Sunday, September 8, 2013

Homily for 23d Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
23d Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sept. 8, 2013
Luke 14: 25-33
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“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.  Anyone who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14: 25, 33)
The Rich Man Led to Hell, by David Teniers
That sounds extreme, doesn’t it?  We have to remember that the way people spoke in Jesus’ time, and Semitic languages like Arabic even today, rely a lot on exaggeration to emphasize a point.  Even we—don’t a lot of parents say things like, “I’ve told you a million times to clean up your room”?

But Jesus does have a point to make, the point emphasized by the exaggerations of “hating” one’s parents and family, of “renouncing all” one’s possessions.

The point is that following Christ in his allegiance to the kingdom of God demands our absolute commitment.  To be “sort of” a disciple of Jesus, “kind of” a citizen of God’s kingdom, isn’t possible, any more than you can be “sort of” pregnant.  With Christ, you’re all in, or you’re out.  Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matt 12:30).

In the early ages of Christianity, including the time when St. Luke was writing his gospel, this total commitment to Jesus wasn’t theoretical.  Thousands and thousands of people had their property confiscated by the imperial authorities, were exiled, were condemned to death because they loved Christ and were willing to carry their share of his cross, more than they loved their possessions, their families, and even their lives.

When King Henry VIII imprisoned renowned scholar and statesman Sir Thomas More in 1534 and was trying to pressure him to accept his royal adultery and his rejection of the Pope’s authority over the Church, one of the King’s tactics was to use More’s family—his wife and children—to try to sway him, to get him to yield and swear the oath that Henry demanded of everyone.  It didn’t work.  Thomas More loved his wife and family dearly; he enjoyed his friends and his country estate.  But he died, as he said on the scaffold, “the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”  (If you haven’t ever seen the movie A Man for All Seasons, I highly recommend it to you.  I’ll also note that it won six Oscars, including “best picture,” in 1966.)

Sir Thomas More with his eldest daughter Margaret,
in the Tower of London (source unknown)
As you know, the Catholic Church, following the teaching of the NT, recognizes as lawful and moral only a marriage between a man and a woman.  Nevertheless, I’ve seen letters even in the Catholic press from people chastising the Pope and the bishops for teaching what the NT teaches, that homosexual behavior is gravely sinful, because these letter-writers or their children are homosexual.[1]  Such letters and the attitude behind them, it seems to me, reflect a love for one’s family (or oneself) ahead of a love for Christ.  Such letters, such an attitude, it seems to me, define morality by one’s own opinion and sentiments and human weaknesses rather than by the Word of God.  Where is our love?  Where do we place our allegiance?

In these days, as you know, our country is having a big debate about how to react to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against its own civilian population.  In the face of the President’s wish to take military action “to send a message to Syria,” many Americans and other people are asking questions like, “What’s the plan?”, “Where is this going to take us?”, “How will other countries like Iran and terrorist groups like Hezbollah react to what we do?”, as well as, “What are the implications of not doing anything?” and “What options do we have short of military action?”

Considerations like those are like Jesus’ parable today of a king going to war (14:31-32).  Before you get into a war, you calculate your resources and your enemy’s, your will and your enemy’s, and other factors.  Jesus isn’t talking about politics and international relations, tho.  He’s talking about our commitment to the kingdom of God, about our willingness to follow him completely.  When we prepare to do battle with the enemy of God, do we know what that will cost us, and are we prepared for the cost?  The imperial authorities of the mass media and of our society’s anything-goes morality and sometimes even of the government will try to pry us away from God.  Our materialistic, consumer society will try to claim our allegiance.  Our own passions—the 7 deadly sins of anger, laziness, greed, envy, gluttony, lust, and pride—will try to lead us astray, and we must be ready to deny them.  That’s harder than renouncing possessions.  It’s really carrying our own cross and following Jesus.  It’s the way to the “true freedom and an everlasting inheritance” that our opening prayer today spoke of, the way of redemption and living forever with Jesus Christ our Lord.

                [1] E.g., America, May 27, 2013, pp. 29-30.

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