WHEN GOD’S CHILDREN UNITE
Readings: 1st- Ex. 17:8-13; 2nd- 2 Tim. 3:14-4:2; Gospel- Lk.18:1-8
The case of Amalek and that of the judge in the gospel who neither fears God nor respects any human being seem to parallel each other in today’s readings. The judge is not willing to respond to the widow who begs for justice. He is not ready to pay attention to the woman’s plea, “Render a just decision for me against my adversary.” But the judge’s unwillingness is met with persistence. The widow makes sure she bothers the judge until judgment is delivered to her. Christ informs us from that parable that God will secure the rights of those who call upon him day and night.
In the first reading, the story of Amalek leaves us with important themes for our reflection. Amalek wages war against the Israelites who encounter this nomadic, marauding tribe after they left Egypt for the Promised Land. In the book of Deuteronomy, Amalek is described as “who did not fear God” (Deut. 25:18). The battle in the first reading was in fulfilment of the words of the Lord spoken to Moses about Amalek thus, “When the LORD your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” (Deut. 25:19). God commanded the Israelites to engage in battle with Amalek. God wanted Amalek to be wiped off probably because they did not fear him. The Israelites fought the battle recognizing the presence of God, a power seen by the presence of Moses at the top of the mountain. They showed courage and resilience until they won the victory.
The action of Moses throughout the time of battle against the Amalekites calls for special interest. Moses was up on the mountain with Aaron and Hur, with arms raised in invocation to God. Joshua was the foot soldier in the battle front. In Moses and Joshua, physical might combined with spiritual forces to achieve success. Moses’ spiritual strength provided sustenance for Joshua and those fighting as Scripture says, “As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight.” The responsorial psalm maintains, “Our help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 121). Moses recognized God as the source of their victory and kept God’s staff in his hand in the same manner that he lifted the staff for the Israelites to pass the Red Sea. We must recognize the presence of God during our own tough times. We must constantly lift our hands up in prayer.
The role played by Aaron and Hur is significant in this battle against Amalek. They were Moses’ lieutenants, stayed with him at the top of the mountain. They held his hands up for him when he grew tired. They stood side by side with him. They made Moses’ hands remain stable till sunset, and by that action, Joshua and his soldiers were able to mow down Amalek. This shows the importance of team work in every human endeavor. Even though Moses was the leader, he would have given up, had Aaron and Hur not supported him.
Some of us are like Moses who provide leadership. Such persons coordinate, direct, initiate projects, and create plans for things to happen. In families, such persons keep everyone in line. They make sure that things are done properly and in time. They determine when bills are paid, when taxes are filed, which school the children attend. They plan family events such as thanksgiving and Christmas and assign positions to others. In the workplace, they are the CEO’s and bosses who call the shots. In the church, they head groups and committees. The Moses’s also worry that things go well and as planned. So, they devote their time praying for the achievement of their goals. Their role is important for efficient running of any society.
Others are like Joshua, the foot soldier who provides physical labor and service. Such individuals do the fighting. They get venues for meetings and events ready. They are the hands-on persons who share flyers and posters. They make themselves available and sacrifice their lives for the community. They fight to protect the interest of their members. Those who have the personality of Moses and Joshua drive the goals of every community. But Moses and Joshua would not have succeeded without the support of Aaron and Hur. They held his hands for as long as they remained on the mountain. They provided what Moses needed at the critical time in battle. They served as Moses’ backup.
The need to build support systems is a great one in our lives. Every individual has an attachment need fulfilled by others. The husband needs the wife and the wife needs the husband. The children need their parents and the parents need their children. Siblings need one another in the family. The boss at work needs the staff and the staff need the boss. The doctor needs the nurse while the nurse also needs the doctor. Teachers need student to teach while students need teachers to learn. The Church calls such the spirit of solidarity.
Most importantly, we need each other as spiritual partners in our battle against the forces of darkness. We need each other to fight the Amalek’s in our time, to fight those who have no fear of God. We need each other to function effectively. To win the battle against the devil, we need friends like Aaron and Hur to hold us up. We need the support of friends like Aaron and Hur at those trying moments in our lives. When we feel sick and weak. When we feel like giving up. When we feel stretched and exhausted. When we experience heartbreak. When we encounter loss. There is always the need for the community of believers to unite, the need for an Aaron and a Hur, the need for a great support system, the need for an attachment base to lean on.
