Sunday, September 8, 2019
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Liturgical Color: Green
First reading: Wisdom 9:13–18b
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 90:3–4, 5–6, 12–13, 14, 17
Second reading: Philemon 9–10, 12–17
Gospel: Luke 14:25–33
We can hardly guess at what is on earth, and what is at hand we find with labor; but who has traced out what is in the heavens? Man does not know these things unless God invites him near. But the person who says that physical science is the sum of all knowledge is quite wrong. Science itself cannot tell him anything even of the foundations of science, the assumptions we must make in order to speak of “knowing” something. Wisdom is evident in having the humility to recognize that we are not the source of our knowledge, but we receive it from God: Who has learned your counsel, unless you have given wisdom and sent your holy Spirit from on high?
“Therefore we groan in our present state, desirous to be clothed with our heavenly body.” Thus we groan, as those weighed down by corruption. We long to put on the dwelling that is on high and that comes from heaven, which is to say immortality. We groan, not seeking freedom from what now exists but rather asking that it be clothed with incorruptibility, which is a dwelling not made by human hands. “And if we have clothed ourselves with it, we will not be found naked.” It is indeed true that “a corruptible body weighs down the soul.” Let us make the oppression of this corruption an occasion for groaning. Let us long to put on the dwelling that is above and comes from heaven, that is, immortality. What, then, does “to put on” mean, if not that incorruptibility will encompass the present body? – St. Cyril of Alexandria, Fragment on 2 Corinthians 5.2 from Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture
As Christians, we have a way to the wisdom of God, because we are his children. Our inheritance will far exceed what we can comprehend. But we will have an inkling of it if we have humility and love.
Then the Lord says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The earth has been promised to the gentle and the meek, the humble and the modest, those willing to put up with every kind of injury. And one should not think that this inheritance is small or to be disdained, as if it were something distinct from our heavenly dwelling, given that it is not said that anyone else will enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, the earth promised to the meek, and as a possession to the gentle, is the flesh of the saints, which will be transformed by a joyous resurrection on account of their humility and clothed with the glory of immortality. And it will no longer be opposed to the spirit in anything, finding the harmony of a perfect unity with the will of the soul. Then the exterior person will be the tranquil and uncontested possession of the interior. Then the mind that seeks to see God will no longer be impeded by human weakness. And it will no longer be necessary to say, “A corruptible body weighs down the soul, and the earthy tent burdens the mind with many thoughts,” since the earth will no longer oppose itself to its inhabitant, nor will it try to do anything not under the control of the one who governs it. “The meek will inherit it” with an endless peace, and their title will never in any way fail, since “this corruptible body will be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body will be clothed with immortality.” What was a danger will be changed into a reward, and what was a burden will become an honor. – St. Leo the Great, Sermon 95.5 from Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture
So the gaining of wisdom is possible, but only in and through God. We are enlightened and guided by the Sacraments, strengthened in mind and will by prayer. We find our way to heaven by following the will of God in all things.
In the same way as our first reading, the psalm speaks of the futility of mere human knowledge in the face of God’s reality. For all our days pass away under your wrath, our years come to an end like a sigh.… So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. All we can do is plead for mercy: “You sweep men away; they are like a dream, like grass which is renewed in the morning.… Satisfy us in the morning with your mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” Yet God invites us to draw near and partake of his mysteries. From these, we attain, not proud knowledge, but humble wisdom, and a clear view of God’s will.
The traditional interpretation is that Onesimus is a runaway slave who has taken refuge with the Apostle Paul, who himself is a prisoner awaiting trial in Rome. A modern alternative suggests that this would be a strange situation, that a runaway slave would seek refuge with someone who is a friend of his owner. As a result, some modern theologians say that Onesimus was probably sent to Paul by Philemon. But this solution has its problems, too, the most obvious of which is that Paul’s letter intimates that Onesimus first needed to be reconciled to his owner so that Philemon could see his way clear to pardon him and free him from servitude, as Paul clearly desires, based on the slave’s sincere conversion to Christ.
Paul’s reasoning is as follows: Baptism transforms a person into a “new man” (see Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10), in a new world of the Spirit, where no one is man or woman, slave or free, etc., but all are children of God and equal in dignity.
