon 9-10, 12-17.
Paul has encountered a runaway slave in prison, one who was ‘useless’ to his master in former times. Paul renames him ‘Onesimus’, which means ‘useful’, and teaches him the Gospel of Jesus. Onesimus is now a brother in Christ, and though his status in the world has not changed, in the Kingdom he is now family. Why did Paul not insist that Philemon set this man free and take a stand against the institution of slavery? Paul says only that he would like to have Onesemus on the mission trail with him as a fellow servant of the Gospel.
Paul does not force Philemon’s hand. Instead he sends the slave back to his master, and asks Philemon to receive him ‘as you would welcome me’. It is like so many stories in the Gospel in which we hear of someone encountering Jesus. They are taught or cured and then they walk off the page of Scripture for good. What happens to them? Does their meeting with Jesus make a difference in their lives, or are they simply swallowed up into the same old circumstances? Similar questions we might ask of ourselves: Has knowing Jesus made us truly free, or do we serve the same old master?
Jesus uses many different images to explain what qualities it takes to be a follower and the cost (sacrifice) one must be prepared to pay. Jesus starts off with a shocking demand that to follow him is to ‘hate’ father and mother, brothers and sisters, children and wife (and husband) and one’s own life. These are the very people we love and treasure most.
How can we accept and understand this teaching of Jesus? Anyone who makes a radical commitment to Jesus will experience sooner or later that not everybody agrees with the values and the way of life of Jesus. When there is a clash, Jesus tells the would-be disciples, you must have the courage to choose me first, even if that means turning your back on your family. ‘To hate’ your family is a way of saying ‘to love Jesus more’ or ‘to prefer him to your family’. This painful choice can be very real when your family becomes a hindrance to your faith. This can lead to major choices, tensions and real suffering in the family but this is what a radical way of following Jesus demands.
The second demand is “No one who does not carry his Cross and comes after me can be my disciple”. This sentence is often interpreted as a call to endure patiently life’s adversities. The love for our brothers and sisters may demand on our part to give up something and at times to submit to heroic mortification and humiliation. Rabbis used to teach how to practice the Law of God. Jesus instead asks his disciples to follow him, carrying their Cross as he did. The Cross is a sign of the gift of purification in one’s life. One is a true Christian only when one is ready to offer oneself totally to God and to one’s brother or sister, like the Master did. Jesus tells us that those who are last shall be first!
Jesus presents two short and simple parables to help his listeners understand before presenting his third demand. The disciple must be like a builder who sits down and calculates the cost of the construction before starting work. Building a tower is an important decision and it requires serious reflection to see if there is enough money and material to see the project through. Once the work starts, a builder needs single-mindedness, attention to detail and concentration of all efforts to finish the project well.
Likewise the disciple of Jesus must also sit down and consider the cost involved in going out to wage war on the side of Jesus against the forces of evil in the world. In the same way, to take the decision to follow Jesus as a disciple demands that one first takes time to reflect as this is a life-time commitment and sacrifice!
The third demand: “None of you can be my disciple without giving up all that he owns”. There is no compromise! What we have belongs to God and we need to use it according to what is expected of our station in life!
It is not easy to make practical proposals to respond to this demand, but what is sure is if we choose to follow Christ, then we must change completely our attitude towards the goods of this world. Today Jesus is calling on you to share something with your brothers and sisters who are in desperate need!
Following Jesus is like putting up a new house. It is a rebuilding of one’s life. Or it can be like fighting against an enemy. Both demand careful reflection.
Discipleship is not to be taken lightly.
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week:
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following
23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C, we reflect on …
Sun. … We often try to outguess God by applying our own motives and thinking in Divine territory. We often judge God and his motives. Why for instance, would a loving God ‘want’ or ‘permit’ my best friend to develop cancer? Why do extreme weather conditions and natural disasters bring about so much death and suffering? We must trust in God and never despair. Our purpose of life is for eternity!
Mon. … We often want immediate answers from God for tragic events, but we never stop to consider the questions God might be asking of us: why do we sin, regardless of the graces and blessings he showers upon our lives? Why do we refuse to share when we have more than we need? Why do we ignore the sufferings of a brother or sister that asks us for help? We must also realise that our preferred timetable is not God’s timetable!
Tues. … Sometimes we get so busy minding God’s business that we forget to account for our own. We need to spend less time second-guessing the ‘Grand Plan’ and more time seeking ‘true wisdom’ to make our paths straight.
Wed. … Paul teaches us that there is now neither slave nor free-person, since in God’s eyes all are one and of equal worth. Do we see others through the eyes of God?
Thurs. … Do we put God first in our lives? Do we have the courage to choose God first even if it means turning our backs on our families? God does not want us to hate our families as he commands us to ‘honour father and mother’ in the 4th Commandment. What Jesus means is that we must never allow anyone or anything to become a hindrance to our faith!
Frid. … Jesus does not want people rushing headlong into instant commitment while ignoring the cost, responsibilities, their capabilities and the present commitments they may have in their lives. True discipleship involves careful thought and having the courage to put Jesus ‘first and above everything else’ in your lives.
Sat. … Take the Cross out of Christianity and what have you got? An ‘a la carte’ picking or rejecting from Christ’s message of Truth; an inability to see a meaning in suffering; no backbone in times of trial! There is no discipleship without discipline. There is no Christianity without the Cross!
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, by Your great love and wisdom help us to understand that discipleship involves careful thought, discipline and determination to put Jesus first and above everything else in our lives. May Your Wisdom grant us the willingness to always do your will above all other needs however tempting and important they may be. May we always follow the ‘One’ True Master.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives, and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.
Compliments: Bible Discussion Group.
Our Lady of the Wayside, Maryvale.
“Discovering the Truth through God’s living Word”.