Remember the song by Michael Bolton:
Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there's always tomorrow
Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on
Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you won't let show
You just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you'll understand
We all need somebody to lean on
Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on
You just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you'll understand
We all need somebody to lean on
If there is a load you have to bear
That you can't carry
I'm right up the road
I'll share your load
If you just call me (call me)
If you need a friend (call me) call me uh huh(call me) if you need a friend (call me)
If you ever need a friend (call me)
Call me (call me) call me (call me) call me
(Call me) call me (call me) if you need a friend
(Call me) call me (call me) call me (call me) call me (call me) call me (call me)
LEARNING FROM THE RICH MAN’S MISTAKE
Readings: 1st- Amos 6:1a, 4-7; 2nd- 1 Tim. 6:11-16; Gospel- Lk. 16:19-31
What made this rich man acquire such a negative image in the scripture and Lazarus the opposite? The story of the rich man and Lazarus connects to the chain of parables that Christ used to point out to his followers the importance of seeking heavenly kingdom with their earthly possession. Last Sunday, in our reading about the parable of the unjust servant, Christ said, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails you, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Lk. 16:9). The rich man is an example of someone who failed to use his “dishonest wealth” to secure eternal dwellings. Wealth disappointed him.
Materially, the rich man was very comfortable - “dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day.” He was in a position of privilege. Lazarus, on the other hand was poor, and represented the marginalized. Lazarus wasn’t far from the rich man. He “was lying at his door,” “covered with sores.” Lazarus was only seeking to have something to eat, “the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table” would be just enough. He was not intending to get rich like the rich man. Perhaps, only the basic necessities of having food, clothing, and shelter would be sufficient for him. Instead, dogs would come to lick the sores of the poor man’s wounds. Could those be the rich man’s dogs still feeding from the poor man’s little?
Here, Christ gives us a painfully graphic image of poverty, representing the gap between the rich and the poor. The chasm between Lazarus and the rich man in this world depicted the chasm in eternity which Abraham would highlight representing the ultimate destination of all mortals and the glories of the resurrection.
Each time I read this passage, I struggle because of the devastating impact of poverty in Africa, a poverty that leaves its victim vulnerable. Someone who cannot afford a meal in a day, someone who earns less than 3 dollars a day can be described as having sores. Ironically, some of the rich men in such societies have excess wealth. They have monies stored in different foreign banks in countries such as the United States, England, Switzerland, and Scotland. Whereas the children of the poor go through excruciating hardship and trauma. The experience of those children can be likened to the dogs licking the sores of Lazarus.
What was the offense of the rich man in today’s parable? The rich man was insensitive to the plight of the poor. The rich man was selfish. The rich man lacked compassion. The rich man was arrogant. The rich man was blinded by his wealth. He was uncharitable. The rich man refused to assist the poor Lazarus with his wealth.
The consequences of the rich man’s actions? We can describe this as a comparative parable because the entire setting placed side by side the situation of two men of different socioeconomic status here on earth and hereafter. Both Lazarus and the rich man died. While Lazarus was “carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham,” “the rich man also died and was buried.” Their positions were reversed -Lazarus went up while the rich man went down. Was the rich man taken to the netherworld because he neglected to treat Lazarus with compassion? Scripture doesn’t say exactly that but there is a correlation to his act of omission. The rich man lacked the virtue of love as Christ said, “As long as you failed to do it to the least of my brethren, you failed to do it to me” (Matt. 25:45). The rich man didn’t see Christ on the face of Lazarus. He did not listen to the prophets about the need to serve others with his material possession.
While at the other end, the rich man demanded for pity, went on to ask Abraham to send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool his thirst. He began the real death, loss of life for eternity. He is cast down from his exalted position on earth. One commentator remarked that the rich man did not change his selfishness even in death. He still wanted Lazarus to be his servant and requested Abraham to send Lazarus to dip his finger and cool his tongue. When that request failed, he begged to have him sent to his five brothers, “so that he may warn them, lest they too may come to this place of torment” (Lk. 16:27-28). Selfishness is not cured by death.
The parable of the rich man warns us against treating the poor badly. It challenges us to not neglect them. The rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers lest they come to the same place of torment. That place of torment is hellfire. Abraham’s words sound strongly to us, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.” Let us make use of our opportunities to do good. Let us use every chance we have to serve the poor. The rich man blew his chances. He saw Lazarus as a piece of dirty man who deserved no better than to remain where he was. He bypassed him daily. Hell is real for those who fail to hear the call to repentance.
