TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (C)(PROPER 18)(PENTECOST 14)
Who can know God's counsel, or who can conceive what the LORD intends? For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans. For the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns. And scarce do we guess the things on earth, and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven, who can search them out? Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight.
Refrain: In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
1) You turn man back to dust, saying, "Return, O children of men."
For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday, now that it is past,
or as a watch of the night. (Refrain:)
2) You make an end of them in their sleep; the next morning they are like the changing grass,
Which at dawn springs up anew, but by evening wilts and fades. (Refrain:)
3) Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants! (Refrain:)
4) Fill us at daybreak with your kindness, that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.
And may the gracious care of the Lord our God be ours; prosper the work of our hands for us!
Prosper the work of our hands! (Refrain:)
I, Paul, an old man, and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus, urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment; I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I should have liked to retain him for myself, so that he might serve me on your behalf in my imprisonment for the gospel, but I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary. Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord. So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me.
Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, "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. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, 'This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.' Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.
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The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.
The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL. This resource is available at a discount through the Homiletic Resource Center.)
(Order these or other resources at a discount through the Homiletic Resource Center.)
-On Counting the Cost, from The Gospel of Luke. Copyright 1975 by William Barclay. Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Scotland.
- Commentary from The Letter to Philemon. Copyright 1975 by William Barclay. Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Scotland.
- Catechism: #'s 1720-1724 (Christian happiness). Copyright 1994 by the United States Catholic Conference, Washington, DC. [As recommended in A Homily Sourcebook (The Universal Catechism), copyright 1993 by N. Abeyasingha, the Pastoral Press, Washington, DC.]
- Celebrating the Word, pp. 239-241, copyright 1995 by J. D. Crichton, Columba Press, Dublin. Distributed in the US by Twenty-third Publications, Mystic, CT.
- The Cultural World of Jesus, pp. 133-135. Copyright 1997 by John J. Pilch, the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN.
- Days of the Lord, Volume 6, pp. 195-205. Copyright 1991 by the Order of Saint Benedict. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN.
-On Being Picked for the "Rework" (based on Jeremiah 18: 1-11). From Dynamic Preaching, copyright 1998 by Seven Worlds Corporation, 310 Simmons Road, Knoxville, TN, 37922.
-Are You Available (based on Luke 14: 25-33). From Dynamic Preaching, copyright 1998 by Seven Worlds Corporation, 310 Simmons Road, Knoxville, TN, 37922.
- Footprints on the Mountain, pp. 589-594, by Roland J. Faley. Copyright 1994 by the Third Order Regular of St. Francis. Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ.
-, from Good News. Copyright 1998 by Rev. Joseph T. Nolan. Liturgical Publications, Inc., 2875 South James Drive, New Berlin, WI. 53151.
- The Gospel of the Lord, pp. 160-161, copyright 1991 by Francis J. Moloney, the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN.
-Homilies for the Christian People, pp. 516-518. Copyright 1989 by Pueblo Publishing Company, New York, New York and 1991 by the Order of St. Benedict, Collegeville, MN. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN.
- Interpretation (A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching): Luke, pp. 180-183 by Fred B. Craddock. Copyright 1990 by John Knox Press, Louisville, KY.
-Living the Word, p.201, copyright 1996 by Tom Clancy. The Columba Press, Dublin, Ireland. Distributed in the US by Twenty-third Publications, Mystic, CT.
- Preaching the Lectionary, pp. 502-504, by Reginald H. Fuller. Copyright 1984 by the Order of St. Benedict. the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN.
-Sing a New Song, by Irene Nowell. Copyright 1993 by the Order of St. Benedict. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN.
-Sunday Homilies, pp. 305-307, copyright 1995 by Liam Swords. Twenty-third Publications, Mystic, CT 06355.
- Texts for Preaching (Proper 18), pp.497-506, by Cousar, Gaventa, McCann and Newsome, copyright 1994 by Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY.
