INTRODUCTION The teachings of Christ are often incomprehensible with the logic of the human mind and the principles of the world. It’s as if his intention is always to toughen the path of his followers in order to make them true and authentic. Yes, Christianity is not a secular institution, and the gospel is not a mundane ideology. It is the imitation of the life of Christ, who won our salvation only through the way of the cross. Therefore, the readings of this day help us to understand that it is not easy to follow God. Yes, until we become fools in the eyes of the world, we cannot follow him. It requires total commitment to the will of God by putting him at the centre of our lives.
FIRST READING: Wisdom 9: 13-18 There is no doubt that the Hellenistic philosophy of pessimism over the human body infiltrated the mindset of the diaspora Jews. The writer of the book of Wisdom was conscious of this trend and pointed it out as he addressed the Jews in Alexandria Egypt; “For the perishable body weighs down the soul…” For most of the ancient philosophers, the true nature of the human person is realized when there is an ontological (philosophy of being) separation of the two components of the human person (body and soul). Hence, the soul must separate itself from the body as from fetters. This separation is not only realised in death but equally through a renewed life, a sort of attaining a “spiritual life” by undergoing initiation and revelation of spiritual truth (the state of a pure philosophy). The writer of the book of Wisdom did not stop at pointing out the limitation of the body as perceived by the philosophy of his time, he equally reveals the insufficiency of human reasoning (which is the central emphasis of philosophers) as worthless. He rather opted for divine wisdom and the Spirit of God as the only way through which man can discern the will of God. Thus, the truth which the thinkers believed could be attained by rational means is falsified in the message of the book of Wisdom. Since God is the absolute truth, the human person cannot access this truth except through the wisdom that God himself gives. This message message is a counter philosophy and a criticism against the philosophy of the world devoid of God; a philosophy which tends to project man as the “epicentre” of everything, and who believes so much in the power of his intellect as against divine illumination. In the eyes of the Wisdom writer, this is foolishness, since it is only the Wisdom that comes from God that can set man on the right path and enables him to do what pleases God (v.18). What is this Wisdom? Christian hagiographers see in Jesus the “Eternal Wisdom” who comes to reveal the mystery of God.
GOSPEL: Luke 14: 25-33 The gospel message is in line with the first reading in that, the teaching of Jesus can never appeal to the philosophy of the world. The theology of the cross is the nucleus of the Christian message. St. Paul pointed this out earlier when he said: “We preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks” (1 Cor. 1:23) and equally made it the source of his glory: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:13). Luke presents this gospel to his audience pointing out the cost of discipleship. Thus he opened the pericope by indicating that a great multitude were after Jesus. And immediately he turns our attention to Jesus’ definition and choice of discipleship. In other words, it does not suffice to follow him, but there are certain principles that should serve as prerequisite to becoming his followers . These can be summarized into “detachment and sacrifice.” In the Palestinian setting during the time of Jesus, there was much emphasis on the family. This is simply because the identity of a man and his social security lies in the family. The parable of the prodigal son reveals how insecure and wretched one can be when he cuts away from family ties. But introducing the cost of discipleship, the Lucan Jesus insists on the fundamental option for God. Thus the path of true discipleship would mean, hating father and mother and wife and children and brother and sister and even oneself . What is this hatred all about? In order not to be locked up in confusion, we must distance ourselves from the English meaning of the word. In the semitic language, the concept of love is used in terms of preference of one thing over another. Thus when A prefers B to C, then we say that A hates C. It is a strong and straight message of Jesus to his disciples that it is not possible to be a true disciple if one does not love God above everything. In other words, God cannot just be part of one’s life but the centre. It is this choice of renouncing everything to follow Christ that makes it possible to walk on the way of the cross which is the second call of Jesus in the gospel message. And what is this cross all about? It simply means that to accept the gospel is to accept hatred and persecution from the world. It means accepting to “hate” one’s family and the self in order to fall in love with God. Therefore, the cross is indispensably Christian; for a crossless Christian is a Christless Christian.