In our own case, this Sunday, members of Saint Vincent de Paul Society in the parish are asking for support for their ministry. We all know that the ministry of St. Vincent de Paul is dedicated to helping the poor and the needy around us. Based on the spirituality of their founder, Saint Vincent de Paul Society reaches out to those facing different challenges- paying house rent, electric bills, water, heater in the winter, paying to support their children’s education and many other kinds of needs. I went back to read an article written by Rene Cover in the Family Apostolate magazine titled “Mary set out as quickly as she could into the hill country” with the subtitle, “How home visits as Vincentians impact lives.” In that article, Rene gives a wonderful image of how Vincentians take the risk of going into the homes of strangers to offer help. The ministry describes those they help as “neighbors.” Vincentians bring a comforting presence and hope to these persons in need. They make them see God’s love in their difficult situation. Rene writes, “Our neighbors know, without a doubt, we are present on behalf of Christ” (The Family Apostolate, Vol. 3, Issue 9, p.28).
The voices of the members of Saint Vincent de Paul today represent the voices of Moses and the prophets. Abraham says to us, “Let them listen to them.” Do we heed such invitation? Does it make us change our position about helping the poor and the needy? Does it make us to recognize the plight of those who are not as privileged as we are? Can we move from our comfort positions even when it doesn’t feel like it is what we love doing? The rich man lamented about his brothers, “Lest they too come to this place of torment.” I’m sure we don’t want to end up where the rich man is for our selfishness. Christ invites us once again today, “Whatso ever you do to the least of my people. That you do unto me.” Pick up a copy of the Family Apostolate magazine if you haven’t and take a look at that image on the cover again. Read Rene’s article, that might change something in you. The man on the cover page of that magazine holds an inscription that says, “You did it to me.” Ask yourself this question as you depart this church today, “How many Lazaruses do I pass on my way on daily basis? What can I do to help these Lazaruses. Remember, you are doing it for Christ.
TRUSTWORTHY FOR GOD’S KINGDOM
Readings: 1st- Amos 8:4-7; 2nd- 1 Tim. 2:1-8; Gospel- Lk. 16:1-13
Amos begins the theme of trustworthiness in the first reading. Known as the prophet of justice, Amos lashes out against the unjust treatment of the poor by the wealthy and the powerful. Amos expresses his outrage at the various intervals in his writing: “They trample the heads of the weak into the dust of the earth and force the lowly out of the way” (2:7). He addresses the rich and powerful this way, “let justice surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream” (Amos 5:24). He reminds such people about the consequences of their actions referring to what God thinks of them, “I hate, I spurn your feasts. I take no pleasure in your solemnities” (5:21). In the first reading, Amos explains why the Lord is angry at those in positions of authority. They offer sacrifices at the new moon during which they display their hypocrisy. The new moon is for them a ritual display after which they resume their evil deeds. Hence, they ask, “When will the new moon be over, that we will sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we will display the wheat? We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating!” Amos warns them, “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done!” (Amos 8:7).
We see a similar theme running in the gospel, the parable of the astute/unrighteous steward which follows directly the parable of the prodigal son that we read last Sunday. The steward squanders his master’s property and faces dismissal by the master. He is asked to prepare his account before leaving. The steward recognizes that some of his master’s servants owe his master great amounts. He cancels some of their debts, uses the opportunity to attract their favor. Like the father of the prodigal son, the master pardons him being clever and prudent in his dealing with wealth. Jesus tells us, “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” Jesus invites his followers to be much clever as children of light. Then he uses the occasion to teach us about justice and trustworthiness in not only dealing with others but in dealing with the things of heaven.
If we look at that gospel reading closely, we will notice the themes that could be explored more deeply. The themes include wastefulness: the servant squanders his master’s property. Discipline: the master summons him and plans to sack him. Vulnerability/weakness: the servant recognizes how weak he is and expresses shame and repentance. Shrewdness: The astute servant acts shrewdly by canceling debts of the debtors. Let us put this parable in its proper perspective.
