Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 1 WIS 9:13-18B
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.
Responsorial Psalm PS 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17
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.
R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
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.
R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
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!
R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
Reading 2 PHMN 9-10, 12-17
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.
Alleluia PS 119:135
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
and teach me your laws.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 14:25-33
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.”
My sisters and brothers in the Lord,
Who can conceive what the Lord intends? –from the Book of Wisdom and from the first reading today. Today’s readings remind us that none of us can know the Lord’s ways nor His particular intentions. We all know that the Lord intends good, but when we look at particular situations, we have to trust that God is seeking our good and the good of others in all that happens.
The challenge is to accept that God’s will upon earth is tightly bound up with our wills and with the freedom that He has given us. God’s will is always for our good but our will is not always for our good nor for the good of others. And there are processes that happen in the world simply because of the freedom that God has given His world in creating it.
The second reading is from the Letter to Philemon, who is a Christian friend of his. The slave of Philemon, Onesimus, has become a Christian and Paul sends him back with the recommendation that Philemon treat him as equal to Paul. This is one way of speaking about slavery. Paul never talks about ending slavery but invites this slave holder to treat his slave as he treats his free friends. Again, Paul is not speaking about God’s will in all of this. Paul is not giving a particular teaching. Rather, Paul is speaking common sense: if you and your slave are both Christians, then you must begin to treat your slave as an equal! Who can conceive what the Lord intends?
And then the Gospel today, from the Gospel of Saint Luke, gives us this advice: 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.
Who can understand the mind of God? No one thought that God would come as a human and then give His own life—and worse yet, ask that of us! Who can conceive what the Lord intends?
You and I must choose God first in our lives. God is more important than any human relationship! Today the modern culture no longer believes this. Instead God is conceived by modern culture as simply accepting what the majority want us to believe. Yet the Word of God, the Sacred Scriptures, are not realities that can be voted out of existence, nor are they teachings that we can change to fit what we want!
We are asked to make God more important than any human relationship and then also be willing to give up our lives for Him. We must daily accept and even embrace the sufferings that come upon us because we try to follow Jesus. Lord, have mercy! Who can conceive what the Lord intends?
Your brother in the Lord,
Monastery of Christ in the Desert https://christdesert.org/about/
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ WIS 9:13-18; PHIL 9-17; LK 14:25-33 ]
The gospel reading today seems rather harsh and impossible to accept. For according to Jesus,discipleship requires that we give up everything and everyone for Him. Indeed, Jesus told the crowd who wanted to follow Him that if we want to be His disciples, we must first hate our father, mother, wife, children and brothers; in other words, all the people that we love dearly and most. But that is not all; we are also to hate ourselves as well. As if that is not all, Christ demands that we give up all our possessions. At face value, such exacting conditions for following Christ would seem not only impossible to fulfill but also ludicrous as well.
Before we write off the words of Jesus as utter nonsense, we need to reconsider them carefully. We begin by considering the first condition of Jesus; which is to hate all our loved ones. Now why did Jesus ask us to hate our loved ones? As we all know, between hate and love, there is only a thin line. Those we hate are really those we love; and those we love would turn out to be those whom we hate. What is worse than hate is actually indifference. When we are indifferent to someone, that someone does not even exist in our sight and on our mind. But when we love someone or hate someone, that person is constantly on our mind. Thus, if Jesus asks us to hate our loved ones, it is not so much to keep them away from our minds, but to be totally detached from them, though not to the extent of being indifferent. To hate is simply a way of Jesus asking us to love in a detached manner. A better word would be compassion. In other words, we are called to love without attachment. Hence the word ‘hate’ is used in relation to love.
Within this context the picture is now clearer. The truth is that if we love our loved ones in a slavish manner, then we make ourselves slaves to our loved ones. As if that is not enough, we will also try to make them slaves of us. That is why lovers and spouse quite often try to manipulate each other. When they are insecure in themselves, they will play the guilt game so that their partners will feel responsible towards them. How often do we hear couples controlling each other’s life to the extent that life becomes stifling and crippling, so much so that love becomes impossible, since love is only possible in freedom? In forcing someone to love us, we immediately lose that love. This is the paradox of love. Isn’t it true that those who are stifled in relationships feel extremely relieved when that relationship has ended?
When we love people without enslaving them, we make it possible for them to love us. Because they are free to go and free to stay, they would not feel pressurized into loving us. Without any obligations to love, we can be certain that their love for us would be free, unconditional and genuine. Only such kind of love can truly be liberating both for the lover and the loved. Thus when Jesus asked us to hate our loved ones, He was simply asking us to love them in such a manner so that such love, especially among family members and friends, would be real, strong, lasting, joyful and liberating. When we are not loved unconditionally or freely, there is no way of finding happiness in life. This is the way God loves us and this must be the way we love others as well. So in order to love, we must hate. This is the fact of life. We must love in a detached manner. So this is the first condition of following Jesus.
