In Christ all are one

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  • August 25, 2010
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Sept. 5 (Wisdom 9:13-18; Psalm 90; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33)

Who indeed can learn the counsel of God? There are many, far too many, who claim to be able to do just that. The result is spiritual bedlam as so many diverse voices claim to possess the absolute truth.


But far more dangerous is the claim to be able to know exactly what God wants — the “will of God” is often merely a convenient cloak for the murky and devious will of human beings. The Wisdom tradition recognizes that human reasoning is notoriously faulty — logic can lead us into error and even terrible deeds if based on faulty principles. And if so puzzling, good, well-intentioned and intelligent people can reason themselves to completely opposing conclusions. Human minds are burdened by individual experience as well as collective conventional “wisdom” — often amounting to little more than shared prejudices and fears. History is littered with cast-off “truths” and firmly held opinions, many of which are an embarrassment to later generations.

So how do we break through this worldly protective shell? How do we make sense of our experience, especially when everyone’s experience is so unique? Wisdom insists that only the enlightening breath of divine wisdom will illuminate the truth. Lest anyone be too quick in claiming such inspiration it is made clear that only those who humble themselves and rid themselves of the illusion that they have a hammerlock on the truth can ever hope for this enlightening spirit. Perhaps this is the way out of the impasse in which the world is held prisoner. In the many hotly debated and sometimes physically fought battles over the controversial issues of our day perhaps neither side is completely right or wrong. The wisdom of God has a habit of shocking and shaking people up. God’s wisdom has nothing to do with maintaining the status quo or awarding victory prizes to any group or individual.

Paul certainly knew how to push the right buttons. He uses flattery, references to God and later on in the letter (not in the reading) he even “calls in his markers,” reminding Philemon of all that he owes Paul. All of this has one goal in mind — to remind Philemon that now both he and Onesimus are Christians so their relationship must change. In God’s Kingdom there are no slaves or masters, nor are there value distinctions between people. The same goes for the distinctions between men and women as well as Jew and gentile. In Christ all are one and all are equal so Philemon must relate to Onesimus as to a brother. The Christian message entails a revolution in human relationships rather than a continuation of human structures and societies. Christians have had to relearn this essential principle many times throughout our history and we still have far to go.

Jesus warns us of the cost of accepting the Christian message. Many think it will be easy or that it only involves obeying certain rules and practices in order to go to heaven when we die. But Jesus uses some stark and shocking language to disabuse His followers of any illusions. “Hating” those who are near and dear to us does not mean “hate” in our usual sense of the term but disregarding or not being overly concerned with them. Truly understanding and embracing the Christian message can cost one dearly in the form of misunderstanding, rejection, ridicule and even persecution. There is a huge difference between belonging to a church and being a disciple of Jesus. The Lord cautions us not to underestimate or make light of what will be asked of us or the difficulties and challenges we might face.

Giving up one’s life doesn’t necessarily mean rushing out to get martyred or killed. It can mean giving up our life as we are accustomed to living it or even letting go of our expectations. Following the path of the Master will lead us into uncharted territory and new experiences. It means stepping out of our physical, psychological and even spiritual comfort zones for our faith is not intended as a cocoon or insulation from life. If that sounds frightening, the good news is that what we receive in return is treasure compared to what we leave behind.

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