Jesus does not commend the activities of the astute steward for acting mischievously. He is not okay with his negative action. Rather, he uses his astuteness to expand on the demands of investing rightly in the kingdom of heaven. In the first place, both the master in this parable and the steward seem to be doing something creepy. The master seems to be taking advantage of his customers in his business, then the steward takes advantage of his master in return. Jesus, therefore, reminds his followers to recognize this fact and possibly to show generosity in a different way towards the kingdom of heaven. Remember that he already warned his followers to store up treasures in the kingdom of heaven where neither moth nor termite would squander them. While we earn wealth in this world, we need to use our wealth for the good of others. We should recognize that wealth could disappoint. It is a “dishonest possession,” that means, we should not rely on it or allow it to define our being. Wealth is not an end in itself. Wealth should not rule us and should not be worshipped, as Saint Paul wrote, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Tim. 6:10).
What principle is Christ teaching us? He wants us to learn from the astute servant’s wisdom in dealing with the things of heaven- “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters will also be dishonest in great ones” (Lk. 16:10-13). Trust is vital in human relationships. Trust means that one shows her/himself to be reliable, worthy to be entrusted with responsibilities. Trust and honesty go together. We all want someone to trust. We want to trust the Church. We want to trust our priests to share intimate matters of faith with them. We want to trust our spouse to be able to feel safe with him/her. We want to trust our friends to be able to confide in them. Professionally, we want to trust our doctors to be able to talk with them about our health issues. We want to trust our therapists and counselors to be able to share intimate life stories with them. We want to trust teachers to be able to leave our kids in their care. We want to trust politicians to be able to elect them for the governance of our country. We want to trust caregivers to be able to put our parents and elderly ones into their care. We want to trust our banks to be able to save our money with them. If you stop trusting someone, you stop sharing with the person. Trust and safety go hand in hand which makes trust an intrinsic part of the survival mechanism in every human being.
Question: Can God trust us? Can God believe in us not to betray him because of material wealth? Jesus invites us to recognize how much God wants us to show that we can be trusted by the story of the astute servant. We must treat others with justice, respect, and equity. We must not oppress the poor. We must not be dishonest with our fellow human beings. We must not be like the wealthy and powerful of Prophet Amos’ community. We must make the weak feel safe and have cared for. Those are the little ways we show we are trustworthy. Once we show such trust, then our relationship with God will be fruitful. The very big matter is gaining eternal life. Dishonesty in little things can make us lose eternal life which is huge. Saint Paul invites us to pray for everyone and for those in authority, that all may be devoted to God who wills “everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The astute servant came to the knowledge of the master’s truth and made amends. We must be wise and realize the truth of God the Father. We must be trusted to make heaven.
THE JOY OF RETURNING SURPASSES THE PAIN OF DEPARTURE
Readings: 1st- Ex. 32:7-11, 13-14; 2nd- 1 Tim. 1:12-17; Gospel- Lk. 15:1-32
I was a concelebrant at a Mass in New Jersey when one of the bishops told a story of a young man named Adam. Adam started off roughly. As a teenager, Adam became big-time trouble for his parents. He dropped out of school, started hanging out with bad boys in their area. Adam’s parents brought him to the bishop several times for counseling, but he wouldn’t let go his bad habits. Adam smoked, partied, and got drunk from time to time. He started doing drugs and other substances. Eventually, his dad had stroke when Adam was about 25. As the dad was about to die, Adam stood by his bedside and begged for forgiveness. He denounced all his evil ways and promised the dad that he was going to make him proud. The bishop was the one who performed the dad’s funeral, after which Adam came to him and cried for the years he had wasted. That ended the story for a while. About ten years after, Adam returned to the bishop a completely different person. He was clean, got himself back to school, graduated as an engineer. Adam had come to present his fiancé to the bishop with the request that the bishop be the officiating priest at his wedding. The bishop described the joy of this return as one of great joy. Adam requested that the bishop share the story of his past with the congregation at his wedding. One year after his wedding, he returned to the bishop to have his son baptized in the church. Adam became a great husband and dad. Adam is the chairman of the pastoral council in one of the churches in New Jersey now and a living witness to the goodness and mercy of Christ. The joy of returning surpasses the pain of departure.
Does Adam’s story resonate with you or someone you knew? Saint Paul is a typical example, shares his own story of depravity in his letter to Timothy. He brings out the difference between the past and the present as he writes, “I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.” We might wonder what Paul meant by saying he was ignorant. Is he being defensive and avoiding responsibility? Wasn’t Paul an adult at his conversion? History tells us that Paul’s conversion might have taken place between the years of 33-36 AD. That means, he knew right from wrong, evil from good. Yet, he claimed that he was ignorant. Saint Paul is telling us of the impact of sin. Sin makes us ignorant of God’s love. It shrinks our cognitive faculties and blurs our spiritual vision. Sin makes us totally unaware of the enormous benefits of God’s grace and mercy. It puts us out of God’s favor. The joy of returning surpasses the pain of departure.
