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This weekend we celebrate the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Our Gospel this weekend addresses the issue of the “cost of discipleship.” At the beginning of this Gospel Jesus tells his disciples that: “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.” After telling two brief parables, the first about knowing the cost of building a tower before undertaking this endeavor, and the second about gauging the likelihood of victory before going into battle, Jesus concludes by saying: “In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciples.”
What are we to make of these words of Jesus? Clearly very few of us “hate” our friends and families and/or have renounced all our possessions, and yet we still identify ourselves as followers of Jesus. Is this a case of selective hearing on our part? Do we get to choose which words of Jesus to follow and which to ignore? In response we need to understand that Jesus was speaking with hyperbole to make a point. We can’t call ourselves his disciples and then live however we want. Jesus wants us to commit ourselves completely to him. Nothing is more important than our relationship with him. We need to let go of anything and everything in our lives that diverts us from that commitment.
Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of Wisdom. It reminds us that God’s ways and thoughts are beyond our comprehension. “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?”
Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of Saint Paul to Philemon. This is Paul’s shortest letter. It was written to an individual, Philemon, who was a Christian, and whose slave, Onesimus, had run away. Onesimus had been converted to Christianity by Paul, and now Paul was sending him back to Philemon with the plea. “So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me.” This request placed Philemon in a difficult position. If he didn’t punish Onesimus he could be regarded as “soft” by his peers and by his other slaves. On the other hand, after Paul’s request, if he punished Onesimus, he could be regarded as not a true Christian. This brief letter reminds us once again that there is a “cost” to discipleship.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. Many people either ignore or dismiss the words of Jesus in our Gospel today. Why is this?
2. What do you think Christ is asking you to give up to be his disciple?
3. Have you ever been in Philemon’s position, where you have had to make a public decision about how to live out your discipleship?