The second condition laid down by Jesus was that we must hate ourselves. Again on the surface, such a demand is simply intolerable. How can we be happy if we hate ourselves?
The truth is that when we love ourselves, we actually hate ourselves. People who are too concerned about themselves will end up hurting themselves. Ego-centered and self-centered people cannot be happy. Happiness must be shared if it is to be genuine. The consequence of selfishness is that we would be left alone by ourselves. People would avoid, hate or make use of us. They would see us as their competitors. We will also feel miserable within ourselves. Due to our obsession with oneself, we become paranoid, fearful, insecure and anxious. We begin to imagine that everyone is against us and a threat to our happiness. This will lead to further scheming and manipulation. Eventually, we will make even more enemies.
However, when we stop loving ourselves, that is, when we are not too concerned about our needs and instead focus on others, we begin to love ourselves. In forgetting about ourselves, we have no self to worry about. When there is no ego, no self, then there are no problems, since worries and problems do not exist in the abstract but are attached to our ego. Consequently, in loving others, we begin to find the real meaning of life. We experience true love, which is loving and being loved in return. So in forgetting ourselves, we actually find ourselves in others. Yes, this is the paradox of life.
That is why we must always remember that to find oneself is to lose oneself. God never gives to us but through us. We cannot love ourselves directly. We can only love ourselves indirectly. We can love ourselves only through loving others and being of service to others. But when we try to love ourselves directly, we become our own prisoners and we lose all joy and happiness in life. Narcissism will lead to self-destruction because the worship of self is the worship of false gods, of nothingness. Hence, we can now see the truth of Jesus’ teaching: to hate self is to love self authentically.
Lastly, we examine the third condition of Jesus, which is the giving up of all our possessions. What is the reality behind our possessions? Isn’t it true that the more we cling to our possessions, the more we are possessed by them? Instead of being master over things we allow things to usurp our place. Yes, we become slaves of our possessions the moment we cannot let them go; when they exercise control over our happiness. Take drug addicts for example. They cannot live without drugs. Deprived of drugs, they become restless, edgy and even violent. All of us are addicted to our possessions in some ways. Some of us cannot be happy without a car; some cannot be happy without wearing jewelry and expensive clothes; some cannot live without smoking or drinking. So isn’t it true that our possessions are masters of our lives?
Hence, we must ask ourselves seriously this question: is it better to have more possessions and lose our happiness and peace, our family, our health and our life, or is it wiser to have less so that we can have more? When we learn to let go the non-essentials in life, we will be happier because we come to possess what is really vital for life and happiness. In giving up our useless and fathomless pursuit of wealth, glory and power, we find ourselves living a more simple life – but a life that is more profound because it is lived intensely and meaningfully.
In the final analysis, happiness is not dependent on how much we have but how we are. Happiness is not to be measured in material terms but in personal terms. The determinant of happiness is whether we are personally enriched rather than materially enriched. A rich life cannot be exchanged for a life of riches. Many people who live simply, live a rich life – rich in love, peace, joy, health and freedom. Those who are slaves to wealth and power and glory will find it impossible to be happy in life because they will always live in fear, anxiety, competition, envy, bitterness and restlessness.
Today, Jesus invites us to consider carefully whether we want to live, or simply to exist. If we really want to live fully, then we must die. But perhaps, we still have not been able to grasp fully what the gospel is speaking about. If that is the case, we must take time off for prayer to be more in touch with divine wisdom. Unless we see life in its deepest depth and reality through the eyes of God and the mind of Jesus, we will always be shortsighted in life. The outcome of our lack of foresight is that we will eventually destroy ourselves. Prayer is the key to divine wisdom and divine life. In coming to know the real meaning and essentials of life, we will experience tremendous joy and freedom, a joy and freedom as Jesus tells us in John’s gospel, the world cannot give. Let us pray for this grace to be free from our undue possessiveness either of our loved ones, ourselves or of our possessions. Yes, instead of being a prisoner of all these, let us, like Paul, become a prisoner of Christ Jesus. Paradoxically, in being Christ’s prisoner, we attain the ultimate true freedom and joy. Like him, we transcend the world and ourselves.
Written by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore.
Lectio Divina From The Carmelites
We are among those who follow Jesus, with all our baggage of the past. One among so many, our name can be lost. But when He turns around and his word strikes the pain of the ties that strongly bind the pieces of our life, questions roll in the most ancient valley of echoes and one single humble reply comes forth from the ruins of unfinished edifices: Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.
v. 25-26. Great crowds accompanied him on his way and he turned and spoke to them: «If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple”. The Lord is not interested in counting those who come to him. His words are strong and are free of all illusion. Is there anyone who does not know what it means to hate? If I hate a person, I stay away from that person. This choice between the Lord and affection for parents is the first demand of discipleship. To learn from Christ, it is necessary to find once more the nucleus of every love and interest. The love of a follower of the Lord is not a possessive love, but a love of freedom. To follow someone without any guarantees such as blood relationship can give, namely, family ties and one’s own blood, that is, one’s life, is discipleship, a place where life is born of divine Wisdom.
