“For everything there is a price.” This idea is so ancient and so well known that there’s no one person to whom this quote or idea can be attributed. In fact, it’s an idea that’s built into our human nature and human condition. Put another way, there’s always a trade-off we have to make when making decisions. We can’t have our cake and eat it too. When we elect to follow Christ, not only to accept Jesus as our savior but to adopt the Christian way of life, there is a cost. Our readings this week remind us that following that Christian way of life is not going to be easy:
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, a work that dates back to some 50 years before Christ. Given its date and origins, we can consider this to be a contemporary work for Jesus and his Apostles. 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. This faith in the Lord’s goodness is echoed in our Psalm when we sing “In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.”
Trouble is… just following what the Lord says isn’t always easy. This is exactly what our Gospel from Luke is trying to teach us. Here we see Jesus being followed by a great crowd, and he’s at a bit of a loss in understanding why. Jesus knows is mission is going to end with his death. Jesus also knows, as he has told his disciples, that the they could face a similar fate. So now Jesus is forced to confront the crowd and explain that they too, by following him, will have their own crosses to bear. Jesus explains that there are costs to following him… personal costs, to being one of his disciples, and it would be foolish to do so without understanding what the costs will be beforehand. Caveat emptor.
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, this 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.
This Sunday we celebrate the canonization of Mother Teresa… St Teresa of Calcutta. And how fitting we celebrate her canonization with the readings for this week. In St. Teresa we have someone who knew and understood the cost of her commitment to Christ. And still she persevered… she still got up every day to be of service to people in need. There were times she had serious doubts about God’s existence, admitting that she often felt emptiness and darkness... That she had been abandoned by God. Not unlike how Jesus felt on the cross. But like Jesus, she followed through with her mission… she continued to serve those in need, and showed the world what it really meant to be Christian. To be a true follower of Christ we must follow her example and recognize that salvation begins when we stop thinking about ourselves, and start serving others.