Wisdom 9:13-18bb Philemon 9-10, 12-17 Luke 14:25-33
The journey we are on with Jesus, as it has been described by Saint Luke over the last few weeks, started with the statement by Jesus encouraging his listeners to take up the cross and follow him. Various aspects of what that would mean have been presented to us from the Gospel passages we have hard.
Today we are presented with a specific description of what this involves. In a very radical manner we are challenged with the understanding that nothing, not even family itself, is to interfere or to hinder this response and the relationship with God that is involved. It is a difficult, even puzzling, statement that Jesus makes. To take up the cross, to be united to God through Jesus requires a commitment even more significant than a family relationship. It is a commitment that is so valuable that it involves an effort equal to that which Jesus is willing to undertake – giving of himself by his death on a cross. It is a commitment that is so thorough that what must be done is similar, in a way, to building a tower or going into battle.
Along with these words of Jesus, other insights are offered to us by St. Paul and the author of the Book of Wisdom. Paul writes an early Christian covert about returning a runaway slave, Onesimus, who had become valuable to Paul. He was willing to return him to the rightful owner, Philemon, but reminds him that their common faith in Jesus Christ had fundamentally changed the nature of the relationship that was to exist. The relationship with God through Christ superseded the requirements of the law or the expectations of the society in which they were living.
The author of the Book of Wisdom uses eloquent language to convey a similar thought. He reminds us how limited and restricted is our way of thinking as human beings when compared to God’s way of thinking. God’s ways, God’s Spirit, is not limited by human judgements, prejudices, distinctions or qualifications.
The challenge put before us by Christ, and as it is reflected in these other sources, requires some consideration and thought by us. Do we want to be whole-hearted followers of Jesus? Do we want to live out our potential as reflections of God? Do we want to be, literally, joined with Christ in carrying the cross, in abandoning everything so as to reveal the presence of God in our lives and in the world in which we live?
If so, then we must be willing to separate ourselves from anything that limits or hinders us. All of this sounds like a great demand. But we would do well to consider this also. If we were detached from prejudices or grudges that we harbor, if we were detached from so many things that cause us anxiety, if we were detached from so many objects that we think we need, if we were detached from dependencies we have created for ourselves on persons, possessions, substances and the like, the result would be an exhilarating freedom. It would gain for us a freedom of mind, heart and spirit, a freedom of truly reflecting in our lives the loving presence of our good and gracious God.
Sirach 3: 17-18, 20, 28-28 Hebrews 12: 18-19, 22-24a Luke 14: 1, 7-14
Once again, as Jesus and his followers continue their journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, they stop to share in the hospitality offered to them. This time it is by one who is known as a “leading Pharisee.” As St. Luke tells the story, Jesus uses this situation as an opportunity to give an instruction about the need for his followers to show a genuine sense of humility in their lives. He does this by means of a parable he relates which may well have been brought on by what had been experienced.
Expanding on what Jesus says in this lesson, what are we to understanding about being humble? We may often think that we are being humble when this really is not the case. For example, avoiding responsibility and letting someone else take care of a matter is not humility. Thinking poorly of one’s self, having low self-esteem, is not humility. Being unwilling to make up one’s mind, being indecisive and allowing someone else to make a decision that is really ours, is not humility.
Humility is accepting reality for what it is. It is not making ourselves or our situations greater or more important that they are. It is not living or acting in some fantasy world. It is an openness to the active presence of God in all that surrounds us. It is an acknowledgment and thanksgiving to God from whom we have received all that we have and are. All that surrounds us, if we are honest, leads us to recognize this loving God.
A good understanding of this is pointed out in the wisdom found in the reading from the Book of Proverbs that we heard. Humility, to this author, means recognizing our particular situation in life and extending respect and dignity to everyone else. They, too, are creatures of our loving God. Being humble is being honest with ourselves. This is what finds favor with God. This is what reflects in ourselves the reality of a loving God.
Humility, then, is a genuine response that is living in such a way that makes known the love that ha been shown to us. It is in this way that we love God, we love all others, we love all of creation.
We are able to do this because of our relationship with God. It is not a relationship based on a blazing fire or gloomy darkness as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews points out. It is a relationship founded on being able to approach our living God with the love that is shown for us by the totality of Christ’s giving of himself.
The true humility that the Lord seeks in each of us, the recognition of the importance and the role of God in our lives, the recognition that what we are and what we are to do, is found in acknowledging, praising and loving in return our truly good and gracious God.
Isaiah 66: 18-21 Hebrews 12: 5-7, 11-13 Luke 13: 2-30
One of the words that I do not like to hear, especially from a contractor, a computer service individual, a sales person, or the like, is the word “should.” It should be here, it should be done, it should work. It is almost a joke now, but there is a certain seriousness about it.
In a sense, I understand Jesus as addressing the same idea. As he and his followers continue on their journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, teaching his followers what it means to take up the cross and follow him, he wants it to be known that no one “should” consider themselves to be followers simply because of a certain background or status. Basically, Jesus restates ideas that we also heard today from Isaiah.
All of creation is a part of God’s purpose and plan. People from all corners of the earth would be welcome to take part in God’s saving and loving plan. But these ideas were shocking to those among the Chosen People. They felt that they had it made. They would automatically be part of God’s actions. Jesus, however, says that this is not so. It is not easy, it is not automatic, to be part of his mission. The entrance into his mission is restricted.
What we also heard from theLetter to the Hebrews describes this in a different way. Pain, real effort, even suffering, will also be a part of following the Lord. This is not surprising. We need only remember that Jesus is calling us to take up the cross, the instrument of torture and death -but also the sign of the greatest love – in order to follow him.