v. 27. Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. The only tie that helps us follow Jesus is the cross. This symbol of love that cannot be taken back, capable of being word even when the world silences everything by condemnation and death, is the lesson of the Rabbi born in the smallest village in Judea. .
v. 28. Which of you here, intending to build a tower, would not first sit down and work out the cost to see if he had enough to complete it? To build a tower requires a large sum for someone who has limited resources. A good intention to build is not enough, it is necessary to sit down, calculate expenses, seek the means to bring the project to completion. Man’s life is incomplete and unsatisfied because the larger the project the larger the debt! A project made to measure: not to know how to calculate what is within our means to accomplish is not the wisdom of those who after having ploughed wait for the rain, but the lack of awareness of those to expect flowers and harvest from seed thrown among stones and brambles, without making the effort to loosen the soil.
v. 29-30. Otherwise if he laid the foundation and then found himself unable to finish the work, the onlookers would all start making fun of him and saying: “Here is a man who started to build and was unable to finish”. The derision of others which grates like sand on one’s the feelings of hope of the person who wanted to reach high on his own, is the reward of one’s own arrogance clothed in good will. How many humiliations do we not carry with us, but what little fruit do we reap from these painful experiences! Putting down foundations and then not finish the building is useless. Shattered desires sometimes are good tutors to our naïve self-affirmation… but we fail to understand them so long as we try to cover up our failures and the delusion of our waking up from the fairytale world of the dreams of our childhood. Yes, Jesus does tell us to become childlike, but a child will never pretend to build a “real” tower! The child will be happy with a small tower on the beach, because he/she knows well his/her capacity.
vv. 31-32. Or, again, what king marching to war against another king would not first sit down an consider whether with ten thousand men he could stand up to the other who advanced against him with twenty thousand? If not, then while the other king was still a long way off, he would send envoys to sue for peace. No one can win a war without first sending envoys of peace. To fight for royal supremacy over every other is in itself a lost battle, because man is not called to be a ruling king, but the lord of peace. Approaching the other while still a long way away is the most beautiful sign of victory where no one wins and no one loses, but all become servants of the one true sovereignty in the world: peace and fullness of the gifts of God.
v. 33. So, in the same way, none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions. If we examine the capital sins, we shall discover them in the manner of possessing that Jesus speaks of. A person who bases his/her life on possessions is a dissolute person who pretends having power over all things (pride), enjoying a life of pleasure (lust) going beyond the limits as a personal right (anger), being hungry for material goods (gluttony), stealing from others (envy), keeping things for him/herself (avarice), spoiling him/herself apathetically without committing to anything (sloth). The disciple, on the other hand, travels on the rails of the living virtues of the gifts of the Spirit: he/she is a person who has a sense of the things of God (wisdom) and shares it without keeping it to him/herself, and delves deep into the essential meaning of all that is Life (knowledge), who listens to the voice of the Spirit (counsel), and reflects on every discernment (counsel), who allows him/herself to be protected by the limitations of his/her being (fortitude) and does not give in to the allurement of sin, who knows the secrets of history (knowledge) to build horizons of goodness, who does not take unto him/herself the right of making sense, but who welcomes the source of divine intervention (piety) who springs from the abyss of silence and is thankful for the marvels of grace of his Creator (fear of God) without being afraid of his/her smallness. Thus a disciple is another Jesus.
Our hearts are nets made of chain. We have ties of tenderness and gratitude, ties of love and dependence, endless ties with everything that touches our feelings. Jesus speaks of ties of consanguinity: father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and of ties with life itself which in the Semitic mentality is symbolised by blood. But the heart must be free of these ties in order to go to Him and create a new tie that gives life because it gives the person freedom to be his/her authentic self. Every disciple has but one task: to learn and not to depend. Blood ties create dependence: how often does affective blackmail stop people from building the tower of their existence? How often do the words: If you love me, do this! Or: If you love me, do not do this…? Life itself can imprison you when it ties you to that which does not suit you physically or mentally thus influencing your complicated story, or when it ties you to that which you choose haphazardly by a will made weak by a thousand grids of events and blackmail. The cross does not tie, it urges that all that you have may be shed, blood and water, even to the last drop: your whole life as a gift that does not expect any reward. To belong rather than to possess is the secret of the gratuitous love of the Master and of the disciple. Anyone who follows Jesus is not just any disciple who learns a doctrine, but is one who becomes a beloved disciple, capable of narrating the wonders of God when the fire of the Spirit will turn him/her into a flame on the candlestick of the world.
Tags: Book of Wisdom, Lk 14:25-33, O Lord you have been our refuge, PHMN 9-10 12-17, Prayer and Meditation, Psalm 90, Sacred Scriptures, September 4 2016, The challenge is to accept that God’s will, what is within our grasp we find with difficulty, Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple, Wis 9:13-18b, Word Of God, You sent your holy spirit from on high -- And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight