FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Wisdom 9:13-18b | Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14 and 17 | Philemon 9-10, 12-17 | Luke 14:25-33
What is life about here on earth? Our readings for this weekend tell us that life is about being humble, about loving others truly, and about loving God above all things.
Several years ago while i was I was teaching Philosophy of Religion to Franciscan seminarians, some construction workers were using a jack hammer outside during the duration of the class. It did not matter how high I turned up my voice, the jack hammer was louder. It felt impossible for all of us to focus. We all had to put some extra effort into our tasks and endure our degree of annoyance toward the noise. I invited the class to be mindful that life often hits us with experiences that provoke the same anxiety we felt hearing the jack hammer. At times during this class, we just had to laugh about the jack hammer. It was annoying, but there was nothing we could do about it. This experience reminded me that how someone handles anxiety in this sutiation, correlates with how they will experience the stressors of life off the classroom. The unexpected pounding jack hammer reminded me of one of my favorite prayers attributed to American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, known as The Serenity Prayer. It says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
Life here on earth, even though timid and weighed down, is about humility. our First Reading is a direct prayer from the heart of King Solomon who experiences the tremendous weight of being King of Israel. He knows the difficulties of governing the Jewish people and the prospects of building a new temple in Jerusalem. Solomon kneels down in surrender and gratitude to God for the spirit of Wisdom that guides him. He begs God by first praising him for being the Creator of all things. He then acknowledges his personal frailty and absolute dependence upon God’s gift of Wisdom. We live in dying bodies in a world that is passing. Wisdom alone navigates these waters. The Serenity Prayer demonstrates to us the essence of humility: be who you are, not more, not less. Trust in God for everything you cannot do. Let go, let God.
There were 60,000,000 slaves in the Roman Empire. A slave was not a person; he ie she was a living tool. A master had absolute power over his slaves. Encyclopedist Pliny the Elder tells how Vedius Pollio treated a slave. The slave was carrying a tray of crystal goblets into the courtyard; he dropped and broke one; on the instant Pollio ordered him to be thrown into the fishpond in the middle of the court, where the savage lampreys tore him to pieces. A rebellious slave was promptly eliminated. And, if a slave ran away, at best he would be branded with a red hot iron on the forehead, with the letter F—standing for fugitivus, runaway—and at the worst he would be crucified to death
Life here on earth is about love. True personal love. This Sunday, September 4rh 2022, is the only day in our three-year cycle of Sunday readings that we hear something from Paul’s letter to Philemon. It is the shortest book in the Bible. It takes up only one page consisting of only 335 words in the Greek text and 437 words in English (Revised Standard Version). In his letter to Philemon, the apostle Paul recommends that he considers taking back Onesimus a brother in Christ. It turns out that Philemon’s slave Onesimus ran away and came to Paul in in his jail cell. Paul became like a father to him, converted him to Christianity and now sends him back to Philemon not as a slave but “as a man and in the Lord.” The implication is that Paul has baptized Onesimus, making him a Christian – more than a slave, but a dear brother who is now even dearer, because Philemon will have him forever as a brother in Christ. Notice the language Paul uses here. “I am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart..” Treating a slave as a brother was unthinkable in the social context of the era. For Paul, Onesimus is not a servant anymore. He is sending someone so dear to him that he refers to that man as “his own heart.” It was as a slave that Onesimus ran away and it was as a slave that he was coming back, but now he was not only a slave, he was a beloved brother in the Lord. From the standpoint of his legal rights Philemon could proceed with other action than that which Paul recommends. But Paul rises above mere justice and rests his case on the summit of love
Catholic missionary to Papua New Guinea, Fr. Joey Castillo, became deeply concerned about the attitude of his seminarian nephew Harold. The young man, a practicing Catholic, had promised to become a missionary like him. But he broke his vow when he was appointed Presidential adviser for flagship programs and projects. Fr. Joey requested prayer for him: “Pray for Harold. He has degenerated into an adviser to the president when he should be serving the King of kings.”
Life here on earth, is about loving God above all things. His Eminence Leo Jozef Cardinal Suenens, Archbishop Emeritus of Mechelen-Brussels once taught, “Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.” Most of us dreams of changing but do not consider the cost. Some would want to be more self-confident, more assertive, less inclined to lose their temper, less depressed or anxious. If we change, it is possible that friends and co-workers and family won’t like it. Maybe they like us this way — bitter, stressed-out, non-assertive wimp whom they can easily manipulate. Change will cost us. We will need to let go of so much crap. Can you handle all that detachment? For disciples, family is redefined, tasks are reevaluated, and possessions renounced. You might say that Luke’s Jesus is asking us to make one of the toughest decisions in life: which are you going to prioritize, your faith in Jesus or family, loved ones, and career? The call of Jesus to follow Him is not without cost. A lot has to be sacrificed. In fact, He calls us to deny ourselves. Jesus of the Gospel clearly is not attacking family life. He is not teaching his disciples to neglect their families or to divest themselves of family responsibility in the name of discipleship. God is not saying that we cannot love our families. Honoring our parents, our brothers and sisters, and our relatives is ideal, and it is, in fact, commanded by God. Our Lord is simply giving a warning to his disciples that Christian living brings a life of sacrifice, self-denial and daily crosses and nothing must take precedence over fidelity to Jesus. Everything and everybody else take the backseat. Jesus wants us to decide once and for all to set our focus on Him without turning back and without second thoughts. <enrique,ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum