TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2022)
Psalms 90:3-6, 12-17
Philemon 1:9-10, 12-17
What is wise about the Book of Wisdom? Written some fifty years before the coming of Christ, the author is able to draw on the wealth of Old Testament theology and history, and in doing so he forms the background for the teaching of Jesus, and for some New Testament theology about Jesus.
At first glance our first reading appears depressing. “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?” – no one! “Mortals are timid,” and their “corruptible body burdens the soul and… weighs down the mind!” – can’t exactly get rid of the body! Humans can barely “guess the things on earth,” and “when things are in heaven….” – we are doomed! We would appear lost, had not our first reading ended with what can only be interpreted through Christian eyes as a Trinitarian insight. We can only get to know God’s counsel, because God has “given [us] wisdom, and sent His Holy Spirit from on high.” The ways of men and women would be convoluted and crooked if God had not made “the paths on earth straight” with the gift of His Spirit. When the earliest and very first gospel is written, the same Spirit will be alive in the heart of John the Baptist who will prepare for the coming of God’s Son by “making straight His paths.”
It is that same Spirit who assists us in making sense of today’s gospel passage, for the strong, even hyperbolic language can be off-putting. “Great crowds” are traveling with Jesus, and He turns to them and says: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple…. [and] anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” Jesus’ words likely thinned the crowd. From our vantage point, we have the four gospels and the teachings of Paul with which to carefully weigh Jesus’ words, and it is with confidence that we can affirm that nowhere does Jesus espouse “hating” anyone, let alone those closest to us. What Jesus is saying in the strongest of terms is that “whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” All those things that can never completely be done away with – familial relationships, earthly goods and possessions – should never take the place of God no matter how good they are in themselves. To be distracted by anyone or anything from the Christian requirement of taking up one’s cross should never be allowed.
Jesus and His cross upon which He offered up the most perfect offering must be at the center of every Christian’s life. Those reading, or listening to Luke’s gospel, knew full well how Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem ended. Luke is the latest of the three synoptic gospels (80-90 AD), and Jesus is seen in Luke as particularly demanding of those who would be Jesus’ disciples. Of them He demands absolute and total detachment from family and material possessions. Luke’s readers would have seen the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD), and thus would know the hazards and challenges of finding a place in the Roman Empire. Just as for Jesus there would be no escaping the suffering of the cross, so His disciples would be called upon to suffer. Today’s gospel passage is an example of Jesus making sure that everyone knows what is at stake in the following of Jesus. We too must be prepared to embrace suffering while we embrace the name of Christian. We cannot say we have not been forewarned!