By virtue of his baptism into Christ Jesus, Onesimus has now become Philemon’s brother in Christ. This single word carries a powerfully countercultural principle: baptism into Christ creates an identity that transcends all forms of social and cultural discrimination. Paul develops this principle elsewhere and in a variety of ways (Romans 8:14–17; 12:4–5; 1 Corinthians 7; Galatians 3:28). – Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture
Philemon is faced with a dilemma. As a slave owner, he is entitled by law to punish the returning Onesimus to the fullest extent (death). As a Christian, however, he must acknowledge that the recent conversion of Onesimus has put him and his slave on an equal footing in the eyes of God (Galatians 3:28). In Paul’s mind, there is only one recommended option: Philemon must embrace Onesimus as his brother in the faith, forgive him his wrongdoing, and give him his freedom. Christ has made them brothers, and this creates a new situation that overrides the social and legal expectations that would normally apply when a delinquent slave returned to his owner. These men were once members of the same household, with one in authority over the other; but now they are children of equal standing in the household of God the Father (Philemon 3). – Ignatius Catholic Study Bible
This is why it can be said that there is such a thing as “social sin,” in the sense of failing to honor our obligations towards our neighbor. God imposes these obligations, and we are bound to obey him.
Christianity, then, elevates and gives a new dignity to interpersonal relationships, thereby helping produce changes and improvements in social structures. Every Christian insofar as he can should contribute to bringing these changes about, but the methods used to do so must always be moral. Neglect to play one’s part in social reform could even constitute a grave sin, a “social” sin against the virtue of justice.
John Paul II teaches that “the term social applies to every sin against justice in interpersonal relationships, committed either by the individual against the community or by the community against the individual. Also social is every sin against the rights of the human person, beginning with the right to life and including the life of the unborn, or against a person’s physical integrity. Likewise social is every sin against others’ freedom, especially against the supreme freedom to believe in God and adore him; social is every sin against the dignity and honour of one’s neighbour. Also social is every sin against the common good and its exigencies in relation to the whole broad spectrum of the rights and duties of citizens. The term social can be applied to sins of commission or omission — on the part of political, economic or trade union leaders, who though in a position to do so do not work diligently and wisely for the improvement and transformation of society according to the requirements and potential of the given historic moment; as also on the part of workers who through absenteeism or non-cooperation fail to ensure that their industries can continue to advance the well-being of the workers themselves, of their families, and of the whole of society” (Reconciliatio et paenitentia, 16). – Navarre Bible Commentary
Jesus is not speaking here of holding grudges against family members. That is not what he means by “hate.” This word is his way of saying that God, not creation or any part of it, should have priority in our lives.
This verse must be understood, therefore, in the context of all our Lord’s teachings (cf. Luke 6:27–35). These are “hard words. True, ‘hate’ does not exactly express what Jesus meant. Yet he did put it very strongly, because he doesn’t just mean ‘love less,’ as some people interpret it in an attempt to tone down the sentence. The force behind these vigorous words does not lie in their implying a negative or pitiless attitude, for the Jesus who is speaking here is none other than that Jesus who commands us to love others as we love ourselves and who gives up his life for mankind. These words indicate simply that we cannot be half-hearted when it comes to loving God. Christ’s words could be translated as ‘love more, love better,’ in the sense that a selfish or partial love is not enough: we have to love others with the love of God” (St. Josemaría Escrivá, Christ is passing by, 97). – Navarre Bible Commentary
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. Ouch! Life is not for the faint-hearted. Whatever you propose, you have to “count the cost.” Christ illustrates this with two parables: building a tower and waging war. Do you have the wherewithal to get the job done?
Earlier our Lord spoke about “hating” one’s parents and one’s very life; now he equally vigorously requires us to be completely detached from possessions. This verse is a direct application of the two foregoing parables: just as a king is imprudent if he goes to war with an inadequate army, so anyone is foolish who thinks he can follow our Lord without renouncing all his possessions. This renunciation should really bite: our heart has to be unencumbered by anything material if we are to be able to follow in our Lord’s footsteps. The reason is, as he tells us later on, that it is impossible to “serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13). – Navarre Bible Commentary
In his book The Way, St. Josemaría Escrivá tells us: “If you are a man of God, you will seek to despise riches as intensely as men of the world seek to possess them.” Only in this way will you be able to understand what Jesus is telling the crowds. Only in this way will you be able to understand why the early disciples willingly sold their property and possessions, giving the proceeds to the Apostles to distribute to those in need (Acts 2:45; 4:34–37).