September 9, 2007 Year C
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time/15th Sunday After Pentecost
Reflections on the Readings
By Dennis Hankins
Theme: We Are Strangers and Pilgrims on the Earth
People who speak this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. (Hebrews 11:14)
In the first reading from Wisdom we learn how our own reasoning and plans are worthless; how impotent our own strength. Our life, outside of the influence of the Holy Spirit, is a spiritual wasteland. Just how does one 'discern what the Lord wills?' How do we find the right way to live? And is there any assistance in finding that way? Thankfully we read in verse 17 of Wisdom 'Who has learned thy counsel, unless thou hast given wisdom and sent thy holy Spirit from on high? And thus the paths of those on earth were set right.'
So teach us to number our days aright, says the Psalmist, that we may gain wisdom of heart. A thousand years may be as a watch in the night to our Lord, but we only have a little time to realize this world is not our home and we are just passing through. But it is enough time to 'grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
But it is not with our own understanding we discern our true homeland, our true inheritance. As we follow the Lord, it is soon we learn we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth. It is Paul today who reminds us and Philemon that washed in the blood of the Lamb, Onesimus is not the man he used to know. Now Onesimus is more than property to Philemon; he is now his brother. In sending him back to Philemon, St. Paul declares, "I am sending my very heart." In Christ Jesus relationships change. Lust for power and wealth and authority are renounced. Our very heart, the inner man finds a new desire, a new way of life, and a new way to relate to those nearest and dearest to us.
Today's gospel has a parallel in Matthew 10:37-38 where we read, "He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me."
Three times in today's gospel Jesus describes the conditions that prevent us from being his disciple. But just like the other readings today, these words of Jesus underscores the dramatic change of life we embrace to follow Jesus.
First, no one, even our own life can mean more to us than Jesus. Jesus' use of the word 'hate' is vivid hyperbole. But the meaning could not be clearer. Our prayer must be that Jesus would draw us nearer to himself; that in this closeness we cherish no one, not even our very life to be dearer to us than Jesus. Probably the biggest war zone where this is lived out is Sunday, the Day of the Lord. Most likely if there is going to be a day of the week where relationships will be strained to the hilt, it will be Sunday. And here, just a little bit of commitment as to what Sunday is all about and whom it is about can create new tensions. But if we are to be Jesus' disciples, we don't want to miss Supper with the Shepherd and Lover of our souls.
Second, if we do not bear our own cross, we cannot be Jesus' disciples. As we embrace the power of the cross we discern we have no strength to save ourselves or to serve others. The meaning of the cross is that life is about sacrificial love. Here we think of agape. This is a love that gives eros its truest and safest meaning. Apart from sacrificial love, eros is destructive and deadly. Indeed rather than destroying us the cross redeems us to newness of life and love. It is the cross that reminds us that this world is not the guardian of true love.
Third, whoever does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life are always with us. To be constantly wanting stuff and things and never being satisfied with what we have is the very spirit of ungratefulness. If we allow things to reign over us we will have our feet firmly planted in the here and now. But again, the testimony of scripture is that people of faith speak plainly that they seek a homeland. We must renounce any possession that has a blinding hold on us. Peter announced one day, "we have left all to follow you." Let us continue to ponder what it means for each of us to leave it all behind and follow Jesus.
Let us pray: Dear Jesus, fill every nook and crevice of my being. If necessary, break open my heart and widen it and enlarge it so that more of your presence and sacrificial love may fill me. Without you I can do nothing right, without you I am nothing. But you have taken me into your very life and now my life is hidden with Christ in God. Let this be my understanding of riches, my understanding of being. Amen.