CNS photo/Sam Lucero

God's Word on Sunday: True disciples put everything on the line

  • August 28, 2022

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Sept. 4 (Wisdom 9:13-18; Psalm 90; Philemon 9b-10, 12-17; Luke 14: 25-33)

God does not think and act like humans, and we can be very grateful for that. Time after time in the Old Testament, people are chastised for imagining that they can figure God out or understand the divine will. Job discovered this when God spoke to him from the whirlwind (Job 38) and took him to task for reaching far beyond his capacity to know and understand.

In chapter 55 of Isaiah, we are told in no uncertain terms that God’s ways are radically different from ours. And yet we persist in trying to make God over in our own image and to bring God onboard for our own issues. This dim view of human capacity is continued in Wisdom, which bluntly states that human reasoning is worthless and doomed to failure.

This pessimistic view of humanity does not sit well with modern ways of thinking, but even a cursory study of history clinches the case. It is not that humans are not intelligent, for they truly are. But human intelligence and designs will not end well unless they are based firmly on spiritual principles and in harmony with the divine will.

Human failure is evident in the world we have created for ourselves — a world torn apart by hatred, fear, competitive greed and catastrophic failure to care for the Earth. If human reasoning falls short, what is the solution? How do we acquire understanding of God’s ways?

Divine wisdom is a gift — it is something that has to come from above. Throughout the wisdom tradition of the Old Testament, Lady Wisdom promises her gifts to the simple — those of humble hearts and minds. We cannot receive divine wisdom unless we lay aside our obsession with being “right” and our need to control others. Accepting that we do not know everything and that we may be dead wrong about some things is the first step towards true enlightenment.

That is the message that Paul was trying to get across to Philemon. His slave Onesimus had run away and while in prison with Paul, had accepted Jesus. Paul was sending Onesimus back to his master Philemon and there was some danger involved. Onesimus could be severely punished, even put to death. Paul does much more than plead for the life of Onesimus or for lenient treatment. He urges — even gently bullies — Philemon to accept Onesimus back as a brother rather than a slave. This represents a change in consciousness and a recognition that all people are of equal worth and dignity. Human ways of labelling and categorizing people must give way to the new creation in Christ. Accepting Jesus can never mean business as usual — it is a step into a new world, God’s future.

Many in the crowds that followed Jesus were dazzled by His miracles and healings. Some perhaps wondered how His power could be harnessed for their own ends. But Jesus burst many a bubble with the instruction He gave in today’s Gospel passage. He did not come to be worshipped, but to be imitated and followed. Jesus was not looking for adherents but for disciples. And He set the bar very high, using jarring shock language to drive home the urgency of His mission and ours. Disciples must “hate” all those near and dear to them, and even their own lives, if they truly want to follow Him. Here “hate” does not mean to loathe or detest, but to have no concern or regard for.

True discipleship demands that one must be willing to put everything on the line — even life itself. Most of us live rather ordinary lives and few feel called to such a radical and demanding commitment. But what is called for is at least an openness and willingness to go beyond ourselves to extend God’s reign in our world.

The shock language also highlights an important point: our spiritual commitment must always be first and foremost, not an afterthought or part-time activity. Discipleship and conventional religiosity are two different things. The crisis facing our world calls for much more of the first. Are we willing to do the work of God?