-Voicing a Thought on Sunday: Homilies and Prayers of the Faithful, pp. 356-357, copyright 1991 by Desmond Knowles. Twenty-third Publications, Mystic, CT.
- The Word In and Out of Season, pp. 79-80, copyright 1991 by Richard Viladesau. Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ.
As is almost always the case, and to better understand what our Lord meant in what he said in this passage, it would be wise for us to consider some of the background behind this text as it was in a culture far away from our own and more than 2000 years ago.
This passage can be broken down into three parts, namely 1) hating one’s family, 2) carrying one’s cross and 3) giving up one’s possessions. With respect to the first part, hating one’s family, a review of the original Greek would be helpful.
- The original Greek word used here is misei from the root word, miseo (from which we get the English prefix mis, which translates roughly as “unfavorably” or “wrongly”, as in “misanthropic” or “misconception”). Miseo literally means “to regard with less affection, to love less, or to esteem less”. It doesn't mean animosity, ill will, or revenge, which our English word, "hate," suggests. Miseo doesn't mean that the object is detestable or repugnant. It just means that by comparison, someone or something is less important than someone or something else. (1)
Furthermore, in reflecting on this passage, one commentator links it to last week’s passage when our Lord spoke about hosts inviting to a banquet those least likely to be able to repay him. This is what he has to say about each of the three parts of this passage which includes this linkage:
- Hating one’s family: The purpose of meals in the Middle East was to cement social relationships. Kin and friends were, and continue to be, the basis of economic survival in this world, where economics was deeply embedded in kinship and politics. You could always count on your family and friends to look after you. A follower of Jesus who ceased “networking” by means of meals would jeopardize a family’s very existence. The disciple must then choose between allegiance to the family and allegiance to Jesus.
- Carrying the cross: In the Middle East, the main rule of behavior is family first. A disciple who deliberately cuts ties with family and social network will lose the ordinary means of making a living. This is the “economic cross” the disciple has chosen to carry.
True, by joining a new “family” consisting of other disciples of Jesus, a “family-hating” person presumably has a new source of livelihood. No longer able to make claims to a livelihood based on blood ties and advantageous social network, members of this new “family” have to rely on “hospitality”, which in the Middle East is extended exclusively by strangers to strangers (that’s the linkage to last week’s passage). This risk-filled option is quite a cross to carry.
- Giving up possessions: Clearly, a disciple who has accepted these challenging exhortations will effectively have given up everything. Therefore, a would-be disciple must seriously calculate the costs. The behavior Jesus proposes is liberating and heroic, but also costly.(2)
So what does all of this have to do with us? If we are to choose to follow the way that Christ has given us, we must be prepared for the demands that that choice will have on us. We will be called to do things that we would not ordinarily do or might even be repugnant to us.
Since September 5th has been designated as the feast day of Blessed Mother Teresa, I thought the following story was appropriate. The author writes:
- I will never forget the day I met Mother Teresa. More than that, I will never forget what she taught me about loving other people, especially the poor. She wasn't nearly as famous in the late seventies as she was later in her life, but she already had hundreds of thousands of admirers around the world. I was the editor of a Catholic newspaper in Rhode Island, and when I heard she would be speaking in Boston, I decided to go.
I arrived at the auditorium early to get a good seat, but I discovered that I'd already been granted a seat in the press section. As I waited for the lecture to begin, I passed the time by chatting with another reporter, who turned out to be, like Mother Teresa, a native of Albania. As we were talking, a priest walked over and said to my companion, "Mother Teresa would be happy to meet you right now."
With uncharacteristic boldness, I rose to my feet and tagged along. So did a handful of other reporters. We were ushered into a room where a little old lady wrapped in a blue-and-white sari was chatting with the Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, then archbishop of Boston.
I couldn't believe how tiny she was. But what I remember most is her smiling, wrinkled face and the way she bowed to me, as if I were royalty, when I was introduced.
