Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 8, 2019 Cycle C
by Rev. Jose Maria Cortes, F.S.C.E., Chaplain,
Saint John Paul II National Shrine,
Sunday Reading Meditations
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that we cannot be his disciples without hating our relatives and renouncing our possessions. What does he mean by such harsh words? The first reading says: “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the LORD intends?” (Wisdom) 9:13).
Jesus uses strong language because he wants us to correct our attitude toward others and our possessions. In today’s second reading, Saint Paul asks Philemon to receive Onesimus, not as a slave but as his brother, declaring: “[…] 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, as a man and in the Lord” (Philemon 1:16) Although slavery was a legal institution at the time, faith introduces a mindset that differs from the dominant mentality. In Christ, we are all brothers and sisters, children of the same Father.
Jesus also wants to deliver us from spiritual slavery: “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31‒32). Sin enslaves us: “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34).
When we absolutize people or things, we become their slaves. If relationships or objects become the center of our life, we lose our freedom. Only in dependence on God can we find true autonomy.
Jesus does not urge us to hate people but to stop relating to others in the wrong way. Jesus does not ask us to renounce what we have but to renounce excessive attachment to our possessions. We cannot put our hope in people or things. We can only put our hope in God.
Jesus tells us that we need to purify our attachments to people and things through acceptance of the cross: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). The cross gives us true freedom.
Today’s Collect prayer says: “[…] those who believe in Christ receive true freedom and an everlasting inheritance.” Faith brings a new way of relating to people and possessions. Jesus does not invite us to detach ourselves because he wants us to love less or possess less. On the contrary, in Christ we love and possess much more. Saint Paul assures us that we are called to possess all things with Christ: “[…] everything belongs to you, Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God” (1 Corentheons 3:21‒23).
Let us be Jesus’ disciples! Let us renounce whatever enslaves us! Let us carry our own cross! Let us experience the fullness of life! Let us pray with the words of today’s responsorial psalm: “Fill us at daybreak with your kindness, that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days” (Ps 90:14). Amen.