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Sunday Scripture: The things of God must come first

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By Father Timothy Schehr

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Wisdom 9:13-18; Philemon 9-17; Luke 14:25-33

As we hear Jesus speak in this Sunday’s Gospel, we may well wonder if he was at all familiar with the fourth commandment. Jesus insists that disciples turn their backs on mother and father. He goes on to say the same about spouses, children, siblings, and even self. This last offers a key to understanding the rest.

Jesus is not against family, nor is He against self-respect. What He wants His disciples to appreciate is that the things of God must come first. God’s interests will not exclude others. In fact, they will enhance relationships with others. But loving God puts all else in proper perspective. We will love others more and far better if we view them through the lens of our relationship with God. It is not easy. Jesus compares it to carrying the cross. Jesus offered himself for us. We offer ourselves to God.

Jesus gives us every advantage to be successful in our spiritual journeys. And so He gives us a clear picture of what is expected of us to follow Him. He offers two more examples. The first is the construction of a tower, a lofty structure that would easily draw the attention of everyone. Our lives should be equally lofty and admirable in the sight of others. But we should appreciate what we are undertaking right from the start. A failed building project could invite ridicule. They might wonder why such a project was even begun if there was no assurance it would be completed. Similarly the Lord’s disciples should take into account exactly what it necessary to complete the journey with Jesus.

The second example seems out of place initially. Jesus compares discipleship to a king preparing to do battle with another king. This example seems to run counter to our image of the Lord. So far in this Gospel, for example, Jesus has among others things healed a leper, given a paralytic the power to walk, restored a dead son to his grieving mother, and told the parable of the Good Samaritan. So how does this battle imagery fit into the picture? Once again it is good to remember that Jesus wants His disciples to know exactly what they are undertaking so they can complete the journey to eternal life. And battle imagery is so incongruous with the journey of faith because a battle must be waged against all the worldly things the prince of this world will assemble to defeat us in our efforts. So we had better know what we are up against. Jesus counsels us to avoid attachment to possessions if we plan to follow Him. Whatever we cling to instead of Jesus will ultimately become an obstacle to the journey.

The reading from Wisdom also contrasts two kingdoms. Tradition attributes this book to wise king Solomon. In this reading he is making a prayer to God asking for the insight to lead a good life. He knows the body is weighed down with earthly concerns. What a person needs is the spirit of God to rise above them and see them from a heavenly point-of-view. That way we will not make too much of them and allow them to interfere with our spiritual journeys. But we need the gift of God’s wisdom to do this. As the wise Solomon says, we mortals can scarcely grasps the things of earth, how likely are we to grasp the things of heaven.

The second reading comes from Paul briefest letter. But the size of this letter should not distract us from its big message. The apostle is sending a former slave back to the household he once served. But things have changed. Paul appeals to Philemon to accept this former slave as a brother in the Lord. They share the same commitment to Jesus and that should make all the difference.

Father Schehr is a faculty member at the Anthenaeum of Ohio. 

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