Reflection for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

The readings for this Sunday can be found here:

1st Reading: Wisdom 9:13-18b

Intro:  This is a portion of what is known as Solomon’s Prayer for Wisdom. Solomon recognizes that he is merely mortal although he has been entrusted with much at God’s hand. In this prayer he asks for the gift of Wisdom and, in the section we have today, he gives his reasoning why. Note how he recognizes that the physical part of our existence oftentimes holds back the spiritual.

2nd Reading: Philemon 9-10, 12-17

Intro:  A lot of what we believe about the situation to which this letter refers is inferred from the letter itself. Evidently Philemon’s slave Onesimus had run away from her and went to Paul. Maybe this was a result of his preaching about the radical equality of Christians. He stayed with Paul who instructed him and they became friends. Paul now sends him back to return to his role as servant but admonishes Philemon to treat him as an equal. The two concepts, servitude and equality, are held in tension.

Gospel: Luke 13:22-30

“…everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” Lk 14:33

Wow, this Gospel hits us like a ton of bricks, doesn’t it? Well, not literally a ton of bricks. I was using hyperbole. Hyperbole is an obvious exaggeration. The use of hyperbole includes no intention of deceiving anyone. It is used for emphasis and/or to gain the attention of the hearer.

Hyperbole doesn’t mean you can ignore that to which it is referring, though. Remember, it is an attention grabber and is used for emphasis. Jesus knows we all have feelings about loving our parents. He is using that concept to say something about discipleship, and He wants us to understand how important His message is. But, first, let’s look at to whom He is speaking.

He is speaking to the great crowds who were traveling with Him. Most scripture scholars say that the crowds were traveling with Him because of His cures and inclusiveness of “the poor, the lame the crippled and the blind.” It sounds like this is a triumphant crowd, traveling with Him because of what He can do for them. Is that crowd a symbol of some Christians today, “following” the Lord because of what He can do for them?

Do they realize that He is on His journey to Jerusalem, His journey to the cross (Lk 9:51)? Do they realize that following Him implies discipleship? Do they realize that discipleship includes a cross of their own as well?  Well, He is about to tell them.

To our Jewish forebears, relationship with parents was extremely important. There is even a commandment to honor your father and mother (Ex 20:12a). But it goes beyond that to which we can easily relate. Society was organized differently back then. In the ancient world, survival of the tribe was all-important and the family was the basic unit of tribe. Where our world highly emphasizes the individual and individual rights, the ancient world emphasized family and responsibilities to family. The job of the family, whether herding, farming, or whatever, was necessarily done so the tribe could survive. Without that, they wouldn’t be able to live long on the land (Ex 20:12b).

Male children stayed with their families. The responsibility of governing the family, and making sure the work of the family was accomplished, was passed from the father to the eldest son. Female children shared in the responsibilities of the family which they joined through marriage. Relationships were close and, hopefully, cooperative. These concepts were still strong in the time of Jesus. This is the milieu within which this Gospel message was first heard.

If we think of being a disciple as joining Jesus’ family, where He is the eldest son (Rm 8:29c) to whom the duties of the family have been entrusted, this Gospel, as shocking as it may seem, begins to make sense. It seems to me that it is akin to the scriptural understanding of marriage wherein “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” Gen 2:24 Being a disciple demands total commitment to the family and to the work of the family.

And our work in the family, by-the-way, is for each of us to embrace and lovingly carry the cross that life hands us, as Jesus did. And don’t just think of the cross as something which is hard to do. Jesus’ cross had a purpose and so does ours. We may not know what the purpose is but, if we embrace our cross and shoulder it, like Jesus did, it’s purpose will be accomplished, and we will experience salvation.

Jesus is obviously asking us to ask ourselves if we have what it takes to be His disciple and, I think, telling us to make the commitment now.

Reflection:

“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. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Lk 14:26-27

Question:

What words or phrases grabbed your attention during the Liturgy of the Word on Sunday? What connection do those words or phrases have to your day-to-day life? (Why do you think they grabbed your attention?) What might God be trying to say to you through these words or phrases? What response should you make? What action should you take?

Alternative:

Reflect upon/Share about a time when things of this world challenged your commitment to Gospel values? What were the difficulties in being a faithful disciple? How did you overcome those difficulties? What will it take for you to strengthen your faithfulness in such situations? Can you do it?

Verse by verse:

Lk 14:25 | “Great crowds were traveling with him…” -> Remember that Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem (Lk 9:51) on His way to take up His cross. Did the crowds know they were traveling to that event?

Lk 14:26a | “If anyone comes to me…” -> Jesus is clearly telling the crowds that, if they are coming to Him to be His disciples, the cost is great.

Lk 14:26b | “…without hating his father and mother…” -> This startling comment might be viewed as attention-getting hyperbole1 but it cannot be simply written off as such. It also reminds us of the upcoming comment in Lk 16:13 that “No servant can serve two masters. He will either love one and hate the other…” The commitment to discipleship must be greater than any commitment to this-worldly concepts. Mt 10:37 speaks of the same concept in a less startling way: “Whoever loves mother and father more than me…”

Lk 14:26c | “…and even his own life…” -> This last item in the list reminds us of Lk 9:23 “…must deny himself…” and Lk 17:33 “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it.”, and Jn 12:25b “…whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”

Lk 14:27 | “Whoever does not carry his own cross…” -> This phrase also reminds us of Lk 9:23 “…he must deny himself and take up his own cross…”


 

Footnotes

  1. Hyperbole is a literary technique designed to grab the attention of the listener. It is an obvious exaggeration with no intention of fooling the hearer.

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