She greeted everyone that way. I thought that if Jesus Christ walked into the room, she would greet him in exactly the same manner. The way she did it conveyed a message that said, "You are holy".
But meeting her wasn't as memorable as what she taught me about loving people. Until that day, I had always thought of charity as simply being nice to people. For Mother Teresa it was much more.
During her talk, she told us how she and the members of her order, the Missionaries of Charity, seek to recognize Christ in the poorest of the poor.
She told a story of how one of the sisters had spent an entire day bathing the wounds of a dying beggar who was brought to them from the streets of Calcutta. Mother Teresa's voice dropped to a whisper as she told the hushed auditorium that, in reality, the nun had been bathing the wounds of Jesus.
She insisted that Christ tests the love of his followers by hiding in grotesque disguises to see if we can still see him.
A few nights later, I was leaving my office after dark when a drunk accosted me. He was dirty and ragged and smelled badly. "Did the bus leave yet?" he asked.
The only bus that ever stopped on that corner was a van that carried street people to a soup kitchen.
"You've missed it," I told him. Then I thought about Mother Teresa. I didn't exactly buy the idea that this old bum was God in disguise, but I could see a person in front of me who needed a meal. The soup kitchen wasn't very far out of my way
"C'mon, I'll drive you," I said, hoping that he wouldn't throw up in the car.
He looked surprised, delighted and a little stunned. He studied me with bleary eyes. His next words floated to me on the smell of cheap wine and they seemed to confirm everything Mother Teresa had taught me.
"Say," he said, "you must know me." (3)
Because of the effect Mother Teresa had on this author, he was able to see the face of Jesus in the guise of another needy human being. He was able to set aside his needs and not count the cost to him of caring for this person.
I wanted to close with this quote which I believe sums up this passage very well.
- In every sphere of life, a person is called upon to count the cost. In the introduction to the marriage ceremony according to the forms of the Presbyterian Church, the minister says, "Marriage is not to be entered upon lightly or unadvisedly, but thoughtfully, reverently, and in the fear of God." A man and woman must count the cost. It is the same with the Christian way. But if someone is daunted by the high demands of Christ, let them remember that they are not left to fulfill them alone. He who called them to the steep road will walk with them every step of the way, and be there at the end to meet them. (4)
- From Counting the Cost of Discipleship by Ron Levin. From SermonSuite.com
- From The Cultural World of Jesus, Year C by John Pilch, pp. 133 - 135. Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN.
- Mother Teresa, the Wino and Me by Robert Baldwin. From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Amy Newmark, pp. 228-229. From Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, Cos Cob, CT.
- From The Gospel of Luke by William Barclay. Copyright 1975 by William Barclay. Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Scotland. Used with permission.
In our first reading today from the book of Wisdom, the writer poses the poignant question "For who knows God's counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?" And then in our gospel passage today, our Lord confronts the members of a crowd which was following him with three stringent requirements of discipleship. First of all, he tells them that unless someone can turn their back on their father and mother, their spouse and children, their brothers and sisters, indeed their very self, they cannot be his follower. This is very strong language. But we have to remember that Jesus "is not interested in gaining a large following by softening his words and watering down the requirements needed, so he leaves his listeners under no illusion about the cost of discipleship. Nothing short of total commitment, even life itself, is required. In fact he is saying something like this: 'If you want to be disciples of mine, you have got to think seriously. Do not act on the spur of the moment or on impulse because it's not for the starry-eyed. Give careful consideration to what it's going to cost because I have no time for half-hearted recruits. I'm not inviting you to walk in my footsteps for a day, a month, or even a year, but for a lifetime. What's more I am looking for followers who will measure up to my expectations.'" (1)
In order to understand this difficult saying of Jesus about leaving one's family behind, we have to remember that Christians in the early church often became alienated from their families because of their conversion. Actually, all too often, we hear about similar situations today. And, of course, persecution and death were ways of life in Rome until the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion. So commitment was nothing short of total: it included leaving behind everything that one knew and loved, even life itself, as Jesus himself showed us. Which brings us to the second requirement of discipleship.
