Phmn 9-10, 12-17
Do you ever have those reoccurring thoughts that keep coming back to you… thoughts which pervade every aspect of your thinking and are at times annoying… thoughts which at first might seem irrational or crazy yet over time give you clarity and a new perspective…
This happens to me all the time. My most recent non-relenting thought is this… “If I was a Christian in the first century Church, what kind of Christian would I have been?” In other words, if I was one of the twelve or one of the many people we hear Jesus addressing in our Gospel today, where would I have ended up? Would my name be listed among the martyrs or among the lame…
Just think about it…claiming to be a follower of Christ came with serious consequences. Before the legalization of Christianity, being a Christian literally meant choosing your own fate. Would I have been radical and faithful enough to make the choice to follow Christ knowing that I, like Peter, would be crucified upside down, or like numerous other saints who were burned at the stake or still others who were fed to wild beasts at the pleasure of the pagans?
This reoccurring thought has inspired me to examine my choice to be a Christian in 2010 and how this identity affects each decision and choice I make, how it affect my priorities and my actions.
Last month I referred to a conversation I had with a gentleman in Germany about the European perspective of Americans in regards to our freedom of religion. It was the example of the frog being boiled ever so slowly in a pot of water…This man moved from pointing the finger at just the US and included himself and most of the developed world in his second observation.
The Christians of today are getting fat. Think about it. We gorge ourselves on the fat of food, we gorge ourselves on the fat of academics, we gorge ourselves on the fat of material possessions, we gorge ourselves on the fat of iPods, iPhones and text messages, we gorge ourselves on the fat of all kinds of creature comforts to the point were we no longer have room to digest the main course of the Christian meal, the cross. First comes the choice to follow Christ, second comes the dying of self through obediently accepting what comes our way or rejecting those things which are contrary to him and third comes the joyful fruit of the resurrection. Without the cross, Christianity is nothing but a fat and lazy social club!
As you can imagine, I have thought a lot about what he said.
Over the past few weeks we have been inviting each of you to make a choice at the beginning of this academic year. A choice to become more fully enveloped in the missionary spirit of Jesus Christ by resolving yourselves once again to discern and make decisions that will help you, your families and indeed all of us to become more authentic and welcoming disciples of Jesus Christ.
Our readings on this Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary time are quite challenging in this regard.
In the 9th chapter of the book of Wisdom we hear about the relationship between God's intention and human understanding:
“Who can know God's counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?” These two rhetorical questions warrant only one answer. “No one perfectly.” With this response, we can then presume it will take effort and commitment to know and be in line with God’s will for us.
If we read on in this ninth chapter we hear:
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.
We must be careful with this line of scripture not to breed the heresy that the body is bad and the soul is good and that the two are at odds with each other, rather what Wisdom is commenting on is a shared human reality…The appetites of the body which are not always of God can lead us down paths we wish not to go…as Wisdom said, “The deliberations of mortals are timid and unsure.”
It is in a spirit of humility that we then acknowledge our timid and unsure nature and in faith desire to merge our human thinking with the almighty Divinity of God. We do this through one of the greatest gifts God has given us, the gift of prayer, our relational love language with God where we cry out Abba, Father!
Each year at St. Mary we celebrate our gifts and talents by having an annual Stewardship Renewal. This year our theme is prayer. You may be asking how prayer ties into Stewardship? Isn’t the concept of Stewardship all about doing? Giving of our Time, giving of our Talents, giving of our Treasure? This could be the furthest from the truth. Stewardship is first and foremost about being. Being still and knowing that God is God and from God, from his many gifts, He has lavished upon each of us a unique set of talents and abilities that are to be used, yes for practical application and purpose, but always and everywhere as moments to glorify the Giver, God himself. It is through prayer, in this intimacy with God that we come to know Him and love Him and in turn desire to serve Him wherever we find ourselves in life.
Our second reading from St. Paul to Philemon is a wonderful reminder of the freedom we have in the Christian journey, freedom that God gives us as a gift. This gift sets us apart from all other living beings. God has given us freedom to make the CHOICE to respond to the universal call to holiness, to make the choice to prioritize our lives according to his radical plan for us.
St. Paul referencing his age to remind Philemon of his wisdom, beckons him to receive his escaped slave Onesimus back without penalty:
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 my 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.
Saint Paul’s hope was that by returning him now laced in human dignity, Philemon might freely choose to honor him as a fellow and equal brother. Pay close attention to the strong emphasis on freedom. “I did not want to do anything without your consent so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.”
This lesson of freedom is at the heart of Jesus' message in the 14th chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Jesus speaking to the great crowds lets them know what the conditions of discipleship are before he invites them to follow Him. The conditions of discipleship are 1.) Total and unwavering commitment to Jesus Christ, 2.) Acceptance of the Cross and 3.) Detachment from earthly possessions.
This passage from Luke is fascinating for Jesus does not mince words or sugar coat his great commission. He is very clear about what it means to be a disciple and through two examples he invites his listeners to make a choice. He wanted to fully inform them about what they were getting into before they presented themselves for the Christian Way…“Which of you who wish to build a tower does not first sit down to calculate the cost.” Or what king marching into battle would not first decide if ten thousand troops could successfully oppose another king.”
The conditions of discipleship are clear and so if we CHOOSE to follow Him the hard work begins. The work of allowing these conditions to take hold in our lives, conditions that call us to freely submit out wills and thoughts to the mind of Christ and his Church, conditions which call us to freely pick up our crosses both big and small seeing in them the purification of our wills, conditions that call us to detach ourselves from creature comforts in order to cling and trust more fully to God's care. Why? All for the glory and honor of God, all for living lives rooted in the heavenly virtues of charity, lasting happiness and thanksgiving, ultimately all for the salvation of souls.
So if push came to shove and our popularity or friendships or jobs or maybe our very lives were at stake for being a follower of Christ, which side of the line would we be on? On the list of martyrs or on the list of those who walked away?