4 September 2016: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Wis 9:13-18b Ps 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17 Phmn 9-10, 12-17 Lk 14:25-33


Discipleship: warnings about its difficulty

Green_banner_smDuring Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings warn would-be disciples about how difficult it is to follow Jesus.

In the first reading, book of Wisdom’s author describes how difficult it is for humans to know God’s mind. Unless God sends us wisdom, we are unable to “search out things in heaven.” The Lectionary editors chose this reading to parallel the difficult discipleship messages in today’s gospel.

In the second reading, Paul writes to Philemon about his runaway slave Onesimus. While Paul is in prison (probably in Ephesus), he met and baptized Onesimus. Paul asks Philemon to take a social risk in service to the gospel: to receive Onesimus back without reprisal, to refuse financial reparation, to go farther in generosity and free Onesimus, and to recognize Onesimus as a brother through baptism.

In the gospel, Luke shifts abruptly from Jesus talking to dinner guests in the Pharisee’s house (last week’s gospel, Lk 14: 7-14) to Jesus addressing “great crowds travelling with him” about the difficulties of being Jesus’ disciple. Luke gives three sayings and two parables from Jesus about discipleship:

  • Saying 1: Hating (renouncing) family and life (Lk 14:26). Luke uses the Greek word μισέω (mih-SHEH-oh), translated here as “hate.” μισέω can also mean “disregard” or “to regard less than.” Would-be disciples must put Jesus ahead of family and social ties–one’s very life. In tight-knit Middle Eastern society, choosing to align with someone outside the family carried risk: loss of family, loss of status, and possibly loss of personhood.
  • Saying 2: Carrying a cross (Lk 14:27). Choosing Jesus over family means losing not only social ties, but also economic ties–the usual way of earning a living. Would-be disciples will encounter personal suffering and economic uncertainty (and, in later times, persecution)–hard burdens for anyone to carry.
  • Saying 3: Renouncing possessions (Lk 14:33). Choosing Jesus means giving up all earthly possessions of family, status, and the security of ownership. Luke warns would-be disciples to consider carefully what Jesus asks. He tells two short parables about discipleship’s risks and costs.
  • Parable 1: Building a tower (Lk 14:28-30) and Parable 2: Strategizing for war (Lk 14:31-32). Would-be disciples must gage their level of commitment. If a would-be disciple lacks commitment–lays a foundation but is unable to finish the tower–he will be ridiculed and shamed. Would-be disciples without sufficient resources–to win the battle–will lose everything.

Over the last few weeks, Jesus described the kingdom’s bounty and feasts. Today he paints a realistic picture of discipleship’s personal costs. God’s kingdom is not yet here; the disciples’ mission is to bring God’s kingdom. Paul challenges Philemon to start bringing the kingdom by changing his relationship with Onesimus. Jesus challenges his hearers to follow him only if they are willing to lose themselves. Many oppose God’s kingdom (and Jesus’ disciples) because God’s kingdom means an end to their personal earthly kingdoms. Do we have the wisdom to give up our personal kingdoms and become disciples committed to bring God’s kingdom?

—Terence Sherlock


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