Sunday Sermon for September 4, 2022, the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Wis 9:13-18b; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Lk 14:25-33
In the first reading the question is asked about who can know God’s counsel or conceive what God intends? As we have seen so many times, what God has revealed to us in Scripture seems very clear and we assume we know what it means and how it will be fulfilled. Then, when the fulfillment happens, very frequently it catches us completely off guard. It was fulfilled exactly the way God said it would be, but what He said and how we interpreted what He said prove to be very different.
If we look just at the readings today, even the most basic and clear understanding of what these words mean is difficult for us. In the second reading, St. Paul writes to a slave owner about taking his runaway slave back. We can certainly understand the disposition St. Paul tells the owner he must have, but the idea of sending a slave back to his owner goes against all our sensibilities.
In the Gospel, our Lord tells us we have to hate our parents, our siblings, our spouse and children, and even our own life. Without doing these things, He says, we cannot be His disciples. We have all heard these words many times, so the temptation is to either ignore them and treat them as hyperbole or else find a way of tap dancing around the words and making them say something else.
We need to remember, that these are the words that came forth from the mouth of the Lord; He is God. Furthermore, the Sacred Scriptures are divinely inspired, so even if we want to claim that St. Luke was wrong in quoting Jesus, what is written is what the Holy Spirit wanted to have written. So, there is really no way to ignore the words or try to work around them.
This said, we can also look at some other passages from Scripture to help us understand what Jesus means. Our Lord told us we must even love our enemies. I think it is absolutely true to say that He did not hate His Mother. Remember, God is love, so He cannot hate, in the way we tend to use the word. This is very consoling for us, because it also means our Lord cannot hate us who have given Him ample reason to do so. He is also the One Who gave us the Fourth Commandment and He inspired the Church to write the vows of marriage that say the couple will love one another for the rest of their lives.
We also know that the more we love God, the more we are going to love others, beginning with those closest to us. So, why would God use such strong words and images to instruct us? If we think about how we try to find ways around His teachings when they are strong, think how much less we would pay attention if they were not so strong.
If we just consider, for instance, why the Letter to Philemon is even in Scripture, we must understand two things. First, the slavery spoken of on the natural level is not what we tend to think of because of the abject slavery forced upon the slaves in the early days of the United States. Second, there is a spiritual meaning to this: we have become slaves of God. Once again, this is not a forced slavery or a slavery of constraint; it is a spiritual slavery. The teaching of St. Paul helps us to know the disposition of God toward us when we have gone astray and finally decide to return.
This freely chosen spiritual slavery helps us to understand our Lord’s words in the Gospel. First, if we are slaves of Christ, then we seek His will. If we have freely chosen this servitude, then we need to put Him first. Remember, He told us we cannot serve two masters. Therefore, whether that be our parents, spouse, or children, we are to place God and His will before these others. God’s will is that we love these people. Now you may be completely confused. How can He tell us to hate these people if it is His will that we love them?
To love perfectly requires that we be detached because attachments are selfish. We must hate the selfishness that is omnipresent within us. This implies that we must hate any selfishness we have toward the people God has given us to love. When we love as we are created, and called, to love, then we will be perfect slaves of God. When we are perfect slaves of God, only then do we have perfect freedom. This is the counsel of God: it is perfectly clear, yet so difficult for us to understand.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.