Wisdom 9:13-18, Ps. 90:3-6,12-14,17, Philemon 9-10,12-17, Luke 14:25-33

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27)

Three Sundays ago, we heard Jesus say: “I came to cast fire upon the earth…in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three, father against son, mother against daughter, a daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” And just last Sunday, we heard Jesus saying to the Pharisee who had invited him for a dinner: “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbours, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you...” (Luke 14:12-14) 

Today, Jesus goes on to say: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father or mother and wife and children, he cannot be my disciple.” Is Jesus against loving one’s own family members or neighbours? Not at all. The summary of everything Jesus teaches us is to love our neighbours as ourselves. What message are we to take home from today’s readings? 

1. Jesus is Against Tribalism

Tribalism is the deliberate hatred/rejection of another person just because he or she is not part of your family or a member of your tribe. This is precisely the evil that Jesus seeks to correct. This is the point behind the parable of the Good Samaritan who proved neighbour to the man beaten and left half dead while a priest and Levite passed by. Jesus is not against loving family members or taking up our family responsibilities rather Jesus is totally against showing love ONLY to family members or what we may call “preferential treatment.”

This is the reason Jesus did not permit the man who wanted to go first and bury his father before following Him. Therefore, Jesus told the one who wanted to bid farewell to his family that whoever places his hands on a plough and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God. This is the reason why Jesus did not leave His preaching to attend to His Mother and ‘brothers’ who were standing outside asking to see Him. Jesus made a statement on that occasion: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? … For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50).

2. Tribalism Betrays the Christian Faith

Jesus teaches us: “If you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46-48) This “son of the soil” mentality amongst Christians is a betrayal of our faith. Jesus was born a Jew but He died for the entire human race.

Of course, it is not easy to love persons who are not your family members or close relatives. It is not easy to invite strangers to eat at your banquets. It is not easy to look beyond tribal sentiments in selecting persons for certain offices but this is part of the cross we must carry as we follow Jesus. This is what it means to be perfect as God is perfect. 

3. To Follow Jesus, You Must Carry Your Cross

Commenting on our Gospel passage, St. Gregory the Great says: “But it may be asked, how are we bid to hate our parents and our relations in the flesh, who are commanded to love even our enemies? But if we weigh the force of the command, we are able to do both, by rightly distinguishing them so as both to love those who are united to us by the bond of the flesh, and whom we acknowledge our relations, and by hating and avoiding not to know those whom we find our enemies in the way of God.”

According to St. Gregory, Jesus is saying that we must actively remove anything that prevents us from loving God. By ‘hate’, Jesus is referring to ‘detachment.’ To better understand what Jesus means, recall what He taught in the Sermon on the Mount: “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body was thrown into hell. And if your right-hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body goes into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30). Whatever could lead us to sin, be it our own family members must be cut off from us.

Hence, Jesus would say: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). Without this sense of detachment, we would be fake Christians, we would be like people who started building a project and abandoned it along the way. Jesus concluded today’s Gospel passage by saying: “Therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). 

4. Forgiving Others is not Easy: It is Part of the Cross we must Carry

Today’s second reading gives us another dimension to the meaning of detachment which Jesus spoke about in our Gospel passage. St. Paul writing from prison pleads with Philemon to forgive Onesimus (a runaway slave) and accept him back no longer as a slave but as a brother. Forgiveness is one virtue that enables us to resemble Christ more. No matter what others may have done to us, no matter what they may have taken away from us, no matter what privileges they may have denied us, if we do not forgive, we are not yet Christians. 

We don’t forgive because the person who has offended us deserves it, we forgive because of our Faith in Christ Jesus who was able to forgive the very persons who executed Him on the Cross of Calvary. It does not make sense (humanly speaking) to forgive, but it takes a Christian to forgive. Remember, as Christians, we do not operate according to human wisdom, but Divine Wisdom. Our first reading from the book of Wisdom describes human wisdom as worthless: “For the reasoning of mortals is worthless, and our designs are likely to fail, for a perishable body weighs down the soul.” 

Let us pray: Almighty ever-living God, help me to remove whatever obstacle that could render my worship in vain. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Bible Study: Wisdom 9:13-18, Ps. 90:3-6,12-14,17, Philemon 9-10,12-17, Luke 14:25-33).

© Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu