How to be a Disciple of Christ

Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wis 9: 13-18b; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14: 25-33

By Deacon Larry Brockman

Today Mother Theresa has been canonized a Saint.  And clearly, Mother Theresa was a disciple of Christ.

So, what does it take to become a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Well, that is the topic of our readings today.  And, clearly, one cannot become a disciple of Christ  without putting aside conventional wisdom, and embracing wisdom from above.  That’s the message to all of us this morning in our readings; and it’s the message that St. Theresa of Calcutta broadcast throughout her life.

First, let us consider the context of the Gospel.  Jesus has been working miracles, curing the lame and the sick.  And a great multitude has gathered and is following him.  The people are enthusiastic and hungry for more.  But Jesus turns on them suddenly, and says:  “If any one 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”.  Pretty strong words!

Some of the great doctors of the Church have struggled over those words, even asking the question,  “How can we be told by Jesus we must hate our own flesh and blood, when he has also told us to love everyone”?  But you see, Jesus was a master at shock treatment with many of his words and preaching.  This is a perfect example, because our fathers, mothers, wives, children, brothers and sisters, and all of the pleasures that life has to offer, must be secondary to our relationship with God if we are to find our way into the Kingdom of God.  And it takes shock therapy like Jesus’ words today to get us to realize that.

Simply put, we need to “hate” anything that tends to derail God’s plan for us, and our efforts to live it accordingly, even when the obstacles are our loved ones and living life for ourselves.  Yes, we are being asked to sacrifice our personal interests when that is needed to assure that we make an effort to follow Jesus.

If you are willing to look closely at your life, you can see areas where life gets in the way.  Sleeping in on Sunday Morning; sports events, family parties, trips out of town, and kids sporting events are a few examples.  None of those things are bad, and in fact, they are all good as far as that goes.  But they can be obstacles in maintaining our relationship with God and in following after Jesus if we allow them to.

Our second reading gives an interesting example about the kind of sacrifice we are called to make.  You see, Paul’s letter to Philemon was a letter to a well-to-do person whom Onesimus had served as a slave.  Onesimus had escaped, and ended up attending to Paul while Paul was in prison.  Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon, but there is a catch.  Paul is asking Philemon to accept Onesimus as an equal.  So, in a time and culture in which slavery was accepted, and a personal slave considered a status symbol, Paul is asking Philemon to forgive Onesimus for escaping; refrain from punishing him; refrain from putting him back into slavery; and accept him as an equal.   Wow! That was asking a lot.

But the reality is that all of us need to let go of something that’s holding us back from being the Christian we are called to be.  Maybe it’s some combination of those little things I mentioned, but it can also be some major attachment or habit or personal relationship, like the one that Philemon had for his slave.

And notice that the thing that might hold you back the most, is what society thinks of you.  For example, if Philemon accepted Onesimus back as an equal, then Roman society would have thought of him as a fool, a weakling, a loser.  That kind of societal pressure can be hard to take.

But Jesus tells us that:  “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”  Yes, we have to embrace our crosses and follow him, turning away from what other people think, turning away from gratifying our flesh and blood.

But we cannot do it alone, can we.  Solomon understood that, as we saw in the first reading.  First, Solomon pointed out how difficult it is for us to grasp the mind of God on our own.  Then he writes:  “Or who can know your counsel, unless you give Wisdom and send your holy spirit from on high”.  Yes, it is the Holy Spirit that we need to identify God’s will for us, and our associated cross.  Our cross is simply the obstacles that the world and the agents of evil throw into our path along the way.  Those obstacles can be a pile of little things that divert us; or a major obstacle like the one Philemon had, including peer pressure to belong to our current culture.

So, let all of us reflect a bit on our lives.  First, call upon the Holy Spirit for the Counsel of the most high.  Then ask yourself this question.  What is holding you back from accepting your cross?  What do you have to turn away from, even “hate”, in order to accept Jesus’ invitation.

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