Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Just for a moment, in your mind I want to leave this church. Think of the ordinary peasants and shepherds of first Century Palestine. They reeled under two burdens: the burden of political slavery and the burden of Pharisaical Judaism which demanded meticulous and almost slavish following of the Law. Suddenly, like a breath of fresh air, there was a new man everybody was talking about – Jesus. He has been saying and doing some stupendous and revolutionary things. He was teaching people to call God, “Abba”; Even on a Sabbath, he was miraculously healing people; he hung out with sinners; on one occasion when he was invited to the house of a Pharisee, he told his disciples to take the lowest positions because those who exalt themselves would be humbled and those who humbled themselves would be exalted. Because of his teachings King Herod was looking to kill him and even some religious leaders were beginning to become uncomfortable. But, perhaps because people could not ignore his authority or they thought he could be the messiah who would bring them liberation, or simply because they wanted a favor of him, crowds were following him. I want you to imagine that you are one among the crowd. Suddenly, he turns around and says, ““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. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” And then after a couple of parables he says again, “In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot follow me.”
Luke did not record the reactions of the people and he does not tell us how the day ended for Jesus. But what would your reaction be? Would you still follow? would you go home to think about it? Would you renounce all your possessions?
Since Luke wrote this gospel about fifty years after the resurrection of Jesus, Luke is also taking into consideration the context within which he is writing. In Luke’s time, for those who followed Jesus, the prospect of losing everything was very real. Severe persecution punctuated the first three hundred year of the followers of Christ. Many of them had to make a conscious decision to either follow Christ all the way or to renounce him.
This grave situation does not exist today. But, that following Christ is a tall order is still a reality. And I do not mean weekend Christianity. I mean Christian discipleship that follows us to our homes, our work place, our thinking, our talking, and our life-style – that is still is a tall order. This Saturday, we had our parish retreat. The theme was “Discipleship: Being the Body of Christ.” In every sense of the word – this is such a tall order. What is it that we mean when we say that we want to live our discipleship by “being the body of Christ?” The retreat revolved around three points: a) Christ at the Center; b) Accompaniment and c) Mercy. Dr. Portier drew our attention to some quotes from Pope Francis to about the above three points.
a) Jesus as the Center. At the retreat Dr. Portier, made us think about this quote “Either it [missionary discipleship] points to Jesus Christ or it points to the people to whom he must be proclaimed … The center is Jesus Christ, who calls us and send us forth.” If the church “makes herself the ‘center,’ she becomes merely functional, and slowly but surely turns into a kind of NGO.”
Fr. Satish’s question: For many, many people, the Sunday Eucharist is another check mark (×), an obligation fulfilled. How can we make sure that (I personally and we as a community) do not succumb to this routine approach to the Eucharist? How can Christ be at the Center rather than our need to feel that we have done our duty? How can I keep that love of God and love of neighbor in focus each week?
b) Accompaniment. Dr. Portier drew our attention to these quotes from Pope Francis: “The more Christians immerse themselves in the circle of Christ’s light, the more capable they become of understanding and accompanying the path of every man and woman” (LF, 2).
Fr. Satish’s Question: Jesus coming to the earth is an expression of Jesus’s RADICAL LOVE. Jesus accompanies us on the journey of life. How can we be more radically Christ’s presence to our brothers and sisters? Do you have a story to tell where someone accompanied you or you were able to accompany someone in need – and this way either experienced God’s presence or were Christ to someone in need? What ‘sacrifice’ does that require of me?
c) Mercy Dr. Portier:“I believe this is the time of mercy … The Church must do likewise [re the Prodigal Son’s father]. When there is someone … not just wait for them: go find them! This is mercy. And I believe that this is a kairos: this time is a kairos of mercy.” (response to a journalist on divorced/remarried and sacraments.)
“Mercy is the Lord’s most powerful message. It is not easy to trust oneself to the mercy of God – but we must do it.” From Jesus we will “not hear words of contempt [or] condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, that invite us to conversion. ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.’ The problem is that we get tired of asking forgiveness.”
Fr. Satish’s Question: The retreat Hymn says, “Welcome the hungry, the thirsty, the weary and worn; the sad, the lonely, the battered, forlorn. Welcome the wealthy, the lovely, the gentle and strong; Many parts one body, and Christ is the head.” How can we be the mercy of God at our Eucharistic celebrations? How can the Eucharist become more of “we” rather than “me?”
As we bring the bread and wine, let us place Christ at the very center of our worship and our life. And as we receive the body and blood of Christ, let us go and be the body of Christ to the world. Amen.
- Fr. Satish joseph