Phil 9- 10,12-17
|September 7-8, 2013, Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C|
These words are hard; who can accept them? Today's Gospel reminds me of this response of the people recorded in John's Gospel, when Jesus told the crowd that He was the bread of life. Today's readings remind us that Jesus was not just a mild mannered teacher. We get a glimpse of why he was considered so much of a threat that the leaders of Jerusalem had him killed.
The first reading from Wisdom was undoubtedly chosen to remind us that God does not think like us human beings so we have to work really hard sometimes to understand what God is revealing to us. It is not that God is trying to make it difficult; it is just the result of how small and confined our human understanding can be. I just got back from 10 wonderful days out in San Diego with my son Matt, his wife Mariel and our 3 youngest grandchildren, Dexter 11, Chase 6, and Tatum who turned 4 this past Wednesday. There were so many times during the week that I watched the 3 children understand something Matt or Mariel told them or some situation differently because of their differing states of intellectual development. It ranged from the reasons for making certain choices in a video game to why they needed to wear shoes to walk to the pool. And depending on how willing they were to either trust what they were told or question the reasoning until they understood, they sometimes had to learn the hard way by suffering some consequences. And even then, there were times that a limited world-view led them to suffer even more because they felt they were treated unfairly. It was a good lesson for me as to how I need to approach today's readings.
Because of our understanding that God is Love it is hard for us to listen to the word "hate" from Jesus' mouth. How can Love itself tell us we have to hate our own relatives or our own lives? Even the evangelist Matthew waters that down to "love less" when he records the same saying. As my son Matt will sometimes say to one of his boys as he tries to get them to grasp a hard saying, we have to put on our big boy pants when we listen to today's scriptures. We have to use our minds and our hearts in a way that ensures that we don't take away the wrong impression.
Any time I work on a tough passage in Scripture, one that seems to contradict what I know about God, I find it helpful to try to focus on the main point. For example, if I don't do that while reading the Exodus story I can easily get the impression that God deliberately kills people, like all the first born, or all the soldiers who drowned. How can God who is Love do that? But that is not what the story is about. The story of the Exodus is about God leading his people out of slavery without them lifting a weapon. That is the point of the story. What actually happened is shrouded in the mists of time but the telling of the story that way has kept that act of freeing his people at the forefront of the consciousness of God's chosen people for for over 3000 years.
So what is the point of Jesus' statements today? Is it that we should hate our parents or brothers or our own lives? Did Jesus hate his mother? or his Heavenly Father? Or his own life? Of course not. The point is that following Jesus has to be the most important thing in our life. Jesus is speaking poetically here, not literally. He loves to use hyperbole to make a point: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom; if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; or a woman adds a little yeast to 3 measures of wheat - which is about 60 pounds. To be a true disciple of Jesus, to live out our baptismal promises, means so much more than just being good and going to church. It means helping to bring about the kingdom of God here on earth. It means helping to wipe out war and violence, and poverty, and homelessness, and hunger and sickness. To do that will cost us. For most of us, taking up our cross does not mean dying as a martyr. For most of us the cost comes from being counter-cultural. It means speaking civilly in the political discourse; it means not getting the latest greatest technical gadget or footwear just to be the first. It means spending time with our families instead of trying to get that next raise or promotion. And perhaps the hardest part of discipleship, it means learning about our faith so that we can develop a personal relationship with Jesus.
Our parish focus this month is Stewardship which means recognizing the gifts we have been given and then doing our best to use them for God's work. At the parish level, it means realizing the gift that this parish is to this community and working to keep it alive and flourishing. This will take more than just an increase in the weekly offering; it means getting involved in the many activities it takes to make this community work. In two weeks we will have a Stewardship fair after each mass which will give you a chance to see which activity you have the talents for. Later this month the Finance Council will be addressing the need to increase the financial footing of the parish. And more personally, we are starting up a new year of our Generations of Faith. What a gift this is to our parish; people of every age have the opportunity to deepen their understanding and practice of their faith. This is not just for kids. What adult here knows everything about your faith? Of course anyone who did would already be involved in Generations of Faith because that understanding would drive you to share what you have with others. So please register today for Generations of Faith.
My prayer today is that as we come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, that we honestly assess what the cost of discipleship is for each of us, and then ask God to give us the strength to be willing to pay that price.
The next verses in Luke's Gospel are just as hard as the ones we heard in describing a disciple who is not willing to commit fully to Jesus. Jesus says: "Salt is good, but if salt itself loses its taste, with what can its flavor be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”