Feast of the Nativity of Mary
8 Wisdom 9:13-18b
Philemon 9-10, 12-17
In Sunday’s Gospel reading (Luke 14:25-33), we continue to hear challenging words from Jesus about discipleship. He says words that startle us: "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. … anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple." I don’t believe that Jesus is advocating hating our families, or that we should engage in self-destructive behaviors. But I do believe that He is being honest with His disciples and with us in telling us that if we choose to be His disciples, we have to put Him first above everything and everyone.
Now, it may sound like Jesus is telling us that if we don’t put Him first we won’t be allowed to be His disciples. But I wonder if it is more that if we don’t put Him first we won’t be able to be His disciples. In other words, we can’t be fully Jesus’ disciples until we are willing to go all the way with Him. Otherwise it will simply not work. Why do I say this? Look at the apostles. It is true that they renounced much in order to follow Jesus. They gave up their livelihood. Some of them gave up their families. But even with that, they still had to let go of things, or, to put it more accurately, they had to let go of certain attitudes and perceptions. They still had to let go of their pride. They still had to let go of worrying about who was the greatest among them. They had to let go of returning violence with more violence. Peter, for example, did not let go of some of these attitudes until after Jesus’ death and Resurrection.
Perhaps we could understand Jesus’ words in this way: "If you want to be my disciple, you will have to give me everything. I have to come first, even before your loved ones; even before your most prized possessions. You may not be ready to do that to the fullest extent now, but this will be the cost of discipleship. If you’re willing to go that far, you will find yourself able to do great things for others in Me. My love for you will never go away, no matter what you choose, but know this is what it means to commit to being my disciple."
In a way, as we choose to be Jesus’ disciples, we commit to becoming the kind of people God created us to be. I have taken vows as a Passionist, and I am ordained as a priest. But if you would ask me if I know everything there is to know about being a Passionist priest, I would have to say no, I don’t. I would daresay that would be true for all married couples and single people as well. In our second reading (Philemon 9-10, 12-17), Philemon is challenged to be more of a disciple by how he treats his runaway slave, Onesimus. St. Paul writes to Philemon: "Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord. So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me." In our commitment to God in Jesus Christ, we say "Yes" to God forming us into more and more perfect disciples.
As always, we remember that we cannot do this on our own. In our first reading from Wisdom (9:13-18b), the author gives praise to God as he acknowledges the impossibility of really knowing God: "Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight." We can travel on the path to discipleship by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. May we choose to be and become Jesus’ disciples, and may God’s kingdom come!
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is on the staff of St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.