SECOND READING: Philemon 9-10.12-17 From the above affirmation, we see the practicality of the gospel message in the second reading. From the very first moment Paul accepted the way of Christ, he accepted the way of the cross: He suffered rejection (Acts 18:1-6) He suffered sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, cold and nakedness (2 Cor. 11:27) He suffered persecution (Acts 13:50; 14:19; 16:22; 21:36; 22:22) He suffered shipwreck (2 Cor. 11:25). He suffered imprisonment (2 Tim 2:9; Acts 28.16.30; Eph 6:20; Phil 1:22.214.171.124; Col 4:18; Phile 1.9.23) He suffered death (under Roman emperor Nero around 64 AD). Paul’s letter to Philemon today is one of those letters believed to have been written within the four walls of the prison (1&2Timothy, Titus, Ephesians, Philippians, Philemon and Colossians), in other words from ” the cross. ” He lived the message of the gospel by “hating his family and even himself” for the sake of Christ. No wonder he wrote: “Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews…But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ (Phil 3:5.7-8).
Paul spent his entire life proclaiming the gospel and embarked on several missionary journeys. Writing from the prison today, he simply tells us that the word of God cannot be imprisoned. He addresses this personal letter to Philemon, a new convert to Christianity, challenging him on the cost of discipleship, that is, accepting the cross by forgiving Onesimus his slave who once stole from him and made his way to Rome. A more challenging cross is Paul’s call on him to welcome Onesimus no longer as a slave but as a beloved brother. This might have been a difficult message for Philemon but that is the consequence of welcoming Christ in his life; the way of the cross.
LIFE MESSAGES: 1. WHAT MUST I HATE IN ORDER TO FOLLOW CHRIST?: All of us have particular things or persons in our lives that tend to distract us from giving full attention to Christ. And most often, it is our personal weakness and lifestyle that we have refused to let go. Jesus’ call today is that if we truly want to be his disciples, we must ‘develop hatred’ for the things that are not compatible with the new life we have received. It is a call to make God our priority in life. A friend once frowned over a Sunday celebration that spanned for almost 2hrs, yet he is a type that seizes every opportunity to hangout with friends and spend hours having fun. If 2hrs are too much for one to spend before God just once in a week, yet spends countless number of hours in the name of fun, then I wonder where we are going. The presence of God makes some persons uncomfortable. And many have completely lost the habit of prayer.
2. IS THE MESSAGE OF THE CROSS STILL APPEALING? Like the book of Wisdom pointed out, human intellect is insufficient to access the mystery of God. It takes divine Wisdom which is Christ himself to enable us understand the mystery of the cross. Unfortunately, the trend of Christianity we have today is gradually shifting away from the gospel of the cross. And the wind of pentecostalism is blowing harder such that many of us seem to lose our focus from the message of the cross. Still for some, it is now an old fashion message. After all since Christ has paid our debt, we are not meant to bear the cross again. This has succeeded in generating “half-baked” Christians; Christians of alleluia and not of the passion.
3. IS THE CROSS WE BEAR TRULY FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST? For our crosses to lead us to salvation, they must be borne for the sake of Christ. Most of the crosses we bear are imposed on us by the world and by the evil one and not necessarily by the gospel. Paul suffered for the sake of the gospel as well as all the apostles and the saints. But most of us are bearing crosses resulting from our lives of sin and corruption, and from reckless lives of the past. But it doesn’t matter. Whatever be our crosses, we must make effort to unite them to the cross of Christ who says: “Come to me all you who are weary and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mat. 11:28).
4. HAVE WE MADE A FUNDAMENTAL OPTION FOR CHRIST? It takes “yes” to follow Christ. We have all said yes to God on the day of our baptism. Are we still conscious of our promise to follow him and to reject the way of Satan and the world? Or are we often caught up between decision and indecision? We need to accept the “yes” challenge with heroic commitment through the spirit of detachment and renunciation in our daily lives. Real discipleship demands true commitment through the power of prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Christ does not oblige us to be his disciples, and that is why he said: “If anyone comes to me…”
Oh Lord our God, your word is truth and life. Speak to our conscience today, that we may understand what you ask of us, to be true disciples ready to walk on the way of the cross. Do not allow our personal convictions and the influence of the world to deviate our attention from the path of truth. Give us instead your wisdom and your Spirit to enable us understand the mystery of your being, so as to make a fundamental choice of you above every other thing. You who live and reign with Son and the Holy Spirit, One God forever and ever. Amen.