Sep 7, 2013

23rd Sunday: Discipleship and detachment


"He turned and addressed them . . ."

Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us in these troubled times.

Wis 9: 13-18B
Phmn 9-10, 12-17
Lk 14: 25-33

Life experience shows us that one serious choice automatically eliminates another.  Choosing a spouse for matrimony eliminates all others.  It also comes with particular demands and responsibilities to that sacred covenant that excludes other choices.

Likewise, any serious life choice about one’s vocation is far more limiting than choosing what to eat for dinner.  But even that most common choice eliminates other foods.  Faced with a buffet or pot-luck dinner may appear to offer us a plethora of choices but sooner or later you can’t have it all. And so it goes in life.

This same truth applies to our discipleship of the Lord Jesus. The demands and limits that Jesus offers us this Sunday in the Gospel (Lk 14: 25-33) seem at least on face value to be extreme.  We are called to “hate” our “father and mother, wife and children . . .” We must carry our cross and renounce all of our possessions.  Who would find such choices in any way attractive? If that’s what it takes only the most severe would seek to follow Jesus.  Or might there be more under the surface of these words? There always is.

The choice to embrace the Gospel is serious business.  We are not called to be part time Christians or mere Sunday Catholics who give the appearance of discipleship but in truth never let the core message of the Lord truly change our hearts and minds. But is the alternative to hate our family and material possessions?  

As always we must remember that the Gospels were not written in modern English so the word “hate” in this context must have another meaning.  In essence the word must be better understood as prefer. I must not prefer other people, human relationships, and material possessions with all their advantages more than my relationship with Jesus.  To fall in love with the Lord is to say that I prefer him above all other things and that I am willing to even sacrifice all rather than find a less challenging way. 

The cost of discipleship is sometimes a “no pain no gain” sort of thing.  Nothing worthwhile comes easy but in the same way to follow the Lord is not an endurance test in which only the strong will survive.

If God is at the center of our lives and if we take the Gospel seriously with, then all other people, places, and things fall into their proper order. As  St. Augustine reminds us: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee O Lord.”

There is no doubt that we need to be connected to others on both an emotional and social level.  We are indeed made not to be alone but to take God very seriously. When the cross comes into our experience we will see it as part and parcel of our salvation and not just an annoying and unnecessary form of suffering. 

When we look at our “stuff” in light of the treasure we hold in our faith, doesn’t all the energy spent on the pursuit of riches take on lesser meaning?  While we need a certain amount of things to live with and we even pray for “our daily bread” in the Lord’s Prayer yet how much is enough? If our life is all about accumulation then have we pushed God aside? We can live without it if need be for we find ourselves attached to the search of a better spiritual life. Nothing wrong with having things but they should never be ends in themselves.

There’s no doubt that Jesus sets the bar very high at times but it is for our ultimate good. If we have a part of our life that is given over to doing good for others, if we are serious about a prayer life, and generous with what we have, then this Gospel becomes a way to be free and find a joy that only Jesus can offer. Our Eucharist becomes a sign of unity and gratitude for the privilege we have of being sons and daughters of a Father who loves us into a life more than we can ever imagine. 
O God, by whom we are redeemed and receive adoption,
look graciously upon your beloved sons and daughters,
that those who believe in Christ
may receive true freedom
and an everlasting inheritance.

(Roman Missal: Collect for Sunday)