Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
It is very easily possible for us to get caught up with Jesus’ words, “If anyone comes to me without hating father and mother…” (Lk 14:26). Especially the word, ‘hate’. Does Jesus really expect us to hate our father and mother? However, if we understand these words along with Jesus’ parable about constructing a tower and the king marching into battle, then we realize that Jesus was saying more than what that single verse seems to say.
Here are my three points for today:
1. The End Goal. In the parables of the person constructing a tower without taking account of the cost and the ruler marching in battle without assessing the opposing army, Jesus was asking his disciples to never take their eyes of the end goal – eternal life. If we take our eyes of the goal, we may lose salvation. The other day I was at a meeting with seven other post-middle-age adults. It was a gorgeous evening and the scene through the large windows was gorgeous. Suddenly, right in the midst of an important discussion, one of them said, “Look, a white squirrel!” For a moment I thought I was in a kindergarten class. Seven men had digressed to the topic of black squirrels in Virginia, brown squirrels in Florida, black squirrels elsewhere and a hundred more things about squirrels. And talking about different colored squirrels, one of them even said about the racist squirrels. Kindergarten class it was! But why blame them? This can happen to us all too. We all have our ‘squirrels,’ don’t we? We can easily let our ‘squirrels’ take our eyes of our discipleship. Hence, Jesus says to us today, not father, not mother, not children, not profession, not wealth, not illness, not happiness, not even our own life should be able to distract us from following Jesus.
2. The Call. Let me reflect on the previous point a from a different perspective. I want to address it from the perspective of Jesus’ call to discipleship. Among every other call we pursue in our lives, our marriage and family, our vocation and work, our rest and recreation, Jesus call is the most primary call. His call relativizes the claim that any other call makes on our life. In other words, every other person or every other pursuit that has any claim on our lives is only relative to the primary claim that Jesus has on us. Of course, this claim is something that a disciple has voluntarily given to Jesus. If we choose to follow Jesus, we must be absolutely certain about the choice we have made. Because as we go through life that choice will conflict with other possibilities. Jesus’ claim on our live must remain uncompromised!
3. The Cross is An Opportunity. One more thing. In today’s gospel Jesus says, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:27). Now, we often associate the cross with suffering, don’t we? After all, the cross brought Jesus unimaginable suffering. Today, I am inviting you to look at the cross as an opportunity, instead of looking at the cross as a symbol of suffering. Jesus did not take up the cross to suffer for suffering’s sake. Rather, Jesus took up the cross to let us know the triumph of God’s undying love. The cross brought immense goodness to the world. It brought love to the world. It brought salvation to the world. It brought hope to you and I. What if the cross that Jesus is inviting us to take up this week is the cross of goodness? Let me give you examples. Meet three-year-old Brooklyn. She is very fond of the garbage man. One day she decided to make cupcakes for her favorite trash-collector. Guess what? She had no idea, but that day happened to be the trashman’s birthday. That was the only gift he received. Here is another example. A mother of a two-month-old and two-year-old were at Target, grocery shopping. This was the first that the mother had ventured out of home with two children. And then, her fears came true. both her children began to have meltdowns. The mother was about to quit and head home. Fortunately, Tiffany, a stranger, stepped in. She took the two-year-old, held him gently, calmed him down, while the mother could finish her grocery shopping. She saved the day for this young mother. The mother now calls this stranger, her angel. Or, meet this man who received a heart from a young woman who tragically passed away. He met the young woman’s mother and let the woman's mother hear her daughter’s heartbeat one more time. This is what I mean by understanding the cross not merely as suffering, but rather, as an opportunity goodness. Will you carry your cross this week? I am not saying let us suffer patiently in faith. I am saying, let us take up the cross like Jesus – the cross of making love win; the cross of making people loved; the cross of making someone else’s burden light; the cross of being an angel; the cross of being Christ’s presence to the world.
Jesus left father and mother behind, took up his cross, gave us this Eucharist, and brought us salvation. As we receive him, let us take up our cross and spread his love and salvation to the world. Amen.
- Satish Joseph