The Lectionary

The cost of discipleship is worth its price


Twenty-Third Sunday in

Ordinary Time


Philemon 9-10,12-17

Luke 14:25-33

Our American culture advocates elaborate financial planning with the promise that the right “package” will guarantee us future security. Today’s readings debase all such human calculations and offer in their stead a wisdom which challenges us to be prepared to renounce all distractions for the sake of following Jesus.

Let us pray to the Lord for this wisdom in the words of the psalm: “Teach us to number our days aright/ that we may gain wisdom of heart” (Ps 90:12).

The first reading from the Book of Wisdom puts on Solomon’s lips a prayer for the gift of wisdom to govern the people of Israel. This section contrasts the limited perspective of humans with God’s mysterious plans. “For who knows God's counsel,/ or who can conceive what the Lord intends?” (Wis 9:13). We who are burdened with a “corruptible body” can scarcely “guess the things on earth,” to say nothing of searching out “things in heaven.” But all is not hopeless.

God gives the gift of wisdom and sends the “Holy Spirit from on high” to those humble enough to ask for it. When we have this wisdom, our path on earth is “made straight.”

In his moving letter to Philemon, Paul is asking that Philemon receive Onesimus, his runaway slave whom Paul converted in prison, as a full brother in Christ. Paul's petition is filled with passionate language designed to move Philemon to accede to this request and possibly even allow Onesimus to return to Paul in prison. He describes Onesimus as “my child whom I have begotten during my imprisonment” and reminds Philemon: “I am sending my heart!”

While Paul thought that Onesimus should be kept in prison, he decided to return him to Philemon “so that kindness might not be forced on you but freely bestowed.” Paul goes on to suggest that Onesimus was separated from Philemon for the purpose "that you might possess him forever, no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, a beloved

brother....” In the Christian community the deep social division between slave and master has been obliterated so that Paul can conclude by telling Philemon, “If then you regard me as a partner (in the Gospel), welcome him as you would me.”

In the Gospel, Luke presents Jesus’ words which challenge “a great crowd” to steadfast discipleship. Following Jesus must be more important than family, self or possessions. The twin parables of the tower builder and the king contemplating a battle emphasize wise planning. In worldly affairs, people weigh the costs before a serious undertaking because they do not want to appear foolish when they are not able to complete it. No man wants to begin building a tower only to run out of money and become a laughing stock “because he began to build that he could not finish.” A king going to battle considers whether his forces are adequate, and if not, sues for peace “while the enemy is still at a distance.”

Likewise, Jesus' would-be disciples must realize that in face of persecution and worldly allurements the cost of discipleship is very high. Worldly attachments must be jettisoned. Jesus concludes by saying, “Likewise, none of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his possessions.”