We hear that in the three parables of today’s gospel- the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. The themes in those parables are vulnerability, finding the lost, joy, and celebration. Saint Paul expresses the love of the Father in these words, “Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 1:14-15). Paul’s story therefore becomes a testimony of hope and an inspiration to those who are struggling just like we hear we hear the echoes of joy over the recovered lost in the parables. God’s voice is strong at those moments, “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin/sheep.” The joy of returning surpasses the pain of departure.
The parable of the lost son will resonate mostly with us for several reasons. First, it is about typical dysfunctional behaviors of individuals in family life, and the disappointments we have with irresponsible mature adults around us. Second, it presents the reaction of the self-righteous -the “elder brother syndrome.” Third, it demonstrates strongly what appears to be undeserved mercy for every sinner. Fourth, it stresses the importance of self-assessment and acknowledgment of our human inadequacies. Fifth, it opens us up to the grace of Christ even in our brokenness. Sixth, it sends out God’s invitation to return and how widespread God’s love is for those who return. Finally, it positions us for the great celebration at Wedding Feast of the Lamb in heaven. The joy of returning surpasses the pain of departure.
Remember the context of this parable; “Tax collectors and sinners are all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and Scribes began to complain, saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’” (Lk. 15:1). Jesus shares the parables within this circumstance. The Pharisees and Scribes are apparently upset with Jesus, referring him to “this man.” They see him as scandalizing others. The lost coin might not have any blame, so also the lost sheep, but the lost son in the parable does. He requests a share of his inheritance from the father. He receives what he asks for and departs. He begins a strange lifestyle immersed in sin and shame. He seems to have found pleasure that could be described as short-lived. He embarks on a life of debauchery and dissipation. From abundance to scarcity, he begins to feel the pains. Life hits him hard and he comes to his senses. He realizes his faults. He decides to make up for his past. The joy of returning surpasses the pain of departure.
Does the father require him to make up for his past or just to return and be part of a glorious inheritance? Scripture remarks, “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.” The father does not even allow his son to finish his confessions, rather immediately summons his servants, “Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him, put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this my son was dead, and has come back to life again; he was lost and has been found.” The joy of returning surpasses the pain of departure.
It would have been interesting if this story ended here. However, Jesus intends to point out the reaction of the elder brother who meets the celebration on his return from a regular structured routine as an obedient son to his father. He is informed of the reason for the merriment and refuses to enter. He is angry at the father. He is upset at the lavish party. He detests his younger brother and describes him as, “this son of yours”. To him, his brother is a sinner, only worthy among prostitutes and outcasts. This elder brother represents the attitude of the Pharisees and the Scribes. He represents a self-righteousness which fails to accommodate the mistakes of others. It negates God’s love and mercy for the lost and depraved. The joy of returning surpasses the pain of departure.
Let’s flash our minds back. Moses pleads for the Israelites who worship idols. Saint Paul describes himself as the worst of sinners who depends on God’s mercy irrespective of his failings. The prodigal father reminds his older son, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come back to life again; he was lost and has been found” (Lk. 15:32). The joy of returning surpasses the pain of departure.
Have you been away for some time because of sin? Have you been avoiding God? Do you consider yourself unworthy to appear before God? Are you burdened by a particular sin that makes you feel there is no need trying? Are you worried by what the society or what your Christian community thinks of you? Don’t mind! Come back. God is already waiting. He is not here to condemn you. He is here to celebrate you, to celebrate your worth, your return. He wants to embrace you in the sacrament of reconciliation. Yes, you might need to weep for your sins, that’s a sign of your repentance, your return is a great come-back. The celebration is awesome. Your finest robe is ready. Your ring and sandals of royalty are prepared. Your fattened calf is slaughtered; He is the Lamb of God who sacrificed himself on the Cross for you. The great Feast is the Blessed Eucharist. It is for you. Join the party. The joy of returning surpasses the pain of departure.
