September 4, 2022

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

In our second reading today,
St. Paul writes to Philemon, a slave owner,
that he has not only found Philemon’s slave,
but that he is sending him back to him.
However, Paul wants Philemon to know
that his slave is now a baptized Christian,
and that changes everything.
Onesimus is no longer a slave,
but a brother in Christ.

In today’s gospel Jesus tells his disciples
that if they truly want to be his disciples
their relationships must also change.
He uses hyperbole to get his point across,
calling them to go so far as to hate those they once loved.

I don’t believe that Jesus really wants us to hate.
Everywhere else in the gospels he calls us to love,
to love our enemies,
to love those who persecute us,
to forgive seventy time seven times.
It is not that we must hate,
but that we must relate in a new way.
We must change our priorities.
Those who were once most important
must now take a lower place.
If they wanted to be disciples of Christ,
everything else, everyone else must move down lower,
even themselves.
They must be willing to do whatever it takes
to follow him completely,
even if it means taking up the cross.

Jesus wanted them to know what they were getting into.
If its too much, don’t go with me to Jerusalem.
If you can’t take it,
get out now,
he seemed to be saying.
He only wanted those who were truly committed.
He wanted them to know what they were getting themselves into.

Now, most, though maybe not all of us,
were baptized as infants.
So we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into.
I know that when I laid down on the floor
40 years ago,
as I was about to be ordained,
I didn’t really know what I was getting into.
And I’m pretty sure that most of you who are married
didn’t really know what you were getting into
when you promised for better and for worse,
for richer and for power.

But we knew something the disciples in today’s gospel did not know.
We know the rest of the story of what would happen to Jesus.
We know of his passion, death and resurrection.
We know that he feeds us with his own Body and Blood.
We know of the gift of the Spirit,
which they would not receive until much later.
We know how that Spirit has worked in the lives of people
throughout the ages,
people around us,
and in our own lives.

So, though we may not know completely what we are getting ourselves into,
we will renew our baptismal promises
as we together recite the Creed.
We will profess,
“I believe in God the Father…,
I believe in Jesus Christ…,
I believe in the Holy Spirit….

We will do this,
not because we know exactly what we are getting ourselves into,
but because we have experienced the grace of God in our lives.

When Onesimus returned to Philemon,
he didn’t know what to expect.
All that he knew was that he had been changed by the grace of God.
We may not know what to expect either,
but we know that we, too, have been changed by the grace of God.

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