September 7, 2019 by
David Jackson in
Reflections on Sunday Gospels
The cost of discipleship.
This Sunday’s reading offer us some contrasts: in the first reading there is the contrast between “God’s counsel” and “the deliberations of mortals.” The second reading is the only time during our Sunday readings that we hear from Paul’s letter to Philemon. Paul encourages Philemon to accept back his slave Onesimus, not as a slave but as “brother” “as a man and in the Lord.” In the Gospel we hear the words of Jesus on the “cost of discipleship”.
Jesus’ words in the Gospel today are unnerving and challenging. Today’s Gospel starts with: “great crowds were traveling with Jesus.” At the beginning of the Gospel next Sunday the great crowds will diminish and Luke will tell us, “tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus.” It is possible that less people followed Jesus because of the “cost of discipleship”. Jesus challenged the people of his time and us to Love God above any person and even our own life and love God above possessions. We are to carry our cross. The two parables tell us to give careful conscious attention to what our following of Jesus means. What does our discipleship mean to us?
As disciples we are to be involved in a personal process. We are to explore the teachings of Jesus as they relate to our lives. Jesus is a master to be followed.
Today’s First Reading draws a comparison between the things of God and the things of men. When Solomon was to begin his reign as successor of King David, he began with prayer. He prayed that God would give him “an understanding heart.” In the First Book of Kings we read that Solomon was presented with the claims of two harlots. They lived in the same house and each had a child. But one of the children died. Both women claim that the living son is theirs. Solomon asks for a sword to cut the living child in two. You know the rest of the story…. We must ask ourselves whether when we are faced with decisions, do we begin with prayer? Are we convinced that there is a difference between the wisdom of man and the wisdom from God? When did we last bring a decision to God in prayer?
In the second reading we hear a part of Paul’s story. His life was a continual and careful consideration of what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus. He is in prison for the Gospel. He is sending Onesimus (the slave) back to his owner (Philemon). He calls Onesimus his heart. He would like for Onesimus to stay with him, but he sends him back. He challenges Philemon to receive Onesimus back not as a slave but as a beloved brother. Paul wants him not to punish the slave but to welcome him. Paul is ready to pay what Onesimus owes. Paul knows both Onesimus and Philemon. He has taught them both about Jesus. He wants them to know one another in the Lord. This calls for a new relationship between them. Is God calling me to any new relationship with another person?
Jesus in the Gospel today tells us that we must love him above everyone and everything. We must carry our cross. Matthew’s Gospel helps us to understand the meaning behind “hating one’s father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and even one’s own life.” Addressing this same concern Matthew says (Mt. 10:37) “whoever loves father or mother more than me.” These are not worthy of Jesus and cannot be his disciples. Jesus also gives us the parables of the man calculating before building a tower and the king considering his forces and the opposition before going to war. These parables encourage us to count the cost, give sober judgement, careful conscious acceptance. They encourage us to self-testing, earnestness and self preparedness. Conversion is not an all-at-once or once-and-for-all sort of experience and decision. Is there some part of my life that God is calling me to examine in terms of my following of Jesus?
Conversion must be continual and continuing. We are called like Solomon and Paul and Philemon to a life time of serving the Lord. Solomon gave us the example of prayer before making decisions. Paul in his words to Philemon calls us to examine whether we are being called to something new in a relationship. From the Gospel we are called to examine our discipleship. Is there any person or thing that is keeping me from following Jesus more closely?