All of the teachings of Jesus which we have been hearing over the past few weeks from Luke's gospel, and others which we will hear in the weeks to come, are spoken by our Lord on his way to Jerusalem and ultimately to the cross. So it should not be surprising to us when he tells his disciples that "anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." The whole connotation of the cross to his listeners was one of unspeakable horror. Whenever Jesus mentions to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem where he will suffer and die on the cross, his disciples refuse to believe him. It is just too horrible a scenario to imagine. But our Lord is telling the crowd that this too is a necessary condition of discipleship.
The third condition which our Lord mentions here is that "none of you can be my disciple if you do not renounce all of your possessions." This verse reinforces for Luke all of the teachings of Jesus which he has recounted over the past few weeks: about the rich man who tried to store all of his grain harvest rather than share it with those in need and about the need to build up a treasure in heaven and not here on earth. In a couple of weeks, we will also hear the passage about the impossibility of serving both God and money.
So discipleship is all about choices: first of all, can we make a whole-hearted commitment to living a Christian life? Some years ago, our son left home for four months of basic training in the National Guard, the beginning of a six-year commitment to the service. This is not a decision which he made lightly. Once he signed on the dotted line, Uncle Sam was not going to take "no" for an answer. And because of that decision, he was eventually deployed to, and returned safely from, Iraq. Unfortunately, his best friend, Chris Duffy, did not. It is the same for us. As Christians, we have committed ourselves to the service of the Lord. And that means total commitment.
Remember that verse from our first reading which I mentioned a few moments ago? "For who knows God's counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?" We will never know what God's plans are for us; all we DO know is that we have to offer him our gifts and talents to use as he sees fit.
- Sometimes, we may feel that we have no gifts of any significance to offer for the Lord to use. But what we have to realize is that, in the service of the Lord, there is only one gift or ability that matters. And that ability is availability. No matter how much or how little our abilities, if we do not make ourselves available to do God's work, they will do no good for anyone. In fact, ability without availability is a liability. We have all heard the parable of the Master who went away and left his servants with talents to use while he was gone. And we all know what happened to the servant who buried his one talent rather than use it for some good purpose. Sometimes we assume that God could not possibly use us in his work because we have no special abilities, talents or gifts. But the truth is that God knows who we are and loves us as we are because he made us who we are. He doesn't ask what gifts we bring to the table because he knows very well what we have to offer. He asks only that we make what we have to offer available for his use. (2)
Without total commitment, we will always be hemming and hawing about using our gifts for the Lord. Just as Jesus was telling his listeners, so it is for us: this will just not do! Just last week we heard Jesus tell his disciples about the need for his followers to be humble. However, our Lord wasn't talking about a false humility where we tell ourselves "Oh, I just COULDN'T have any special gifts to offer" just so we don't have to make a commitment. That isn't humility; it's ingratitude. Just like the servant who buried his gift, we are most certainly burying our own. "Ability without availability is a liability". Someday we will be held accountable for the use of our gifts.
Secondly, as followers of Christ, we must be willing to bear our cross, whatever that may be. We have to be willing to suffer for our faith. Now, for most of us, that will probably not mean laying down our lives. But it could very well mean laying down our lives in a different sense. It could mean putting aside our feelings of anger or revenge and forgiving others who have hurt us, just as surely as Christ forgave us from the cross. None of us need to be told how difficult just this one aspect of Christianity can be. And yet I'm sure you are all aware of stories of people who have forgiven others in tragic situations. Here's one which bears retelling again.
