Sunday, September 8, 2019

Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: Wis 9:13-18; Phlm 9-10, 12-17; Lk 14:25-33

Two weeks ago, Jesus told us in the Gospel that we can enter heaven only by the narrow gate of discipline. Last Sunday, Jesus offered us the key to that gate: the virtue of humility – the preparedness to acknowledge our unworthiness. This Sunday, Jesus tells us what the key to the gate costs: "Any of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple." In the first reading we hear that true wisdom comes only from God, who enables the wise person to be guided by spiritual values rather than those of the body; in other words being guided by the Spirit of Christ. In the Gospel, Jesus uses different images to explain what the key to being faithful disciples will cost. Being faithful Christians does not come at a cheap price. Jesus makes it clear that being his faithful followers can lead to hating closest family members; it can lead to a radical following of Christ that may put us at odds with family members. When Jesus compares our following him to building a new house calculating the cost, he is touching on a very important point. Our radical following of Jesus is like a rebuilding of one's life, but in our self-giving we let Jesus do the re-building at a very high cost. Once we have surrendered fully to Jesus, He will work on us until we are completely re¬made into new persons. To do that Jesus may destroy the old person and we will feel the pain of that destruction. That is what is implied by the two phrases -renouncing all possessions and carrying one’s cross. When we detach ourselves from baggage and stuff that weigh us down and attach ourselves completely to Christ, we will then pay for then key to heaven by taking upon us our own cross.

This is what Christ is saying: ‘give me all of yourself not just part of you’. Christ does not want to cut a branch here and another there, but wants to cut down the whole tree in order to plant a new one. He does not want to crown our tooth but to take it out completely. Christ does not want to re-build a broken wall or to repair the plumbing, but to re-build the whole structure. The problem you and I have is to hold onto ourselves, keeping our personal happiness as the goal of life and trying to be "good". Being good is not enough for Jesus. He wants us to be perfect, and that can only happen if we let Christ fully into our lives. Then we will be on the way to perfection, because Christ will be acting in us and guiding us on the right path. That is the cost of the key we must pay to remain faithful Christians. That is the cost many women and men had to pay while on their way to holiness. That cost is not just to some. The Second Vatican Council reminds us that we are all called to holiness (LG, 39). There is a cost to be paid. Where do we start to buy the key to heaven? Start right where you are: in your own family, your own neighborhood, your own community. The readings challenge us to reflect on what we need to sell and then go sell every obstacle to our spiritual progress. We need to sell - all those things we think make us happy and embrace our cross, to purchase the key to heaven. This Sunday Jesus tells us what the key to heaven's narrow gate costs – everything: the self, questionable relationships, negative behavior, vices, bad company, etc. The image of selling possessions also implies placing upon Jesus all our struggles: family difficulties, strained marriage relationships, sickness of a loved one, broken families. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Jesus tells us what the key to heaven costs: "Any of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple." 2) Christ gave up everything for our sake, and he wants us to do the same for his sake, namely surrender ourselves to Him; that self surrender will cost us; there is no cheap salvation. 3) If we surrender to ourselves to Christ, He will certainly take possession of us and in his tender compassion transform us. St. Athanasius says that Christ “became like us in order to make us like God, and lead us on the way of perfection”. May we be prepared to pay the cost of that key to heaven no matter what the cost.
©2019 John S. Mbinda

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