September 8/9, 2007

23rd Sunday OT Cycle C 2007

Wisdom 9:13-18
Psalm 90
Philemon 9-10, 12-17 Lk. 14:25-33

From the Path of Dispossession of Things and People to Possessing Jesus! (The Demands of True Discipleship)

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary on today's gospel from Luke reiterates Jesus' demands of those who wish to be his disciples.

The hatred for father and mother, spouse, children, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends and even oneself is a stark reminder of unpleasant pictures or conditions that illustrate the situation of a true disciple, but who, from discouragement or any other causes, withdraws from the profession once made to God at birth and baptism.

The word 'hate' means total commitment that Jesus demands of us his followers. This means we ought to weigh the costs as we follow Jesus. We must never recoil before any sacrifice required of us to follow Jesus through to the end, even if it means sacrificing all our possessions and our very selves. In other words, we must be ready to renounce every possession, becoming aware of and never letting our allegiance to Jesus deteriorate to the point of becoming inactive.? [p. 707].

So what does Jesus really mean when he says in Luke 14:26 that we must 'hate father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends and even our very selves'?

Jesus is asking us to get rid of all things, wealth and riches, achievements and status and people that we have turned into possessions.

Some of us hold people as if they are our possessions. Let me give you an example of people we have tuned into 'possessions.' Have you been observing interactions between certain mothers and their children at the Cornwall Mall? As kids try to drift away to play with other kids in the Mall, parents ensure that their children do not. They insist the kids can't go there, can't do that; can't do this! Some parents have even gone to the extent of having a leash or harness around the waist of their children. They seem so possessed of their children and afraid that those 'monsters' might drown them.

Talk about jealousy and possession! Talk of a jealous neighbour! Talk of a jealous boy friend or girl friend! Talk of a jealous person or co-worker who can cause your wrongful accusation that may send you to hell on earth, loss of job, breakdown of your marriage or relationship or removal of children! And talk of a jealous spouse! I am your wife and when you look into the eyes of other women, I get uneasy. I am your husband and when you become too jovial with other men, I feel uncomfortable. There are spouses who are so fearful and possessed of each other. The wife doesn't dare talk to any strange man. That gesture of openness or that man would not be a welcoming apply in the home. Similarly, the husband must not dare to talk to other women. Those other women are not welcoming juices into the home, and should couples breach this 'trust', oh my, oh my, the home would no longer be 'the happy camp' for either of the couple.

Although things, wealth and riches, achievements and status and people nearest and dearest to us are significantly important in our life and growth here on earth, they can, if care is not taken, become stumbling blocks in finding authentic happiness in God.

Again, how dare Jesus to suggest that we dispossess, abandon or hate our father and mother, spouse, children, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends and even our very selves before we can become his disciples? What was and is Jesus thinking about? What was and is wrong with his mind? He loved God his heavenly Father! He loved Joseph his earthly father! He loved Mary his Mother! How does he command us now to hate and to renounce everything we have worked and sweated for, or everything we have acquired in life just for his sake? Who does Jesus think he is?

The answer is simple! Jesus does not condemn allegiance to riches, possessions, family, relatives or friends. Jesus suggests simply that by renouncing all possessions and all that ties us down, we can make God -- not clothes, not sports, not fame, not beauty -- but God, the ULTIMATE possession in our lives.

Who is God to you? What is God to you? Is he only a friend you go to when you need something? What is your ultimate possession in life? Is it God, the Creator? Are we willing to pay a price for Jesus, for God our Creator? At what cost?

As followers of Jesus the reality is that there is a price or cost to being a committed disciple. In other words, 'What is the price, and at what cost are we willing to pay as disciples of Jesus'? Some of us, especially people of our younger generation do not want to pay any price for Jesus. They are not ready to bear any cost for their discipleship; neither are they ready and willing to belong to a parish and contribute physically and financially towards the upkeep of the present and future existence of the parish. Yet when they require sacraments of First Reconciliation, First Communion, Confirmation and Marriage, they demand answers NOW! And let the resident Pastor challenge them for 'satisfaction' or some level of commitment to the parish and they soon write letters to the Bishop complaining about how 'Unchristlike' or unruly or a stumbling block the priest is to them. Such people do not want to pay a price for being Jesus' disciples; they only want to take glory from the Church or Parish. Quite sad, isn't it? But why would Jesus insist upon this radical approach -- that we denounce ourselves before we can bond with God?

Here is the key. Jesus knows that the world then and now obliges us to retain possessions. Take as example! Today's parents drum it into the minds of young children to aim at achievements, money, success, fame, big houses, fast cars, entertainment etc. etc.. The sad and obvious news is that we have everything we need to be happy, and yet, we seem not to be entirely happy and away from realities.

For Jesus, what actually makes us happy is breaking ourselves free or letting-go of our ego and pride so that God -- the true reality may take possession of us and make us completely whole and happy. What makes us truly happy is not the prestige or the respect we command in society. What makes us truly happy is when we let-go of ourselves; when we like Jesus, place ourselves there at the service of others so that they too may share in the joy and happiness that Jesus brings. Take a minute with me now and contemplate on what makes you truly happy! [Pause]

Media tell us to brood over all that makes us happy; but indeed, all the false programs we faithfully watch on TV [Soap Operas, Botox, face lifts etc] do not contribute to our happiness. If anything at all, they contribute to our becoming depressed and unhappy, miserable and sad and inwardly empty. God is absent! For Jesus, happiness is when we do some acts of charity to others. In fact, we do not even need to do great things in order to be loved by others; we only need to be selfless and dispossess ourselves of what we have and are in order to feel love.

Mother Teresa puts it this way: 'We do not have to do great things, but doing little things with great love.' We can give a $5. gift to neighbour with great love behind it and the gift will mean a lot to the recipient and yet we can give a donation of $1000. without any force of love behind the giving, and the donation would mean nothing more than a mere gesture coming from abundance. What an insight!

Sometimes a good person or a rich person may dispossess of himself or herself of certain finances to help a needy person. Such individuals ascribe to Mother Teresa's dictum above. I can give you examples of people who have bravely dispossessed of themselves for my sake and for the sake of my ministry. They know themselves, and I do not intend to call them out by name. They know themselves; I can honestly tell them that I am most grateful to them!

For Jesus, a true disciple does not follow love or happiness that is very much 'commodified' by the media, Hollywood and tabloid interpretations. Jesus reminds us that when we commodify love and happiness, we fall into the temptation of turning our loved ones -- father and mother, spouse, children, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends into possessions and by turning them into possessions we destroy them; we mistreat; we maltreat them as objects without respect or dignity. Some of us as parents control our kids from childhood and even to adulthood -- 20 years old and above. As spouses, as friends -- 'How do we treat one another?' With respect and dignity or with some degree of condescension?

So now, let us examine our consciousness or our weaknesses and mediate on how we treat other people -- father and mother, spouse, children, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends. I am hoping that we can begin now to treat others with respect and dignity so that together, we may grow healthy -- strengthened physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually by the Presence of God, who alone is HAPPINESS!

Of what use can we claim to be Jesus' disciples if we are lukewarm or dead to our faith or are spiritually unmotivating or uninspiring to those who seek intimacy with God through us? If we walk outside the door if someone saw us out there, can this person see the Spirit of God in us and come to tap into this great gift?

May our participation at this Eucharist send us forth as dedicated and forceful disciples to our world that needs healing from its brokenness! What kind of a disciple are you? What kind of a disciple am I? At what cost are we willing to be true disciples of Jesus -- God, the Creator?

Father John-Baptist Okai
Priest Moderator
St. Cecilia Parish, Regina SK Canada