- Marietta Jaegger was camping in Montana with her husband and their five children when her 7-year-old daughter Susie was kidnapped and killed. At first Marietta was so filled with rage that she wanted to kill the kidnapper. But then she reminded herself that "in God's eyes the kidnapper was just as precious as her Susie." In her own words, she said: "I worked hard to remember that he was a member of the human family, and I tried to pray for him every day." And then, to add insult to injury, after one year the kidnapper phoned her to taunt her. She quietly asked him, "What can I do to help you?" There was a long silence, and the kidnapper began crying, and said: "I just wish this burden could be lifted from me." The kidnapper was captured, and at Marietta's request, he was offered life imprisonment without parole rather than the death penalty. I think Marietta's comments deserve mentioning here. She said: "My concern is how best to honor Susie's life. Do I honor her by becoming someone who wants to kill someone, or do I honor her better by saying life is sacred, even the lives of those who do horrible crimes? We don't have to kill people to protect society from them."
Forgiveness is not something which comes easily to us, most especially in a situation like this one. But this is one form of the cross which our Lord is asking us to bear with him, one that is only possible through faith.
In summary then, as Christ's disciples, we have to, first of all, be willing to turn our backs on complacency, creature comforts and an "easy" life; we have to be willing to get up off of our haunches and serve others with the gifts which God has given to each one of us. We do this by offering up to God's service the gifts which God has given us and some of the precious time which he has granted us on this earth. In other words, we have to make ourselves available for God to use.
Secondly, we have to live out that total commitment in lives which model Christian values. We have to turn our backs on emotions and feelings, like anger and revenge, which come so easily to us, and adopt values which Christ has taught us, including forgiveness.
And lastly, we have to renounce our possessions in order to build up that treasure in heaven, as we heard just a few weeks ago. If we do all of these things, then God will work wonders through us, wonders which we probably would never have thought possible. To paraphrase the words from our first reading using the words of Paul "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How...unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord..? Or who has given him anything that he may be repaid? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." (Romans 11: 33-36)
1. From Voicing a Thought on Sundays: Homilies and Prayers of the Faithful for the Three-Year Cycle, pp. 356-357. Copyright 1991 by Desmond Knowles. Twenty-third Publications, Mystic, CT. Used with permission. [This resource is available for $16.95 (list price is $19.95) through the Homiletic Resource Center.]
2. The Greatest Ability, adapted, and used with permission, from A Fresh Packet of Sower's Seeds, Third Planting, p. 81. Copyright 1994 by Brian Cavanaugh, T.O.R, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ 07430. (This resource, as well as a package of all five of Brian's Sower's Seeds books, is available at a discount through the Homiletic Resource Center.)
(Copyright 2007 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at email@example.com.)
Lord Jesus, you call us to be your disciples. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you call us to take up our cross and followyou. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you call us to renounce our material possessionsand build up a treasure in heaven. Lord, have mercy.
Celebrant: Our Lord, Jesus Christ, has taught us that we must let go of all that we hold near and dear in order to take up our cross and follow him. Keeping in mind his teaching to serve one another in selfless love, we bring our needs, and the needs of all God's children, to the Father.
Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, teach us how to follow you".
That the leaders of the church will be living examples of Christ's life of service on earth, we pray to the Lord.
That the leaders of the nations of the world will come to share their blessings with the poor throughout the world, we pray to the Lord.
That the sick, the terminally ill and those who are grieving the loss of a loved one may bear their crosses with faith in Christ's healing Word, we pray to the Lord.
That the members of our parish community will reject complacency and serve the needs of those in our local community, we pray to the Lord.
That all caregivers who selflessly attend to the needs of others will be strengthened in their service, we pray to the Lord.
That all those whose lives have been affected by natural disasters will be strengthened in their efforts to rebuild their lives and not give in to despair, we pray to the Lord.
That all of the victims of violence will be welcomed into the loving arms of their Savior and that their families will be strengthened in their grief by their faith, we pray to the Lord.
For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant: Gracious Father, you continue to work wonders through the men and women who offer their gifts to your service and who answer your Son's call to follow him. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to follow him faithfully and to make his teachings a part of our daily lives. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.