Jesus uses an interesting image to illustrate his point: a narrow door. Envision yourselves in a crowd, going to a sporting even, a concert, or at a sale at which the first ones in the store get the best bargain. Every muscle might be strained in the effort to make it in the entrance.
This is the understanding that Jesus is looking for in those who follow him. All of our effort, all of our being, in some way, is to act in such a way that the goodness of God can be learned in what others experience from us. Anyone could look at our lives, how we live, how we speak, how we act, and perceive an insight into the reality of God. It not a matter of “should.” It is a matter of “it is.”
To be part of what Jesus presents to us, we cannot presume anything. We must act, both now and continuously. We must live with conviction a disciplined approach from day to day.
This makes clear to ourselves and to others how it is evident that we share in the loving care and presence of our good and gracious God.
Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10 Hebrews 12: 1-4 Luke 12: 49-63
Unfortunately we know too well the harshness and incivility that is experienced in our daily lives, especially in the political world. Perhaps we are getting used to it, even expecting it at times. The ideal, the hope, is that differences in opinion, views, political philosophies, can be shared with respect for the individuals expressing them.
This is brought to mind by what was stated in the gospel passage which we have just heard. It seems harsh and uncharacteristic. In many ways the perception of Jesus is that he is a bearer of peace and understanding. Thus, what he states today, at this stage of the journey St. Luke describes him to be on, as he and his followers near Jerusalem, seems to be puzzling and so contrary to our expectations.,
The fact is that what Jesus expresses is reality. He knows what is ahead of him when he arrives in Jerusalem. He knows that what he teaches will be rejected by many. That has been experienced already. Jesus is echoing the circumstances that were described in the reading from the prophet, Jeremiah. Those who heard Jeremiah were upset by his words. The solution chosen was to eliminate him, to shut him up in a cistern where his words would go unheard. The situation of Jesus is also the source for the reflections offered by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews. Jesus had to endure opposition and even death, so that we might benefit.
Jesus makes it clear that he is not here simply to make us “feel good.” His words, his teaching, must be taken to heart, and genuinely affect and change us. But what he says will not be accepted. There will be harsh opposition because of the discomfort it brings, because of the challenge it presents. Like Jeremiah, he will be opposed and persecuted. He will endure the cross but he will not be defeated by it.
It is that same presence of Christ, God who came among us as a man, that we, the Body of Christ, are to make known. It is that presence that we embody which reveals the real dignity, the worth and the value that we and all others have as creatures of God, images and likenesses of our God.
We are presented, by our Faith, with this challenge. We are to realize how much each one of us is worth, as a child of our loving God. We are to live our lives in terms that value, that dignity, that each one of us has. We must recognize and extend that value and dignity to all others and to all of creation.
Jesus, as well as Jeremiah, recognized that values they proclaimed and the dignity that they extended to all of God’s creation would be rejected because of the self-centeredness and stubborn self-interest which is the sinful rejection of God’s goodness. Our lives are to declare what our Faith affirms. Living in a manner that genuinely reflects these Gospel values is the way in which we reveal and reflect the truth of our good and gracious God.
Wisdom 18: 6-9 Hebrews 11: 1-2, 8-12 Luke 12: 35-40
In the outline that Saint Luke is using in his gospel to present the ministry of Jesus and to answer for us what it takes to be a follower of Christ, Jesus and his followers are on a journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. But Jerusalem represents betrayal, condemnation, and execution to Jesus. To offer an encouragement on faith to his followers at this point makes sense. They will need faith in Jesus to sustain them in the time ahead. For us, too, as followers of Jesus, a strengthening our own faith is likewise important.
But, what is faith? Faith is the ability that we, as humans, possess and which we can energize. We do so everyday in seeking ways to accomplish simple things. If we turn a faucet, we have faith that water will flow. If we turn a switch, we have faith that a light will come on. Faith is a simple fact of our lives. If it is present in so many small things, how much more is it present with respect life itself. Faith in a loving God is essential in the living out of our lives. How we act is not to be based on fear or obligation. Rather it is to be based on faith and the hope that faith gives us. It is based on an anticipation of what a rich relationship with God achieves for us.
Through the inspired word of the Scriptures we have hard today, examples of faith are given to us. From the author of the Book of Wisdom we heard how thePassover ritual was to be celebrated. It is this ritual celebration that is a recognition of the goodness of God that the Chosen People had experienced. In the midst of slavery, they were delivered because of faith in God. Firm faith and hope in a loving God allows for the anticipation of deliverance. In a relationship with, as in any genuine relationship we might experience, faith and trust gives value, dimension and depth to that relationship.
The example of Abraham is also put before us in the Letter to the Hebrews. Despite all the odds against the fulfillment of the promise he understood that God had made to him, he placed his faith in God. The promise was achieved. He was no longer a nomad but occupied a land for settlement. He became the father of many nations despite his old age and that of his wife.
Then we heard the example that is used by Jesus. The servants know their master. They know what he wants. They know what he expects. They go about their duties, not out of obligation, but out of respect, awareness, appreciation and anticipation. They know how best to fulfill their particular role in life. This is what is acknowledged by the master in his service to them.
When someone does something for us, not because of obligation, but out of genuine love and respect, faith and trust – how much more does that mean. This shows the value that is placed on the relationship to that person and to ourselves as well. We are called to realize that the relationship with our loving God is not based on fear or even obligation. Rather, it is to be based on trust, faith, hope and the anticipation that these factors reflect. It is this type of response, a loving and appreciative response, that Christ seeks to teach us. It is in this way that we are to live our daily lives and it is in this way that we reveal our relationship with our good and gracious God.