Philemon 9-10, 12-17
Last week I had the opportunity to visit the battlefield of Gettysburg. Most of the people there, as they looked over the terrain, were attempting to visualize what happened in those three days of that epic battle of our country’s civil war. I noticed all of the guides had the ability to bring to life the story again through their articulation and skills of storytelling. They could speak not only about what happened and how it happened, but they colored it with imagery and words so as to bring it so alive with all the senses. They were describing not only the visual but they articulated what it sounded like and how it smelled. They crafted in their own unique way an invitation for you to have an experience. And people paid money for this!
I found myself wondering, do we give people this experience with our proclamation of the scriptures? Or even, do we add any intensity to the senses of our faith? Perhaps this is why certain shrines, and pilgrimages to the holy land are popular. They strive to do this as they attempt to re-create an event or experience. But in common daily events, or even common readings in scripture, I suspect we don’t colorize them, if words can be colorized, I frequently hear even the Gospel proclaimed in flat grey. And that is one reason today’s gospel is so challenging. For me, it is hard to add any beauty or color to the harshness of Jesus’ message today. It leads itself to sounding more legalistic and quite burdensome. For the Gospel invites us into discipleship and to look at our role as disciples of Christ. Three times Jesus will speak about a particular condition and then say that if you fit this condition, "you can not be my disciple." And the conditions have to do with things that we put high precedence on: family, possessions, dreams for our future, and our ability to accept those things which life gives us. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t struggle with these core themes in life. And the struggle usually has to do with attaining, controlling, and surrendering.
Our founder, St. Paul of the Cross was quite insistent in his ability to guide people to surrender into God’s will. He was keen on recognizing that God’s will was much larger than any human person and yet it was profoundly personal. He believed a certain amount of human suffering was caused merely because people hadn’t aligned themselves with God’s grace. I think Paul of the Cross was similar to the guides at the Gettysburg battlefield because he had a unique way of trying to get people to see more than the landscape which lay before them. Metaphorically, he invited people to smell, hear and see again that many times their own pursuits were simply leading them into their own frustrations.
As was said, the gospel can be pretty harsh today, especially when it speaks about hating your family. But notice who Jesus is speaking to. It was a great crowd who was traveling with him. Will this great crowd travel with him to Jerusalem? Will this great crowd be there to testify on his behalf? Will this great crowd gather around him while he hangs from the cross? Yes, conditions for discipleship can be steep. But the message for us is reiterated here as we heard it more gently a few weeks ago. Recall how Luke encourages his community to not worry about such little things. He says in 12:31, "Seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you." Jesus is inviting and prophesying as he speaks to this crowd. It is an invitation to be disciple, and he will conclude in verse 35, "Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear".
What does seeking God’s Kingdom look like? The First Reading from the book of Wisdom, written hundreds of years before the gospels, suggests that people twist up their life by not seeking the Counsel of God. Isn’t that true for us today? If you begin to see this Kingdom, can you allow it to impact your other senses of hearing and smelling? Because if a guide from a National Military Park can daily awaken an awareness of our American history to people who come and pay for their services, then certainly the spirit of God can awaken our small-mindedness, our complacency, and our stingy hearts. As today’s psalm reminds us, "In every age oh Lord, you have been our refuge."
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is on the staff at Christ the King Passionist Retreat Center, Citrus Heights, California.