Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17
Philemon 1:9-10, 12-17
Our first reading comes from the book of Wisdom. As the name of the book suggests, this work falls into the category of Wisdom literature. Although the authors attribute this “wisdom” to King Solomon (970 BCE), the book, originally written in Greek, actually dates to some 50 years before Christ. Like last week’s first reading from Sirach (dating about 200 years before Christ), the book of Wisdom not only acts as an early catechism for the Jewish people, but speaks very powerfully to the early Christian community, in part because it addresses a persecuted minority. While the book of Wisdom is fairly clear in its teachings, there are times, as with this week’s passage, where we can get lost in the language of the text, and find it difficult to discern what it is trying to teach… so don’t get discouraged if you don’t “get it” after just one reading. Read it several times, and then see if you see what I see…
The passage opens with a rhetorical question… “who can know God’s council?”. Not us, for as the text continues, we are just mere mortals, and our human needs often cloud our understanding. In fact, it is “with difficulty” that we understand what the Lord wants. This is why God sends us Wisdom from the Holy Spirit… and it by following this wisdom from the Spirit that makes our path straight. Put more simply, just follow what the Lord says and all is good.
Trouble is… just following what the Lord says isn’t always easy. This is exactly what our Gospel has Jesus telling the great crowds that are following him. Not only does he tell them that following him will be difficult, but he reminds us that the any decision to become a disciple must be make with considerable discernment. In short, Jesus is telling us that there are costs… personal costs, to being one of his disciples, and it would be foolish to do so without understanding what the costs will be beforehand.
We round out our readings with a passage from Paul’s letter to Philemon. One of the shortest books in the New Testement, and certainly the shortest from Paul, the Letter to Philemon is only one chapter with 25 verses. The letter concerns a slave named Onesimus, whom he met in prison, converted, and is now being released. Paul is asking his owner to welcome him not as a slave, but as a “brother in Christ.” This letter is nothing short of astounding. With brevity and cautious language (which is uncharacteristic for Paul, who’s letters are generally verbose and bold), Paul is telling us that slavery is wrong. That within the Church, the body of Christ, there is no room for cast. There is no master and slave, but rather, we are all slaves for Christ, brothers and sister in a common cause.