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Ordinary Time 23 (C)
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Readings for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1. Wisdom 9, 13-18

  • Solomon is asking the Lord for wisdom, and midway through his prayer this passage begins.  What man knows God’s counsel?  I hear the Hebrew thought pairings that repeat and reinforce each other, and I have to practice that unfamiliar style of comparing and contrasting. 
  • Know and conceive are pregnant with meaning; pardon the pun, but don’t you hear the masculine followed by the feminine?  I intend to dwell on both of them.  This “knowing” takes full possession and brings good things to birth.
  • (For) the deliberations of mortals are timid.  This verse needs the voice of someone who is convinced of the limits in our own reasoning.  No room here for the true believers who would remake Iraq and the rest of the world in their image.
  • The corruptible body burdens the soul  I hear that dualism that we call Hellenistic, “body and soul,” right here in this Jewish Apocrypha.  Let me pronounce (the) earthen shelter slowly and deliberately, so that my listeners do not hear “earthenware” or some such thing.  Let them understand that I’m talking about the body again, even if I have to change it to “this earthen shelter.”  If I think of Hamlet’s “quintessence of dust” I may communicate the phrase better.
  • (And) scarce do we guess the things on earth.  I will be careful not to emphasize those first conjunctions “for,” “and” and the rest.  Some scientists, and certainly all engineers, continue to “believe” that every mystery will eventually have an answer.  I think our assembly today will sympathize fully with the writer.  This is the verse that ties the reading most closely to today’s Gospel, and so I will build to a high point. 
  • You had given Wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high.  Now we hear the prayer addressed to God.  I rejoice as I speak, because our God shares everything with us.  Solomon will receive wisdom because God intends this.
  • Climax: When things are in heaven, who can search them out?
  • Message for our assembly: Maybe – maybe – some day we can keep floodwaters out of our neighborhoods and even colonize Mars.  But after death, what?  Do we make a wager, like Blaise Pascal said, or do we put our trust in God?
  • I will challenge myself: To make my best case for the limitations of human reason.  It should be easy to do, given the national uncertainty about our future role in Iraq and the future temperature of the earth.

2. Philemon, 9-10 and 12-17

  • A personal letter, the only one in the Bible.  Thank you, Philemon, for preserving it for us.  I have written quite a few letters of reference, but none so eloquent as the apostle’s.
  • I urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment.  Why “urge”?  Earlier in the letter Paul said he preferred to urge rather than order him.  Urging needs more of a persuasive voice than ordering does.  Let me, let us remember this preferred way of Christian behavior. 
  • I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.  What is the context?  Paul had already worked with Philemon, and Onesimus has served them both.  Perhaps the apostle has baptized Onesimus, so that he is now “my child” rather than “your slave.” 
  • I did not want to do anything without your consent.  The apostle respects social relationships, but a new fellowship is emerging that has trumped mere human ties. 
  • He invites Philemon to look on Onesimus from Paul’s point of view, from Christ’s point of view.  Listen: a brother, beloved as a man and in the Lord.  This connects very well to the Gospel passage, too.
  • Climax: At the very end.  Welcome him as you would me.
  • The message for our assembly: How truly do we tear down social differences in our church?  Are our credentials the commandment and sacrament we share?
  • I will challenge myself: To find my persuasive voice.  Does our faith change the way we view each other?

Gospel. Luke 14, 25-33

  • 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.  The Semitic phrase “hating” means “putting in a second position.”  We know of many people who have sacrificed marriage, family and friends for their career, or for an earthly cause.  Is it any wonder that the unmarried state became desirable in the early Jesus movement?  But does that mean that those of us who honor our family ties cannot be disciples?
  • Keep listening.  Jesus names two other requirements, and I would say that the family ties have to be understood in light of those.  First, Carry his own cross and come after me.  At the end of the passage, Renounce all his possessions.  It sounds on first hearing like the monastic or religious state, but it goes deeper.
  • We do difficult things ourselves, like building and planning.  If you wish to construct a tower, you first sit down and calculate the cost.  Leaders of nations, unless they are deluded, paranoid or power-hungry, first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops they can make a battle out of it.
  • Jesus ends by saying, In the same way.  I need to get these four words across decisively.  In 1983, President Reagan justified spending more tax money on offensive nuclear weapons using this same parable.  The church today challenges us to dedicate ourselves to God’s cause, the Kingdom, and in the process preparing carefully for the difficult times that we will face. 
  • Central point: Cannot be my disciple.  I hear it three times.
  • Message for our assembly: All the Gospels were meant to be read in the assembly of believers.  And we will find Christ among the least of his brothers and sisters.  Does that give us a context for hearing and accepting today’s message?
  • I will challenge myself: Not to hide the harshness of the message, but to force everyone to make their peace with it.

From Word to Eucharist: We hear the word not just as families seated together but as the family God has chosen.  We come forward to eat the Eucharistic meal in both families.  Do we spend our quality thoughts and feelings on our gatherings?

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