ONESIMUS, A SYMBOL OF HUMAN DIGNITY AND RRESPECT
Readings: 1st- Wis. 9:13-18b; 2nd- Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Gospel- Lk.14:25-33
Doesn’t it take wisdom to know God’s intention for us? Doesn’t it take wisdom to know that the true test of discipleship is in the Cross? Doesn’t it demand wisdom to understand that God wills all men and women to be treated with dignity and respect? Those are messages from today’s readings. And the book of Wisdom tells us in the first reading, “Or whoever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high?”
Christ invites us to three different stages of discipleship in the gospel, requirements that seem harsh and totally out of the human definition of convenience. First is this, “If anyone comes after me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26). How is that possible and what is Christ asking for? We are told that Christ is applying some “Semitic idiom” here. You know that Jesus loves to speak in parables and would always pick the brains of his followers in order to get his messages across. Jesus is inviting his disciples to absolute, unwavering commitment. It’s the same as the statement about the greatest commandment where he says, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). Again, he clarifies it in a parallel passage thus, "Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37).
The second stage of discipleship is to carry our cross and come after Jesus, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Wisdom makes us to identify our cross and as well to carry it, and to follow Jesus. Remember the foolish virgins (Matt. 25:7-13). Their problem is the lack of wisdom to recognize their responsibility, failing to have oil in their lamps. Only you can light your lamp, no one would do it for you. Only you can carry your cross. Jesus wants each of us to look up to him while carrying our cross. Hence, he says, “… and I will give you rest.” In the passage, Jesus uses the parable of the man who prepares to build a tower and the king marching into battle to explain the importance of preparedness for discipleship. The trials of the cross can only be overcome by those who prefer Jesus in their lives.
Third requirement is renunciation of possessions, “anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” Mind you, Jesus says, “all,” here, not half, not quarter. He challenges us to detach from everything that hinders our commitment to following him. All human relationships, material possessions, positions of power and honor that do not lead to Jesus should be renounced. We can say that God is jealous of anything that competes with loving him, anything that takes our attention. God wants us to listen to him and do his will.
This connects us to the second reading where Paul speaks directly to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. Paul speaks as an old man and as a prisoner for the sake of the gospel. Onesimus is said to be a runaway slave from his master Philemon. Returning to his master would attract severe punishment for Onesimus, hence, Paul intervenes on his behalf. Paul starts by orchestrating his relationship with Onesimus, describing him as “my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment.” Clearly, Paul has no blood relationship with Onesimus but reminisces the spiritual connection which they share. Paul appeals to Philemon’s emotion and his reason. And finally, he challenges Philemon, “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.” That way, Paul presses on the point that, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
This letter is a passionate appeal for the dignity of the human person. Paul wants us to recognize the importance of advocacy in the call to discipleship. He speaks to Philemon just what the gospel demands of him and requests that the dignity which is due for every person be accorded to Onesimus. He should not be treated as inferior or as a slave with no rights and privileges. Does Philemon listen to Christ’s words? It looks like Paul’s request received a positive outcome as seen in the final words of that passage, “With trust in your compliance, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say” (Phil. 1:21).
Paul represents advocacy. Onesimus represents human dignity and freedom. Philemon represents power and authority. We must speak out like Paul against threats to human dignity beginning from birth. We are invited to recognize the value of human life from conception to natural death. Sometimes, it becomes a cross to defend and support life. That is why the pregnant mother, who, even when she doesn’t feel comfortable with the baby in the womb, still has to carry the cross of pregnancy with faith and optimism. All she needs to do is to value the dignity which the child has and appreciate the divine obligation to help bring the unborn to life. The families of the terminally ill carry their cross of providing comfort and support to their sick relative- dad, mom, wife, husband, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, friend-. Caring for such sick persons can be demanding but it is a divine duty and responsibility; “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
In the United States, the history of slavery seems part of the past, but the scars are still visibly present. We must continue to work towards healing the scars created by slavery and racism. We must accept one another as Paul encourages us. No difference between white and black. No difference between the dignity of one race and another. It does not matter which ethnic or racial group we belong. The greatest privilege is not being White or Black or Hispanic, Europe, Asian, or African. The greatest privilege is being the child of God by baptism. Christ says to Philemon today, “that you might have him back forever.” And I say to you listening to me today, “that you might have (one another) forever” not as black, not as Spanish, not as African, not even as white, but as beloved brother and sister in Christ Jesus. In the words of the great apostle, “walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1). That is the meaning of discipleship. We must promote the dignity of life in each other as Jesus demands. That is the Onesimus’ challenge; the call to disciples.