23 Sunday of the Year C
Wis 9:13-18b; Phil 9-10, 12-17; Lk 11:25-33
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’ Cycle C, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong. It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2009 and republished in Viet Nam 2012. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand.
However, if readers like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar, it would be greatly appreciated by the author whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable, that might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
Most Christian Catholics were baptized as infants and have been following the Lord in the lay state of life: married with family and children. The manner in which we have been following him to be his disciples depends on the circumstances of our lives: time, job, family, ability and circumstances available.
Today’s gospel tells us about the price which we must pay to be his disciples: 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 (Lk 14:26). Here we may wonder what Jesus means by telling us to hate our father and mother and blood relatives? Does he actually tell us to hate our parents? Of course not, because to do so would violate the fourth commandment that is to honor our father and mother. The fourth commandment based on the book of Exodus (Ex 20:12), the Book of Deuteronomy (Dt 5:16) and the book of Leviticus (Lv 20:9) teaches us to give honor to our father and mother. In the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Jesus also quoted this commandment to teach us to honor our parents: Honor you father and your mother (Mt 15:4).
The Old Testament literature of the Hebrews did not have a verbal expression of more or less comparison. Therefore, sometimes a verbal expression with a strong word was used, but with lighter meaning. Born a Jew, Jesus also used a Jewish verbal expression in his teaching. So the verb hate in today’s gospel must be understood as love less as Saint Matthew understood when he wrote his Gospel, recording what Jesus said: Whoever loves father or mother, son or daughter, more than me, is not worthy of me (Mt 10:37).
As disciples of Christ, we have to put the priority of values in the right order. We have to put God first in the scale of values. Reading the history of the church, we can find out there were those who did put God first and did love God more. Saint Francis of Assisi was one of them. He had to refuse his parents’ advice to get married in order to be able to dedicate his life in the service of God. Jesus also tells us to renounce even our own life in order to remain his disciples.
That was what the holy martyrs did by renouncing their lives as to remain faithful to their faith in God. Jesus does not soften the demand of his gospel in order to have a big catch of followers. He requires his followers to carry their cross. Those followers of Jesus in our times and in certain countries with freedom of religion might not be persecuted and put to death any longer.
However, the followers of Jesus might still be persecuted in different ways in different of the world and by different means even in our country. When we want to remain faithful to the way of the gospel, we have to carry our cross in our daily lives. When the way we live, the way we talk, the way we educate our children, the way we run our family life is different from that of the world, we might be misunderstood, rejected and ridiculed; we might lose even our jobs and friends.
At the end of the gospel, Jesus said: None of you can be my disciple, if he does not renounce all his possessions (Lk 14:33). We may wonder what we have to renounce. To renounce what we have means to renounce sins, the roots of sin and sinful attachment. We have to renounce things that can stand in the way of discipleship. The price for being his disciple is the price of being different in what needs to be different. The price of being his disciples is to go beyond what belongs to this world as to seek the wisdom of God as the book of Wisdom today tells us (Wis 9:13-18). The price of being his disciples is to renounce worldly ways as to accept the way of the Lord. That is what Saint Paul tells Philemon to re-accept Onesimus as a brother in Christ and treat him in the Christian way instead of treating him as a slave as before (Phil 9b-10, 12-17).
In a summary, discipleship of Christ requires renouncement and detachment from family ties, material possessions and even life itself. Not to renounce what needs to be renounced cannot be his disciple. That is why Jesus gave us two examples to help us to estimate the cost of being disciples. Before building a tower, we have to calculate the cost of it to see if we have enough money to complete it (Lk 14:18-30). Before going to war, a king has to decide whether his army can defeat another king’s army.
We can remember when we were young; we made a race with neighborhood kids. In front of a ditch, we had to decide whether to cross to the other side or to stop. We had to calculate to see whether we could jump over the ditch. If we were over-confident, then instead of jumping over, we would fall into the ditch. Failing a few times, we learned from experience, and we practiced on jumping so that we could jump over. That is a process of being discipleship.
So in order to be and continue to be Jesus’ disciple - a disciple in the lay state of life, not necessarily a disciple in the priesthood and religious life - we need to reorder the scale of values as to be in conformity with the gospel value. In the Christian scale of values, the divine value must come first, then the human value, and then finally followed by the material values.
Prayer asking to be ready for renouncement and detachment:
Oh Lord Jesus!
Through Baptism and Confirmation,
you called us to be your disciples.
Teach us how to seek your wisdom
as to be able to renounce attachments to the world,
in order to live the spirit of detachment of discipleship.
Teach us to calculate before our decision. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong