Patience and hope, forgiveness and love

  • September 6, 2007

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Sept. 9 (Wisdom 9:13-18; Psalm 90; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33)

At first glance, the book of Wisdom does not seem very encouraging. Human reasoning is useless, it insists, and human plans are bound to fail.

It’s not exactly an incentive to get an education or become involved in any work beyond mere survival.

But before we give in completely to pessimism, we must note that it is not meant to stifle human initiative. It is only in comparison with the wisdom that comes from God that they are of questionable value. Human reasoning alone is incomplete and plans based only on material principles are on shaky ground.

This question resonates with our own debate concerning faith and science. There are some who would paint faith as the enemy of science and reason, just as there are those who would place science in the role of adversary and enemy. Religion is discredited in the eyes of those who view the universe only through a scientific lens, while many believers deprive themselves of the discoveries and challenges of science. Science grants us insights into the laws of the created order and how to use this knowledge for human benefit. Religion strives to give meaning to life, to deal with the “why” and to show us how to live.

Neither arrogance nor ignorance gives glory to God. As much as either side in the debate would love to claim a monopoly on truth, neither one has all the answers. Religion and science would both do well to admit that, as well as listen to one another with humility and openness. They would both be enriched.

We know we are walking the road of discipleship when we meet resistance. True discipleship always means changing one’s opinions and practices, as Philemon is about to discover. In Paul’s day, even the best minds defended the institution of slavery with eloquence. After all, it was the basis of the prosperity of the Roman Empire. Even religious traditions took it for granted.

But the proclamation of the early Christian community clashed dramatically with this worldview. The new age inaugurated by Jesus would not allow distinctions between slave and free, male and female or Greek and Jew. God is one; humanity is one; the world is one. But Paul will not force this upon Philemon — he gently prods him to put his newfound faith into practice. Show the world that God is serious about justice. He wants Philemon to welcome Onesimus back as a brother in Christ, for this is the pattern of human relationships in the age of Christ.

Unfortunately, Christians forgot this lesson many times since then, in effect taking the world back to the time before the coming of Jesus. Many have been all too eager to place others in an inferior role, whether slave, poor, female or non-Christian.

Christianity is about change, and from time to time we need the challenge of the Spirit and the prophets to recall us to our vocation.

“Impatient” is a good word to describe our culture. In an age of fast and instant everything, we want what we want and we want it now. People are always looking for shortcuts, even in their spiritual lives.

Weekend workshops and self-help books promise a quick and easy fix. It is easy to “talk the talk” spiritually, but when we face obstacles and opposition or deal with pain, sorrow or disappointment we discover what we are really made of.

For the disciple of Jesus, there are no quick fixes or spiritual steroids to fast track us to sanctity or to God.

Being a disciple is a life-long commitment to learning the lessons of love, unity and service.

Jesus uses the “shock” language of hating parents, relatives and life itself to drive home the point: the demands of culture, family and tradition, even one’s life, are not more important than our relationship with God or our discipleship.

We build that solid foundation alluded to in the Gospel passage by applying our spirituality to what each day brings us. Responding to difficult people and situations — and everything else that each day brings us — with patience, hope, forgiveness and love will lift us far above our usual human limitations. Life itself is our spiritual teacher if we are open to its instruction.