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Today’s gospel is one of those when I want to say to Jesus, "I wish you hadn’t said that!" I refer to the part about how prospective followers must hate their "father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and even their own life." How is it that going to sound to our regular Sunday worshipers? Or, for us? I don’t think the preacher can skip over, or soft-pedal, what people in the pews will hear. As one commentary puts it, this is a "complex pericope."
The gospel is filled with stories of Jesus’ love and compassion for sinners, but today he is telling us to hate our closest family members! We talk a lot about "family values" in our country, yet here Jesus asks that we turn our backs on those we love and follow him. Previously (12:51-53) he told us he had come not to bring peace, but division and that a household would be divided because of him. We know that did happen, especially in the first generations of the church.
Jesus is making his point through very strong images. He is not proposing a comfortable faith. He is asking more of us than weekly church attendance and occasional prayers for special needs. (It is not about the Sign of the Cross from the free-throw line.")
Though today’s language sounds harsh, this is not the first time Jesus has challenged people to sacrifice if they want to follow him. He previously told his Pharisee host not to invite family to a banquet, but the poor, lame and blind (14:1). Followers of Jesus have not only joined, but have become part of a new family that is not bound by blood, but by faith in Christ.
In Jesus’ world a person received their identity by membership in a family. To be cast out, or reject one’s family, meant to be a non-person in the world. The family also provided safety in situations of personal and tribal conflict. So, if one left their family for Jesus what did they have for identity, companionship and protection? Jesus’s followers would have him and his ways, which he is quite clear means, taking up our cross – Jesus’ cross – and following him.
Jesus is not offering his followers a religion of prosperity and success, despite the message of some contemporary preachers. We want security and assurance for our decision to follow him and Jesus asks us to put all that aside and lose our lives for his sake. He is very explicit and leaves no doubt that to follow him will cost us. Our faith is not an abstraction; it has very concrete consequences for us. Luke tells us that, "Great crowds were traveling with Jesus." I bet those numbers dwindled when they heard what he said! Imagine how vibrant our faith communities would be if more members accepted Jesus’s invitation and made conscious and daily decisions to follow him. How much impact would we have on the poor, ignored and outcasts in our society?
Paul’s letter to Philemon makes a rare Sunday appearance as our second reading today. It is only one chapter long (25 verses) and I daresay most of us have rarely, if ever, read it. It is a most human and warm letter, which helps counter the sometimes harsh reputation Paul has.
In today’s reading we sense the love and pastoral Paul has for both Philemon and Onesimus. It is not the first time Paul has revealed this human side. For example, he shows affection to the Philippians "I thank my God whenever I think of you and every time I pray for all of you, I pray with joy…." (1:3). He also names over 30 friends in his letter to the Romans. The letter to Philemon exhibits a loving and thoughtful Paul who is urging two feuding church members to be reconciled. Even more, he exhorts the two to be models to others of the new life they have in Christ.
Philemon was a prosperous Christian whose house was used as a church for local Christians. Paul writes to him on behalf of his slave Onesimus. What did Onesimus do? Was he a runaway slave? Had he stolen from Philemon? We don’t know, but he had met the imprisoned Paul and became a Christian through Paul’s instruction. Philemon was also converted by Paul’s ministry. How touching and very human are the opening lines of the reading. Paul describes himself as "an old man who is now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus." He speaks very personally of his current condition and also of his affection and dependence on Onesimus in his imprisonment.
Still, Paul does what Paul always does in his ministry: he appeals for reconciliation and for Philemon to receive Onesimus back, "...more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me but more so to you, as a man and in the Lord." Paul asks a person of wealth and standing to relieve the burden of one who is weaker and dependent. Can we, like Paul, speak for just treatment and compassion for the separated, or shunned people in our own religious communities? There are conflicts among groups and between individuals in our church. What can we do as baptized agents of reconciliation? (Cf "Justice Bulletin Board" below)
Paul does not address the institution of slavery. Perhaps that is because he, like other Christians of his time, believed in Jesus’ imminent return. With Jesus’ delay, later generations, up to the present, will condemn and fight to end slavery and racism. We also need to look around our own local and universal church, name the situations where members are treated as second and third class and speak and act on their behalf.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
". . .no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you. . ."Philemon 16
In this very short letter, Paul presents Onesimus, a slave, as "brother, beloved..." and, in doing so, voiced an idea revolutionary in his day --to break down worldly barriers of division through equality within the young Christian community. Throughout the Roman period, many slaves were acquired through warfare. Captives were either brought back as war booty or sold to traders. Piracy has a long history of adding to the slave trade and the period of the Roman Republic was no different for human trafficking. Slavery was not based on race as slaves were drawn from all over Europe and the Mediterranean. Even Roman fathers had the right to sell their own children into slavery. While we do not know how Onesimus became a slave, Paul envisioned a different way of living for those who profess to be followers of Jesus.
In Roman times, the slave has no personality; does not own his body; has no ancestors; no name or nickname; and no goods of his own. And even though some slaves could prove their worth and become free, the slave is essentially a commodity. Paul does not see Onesimus as a commodity. Which brings me to these questions: How do you view service people today? How about people who are "other" than you? How do you view the natural world? Is a tree just an inanimate object to produce goods? Is the earth just here for us to plunder the resources?
We have St. Francis to thank for calling earth, "sister." We have scientists, like Suzanne Simard, who is uncovering plant communication and intelligence, and those like Jane Goodall, with her work to understand the life of chimpanzees, and other scientists, like Jacques Cousteau, whose love for our oceans causes them to cry out in concern. We have the "other," who are indigenous, with their understanding that all creation is sacred. We have countless fellow citizens of this planet, who work, day after day, to bring food to our table, clean bedpans, wash dishes, or sweep up the detritus of our society.
Pope Francis has declared that September 1 to October 4 is the Season of Creation. Take this time to reflect: As a Christian, is all creation, with its diverse forms of human and natural life, brother, sister, beloved to you?
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home
From today’s Gospel:
"If anyone comes to me without hating their father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even their own life,they cannot be my disciple."
Jesus uses stark language today to make a point. There is no putting off decisions we must make and changes we have not yet gotten around to. We must carefully think out and weigh: how are to respond to Jesus today? What is very clear from the gospel is that it costs to serve completely and utterly this Christ we call Lord.
So we ask ourselves:
Many people say that we need the death penalty in order to have "justice for the victims."
But so many family members of murder victims say over and over that the death penalty is not what they want. It mirrors the evil. It extends the trauma. It does not provide closure. It creates new victims… it is revenge, not justice.
Killing is the problem, not the solution.
----Shane Claiborne, Death Penalty Action's Advisory Board Chairman,
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, P.O. 247 Phoenix, MD 21131
Please note: Central Prison is in Raleigh, NC., but for security purposes, mail to inmates is processed through a clearing house at the above address in Maryland.
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/
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