1st Reading – Wisdom 9: 13-18b
From Word & Worship, Birmingham, p. 465: It was a popularly held belief that this book was written by Solomon, but scholarship maintains that it was written long after his reign by an anonymous writer. The most we can ascertain is that the writer was a learned Greek-speaking Jew and probably a teacher. He was familiar with Hellenistic philosophy, rhetoric and culture. A burning issue of those times was how is it that the just suffer and the wicked prosper? Skepticism and individualism were rampant.
Sound familiar? It is so hard to discern God’s will for us. There are no billboards. We wrestle with what we think is right for us vs. what God may think is right for us. We also wrestle when bad things happen, and we try to wrap our minds around how that can be. In the end, the Holy Spirit imparts wisdom to us when we allow Spirit in. Margaret Silf from Inner Compass (p. 92) says, “God’s will – his desire for me – and my own deepest desire (when I am really living true) are one and the same thing!” Yet we are so burdened by our “earthen shelter”. How does this reading speak to you in where you are in your life right now?
Some thoughts on discernment you may find helpful: Spiritual consolation is any affective movement or state that draws us to God or that helps us to be less centered upon ourselves and to open out to others in generosity, service and love. Spiritual desolation is just the opposite. It is any affective movement that draws us away from God an things which have to do with God, and to lead us to be self-centered, closed in and unconcerned about God or other people. The process of Discernment of Spirits is looking at and sifting our present and past experiences, taking note especially of event, people and situations that are associated with or evoke the moods and feelings of consolation and desolation. The crucial issue in interpreting and evaluating our feelings in discernment is not so much where the movement or feeling is coming from nor even what exactly the felling is (joy, guilt, anger, etc) but rather the direction in which the feelings are leading – toward God and one another or away from God and one another. (From Ears to See, Ears to Hear: An Introduction to Ignatian Spirituality, David Lonsdale)
2nd Reading – Philemon 9b-10, 12-17
This is the only personal letter of Paul that has survived. Onesimus was a slave who had run away from his master, Philemon, a Christian of Colossae. He had joined Paul in prison and under Paul’s influence Onesimus became Christian. Paul is sending him back as “no longer a slave but a brother.” Paul does not abolish slavery, it is true. That would have been impossible in the ancient world. But, rather, Paul transforms the relationship between master and slave with faith in Christ Jesus. (Reginald Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu/23OrdC090510 )
In a way, Paul is asking Philemon to forego his legal rights, ownership and cultural understandings in favor of God’s way of wisdom and love. Right in the middle of this Sunday’s readings, this passage is a powerful example of what the 1st Reading is saying and what Jesus will be asking of us in the Gospel.
What understandings do you have to overcome in order truly be Jesus’ disciple? Do you have a friend with whom you can share your heart like Paul and Onesimus?
The Gospel – Luke 14: 25-33
This gospel consists of a string of sayings on the cost of discipleship, followed by two parables to help illustrate what Jesus meant. “Hate’ is a very harsh word. Exaggeration was a common technique for preachers in Jesus’ day; in an oral culture one had to make important points with strength. The original Aramaic (Jesus’ language) might have meant simply to “love less than.” But no matter the translation, the meaning is clear: following Jesus means the surrender of the whole of one’s life. (Reginald Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu/23OrdC090510 )
How does this challenging gospel speak to you? Why not talk it over with Jesus?
Jesus speaks of preparing ourselves for following him. We must let go of our attachments. We must make the commitment. We must move forward. All of this is part of the discernment process too. In making decisions in life, are you moving toward God or away from God? Is this choice life-giving, even if it’s hard? Are you willing to see it all the way through? Does it help others? Does it make you feel thankful, loving and open to serve? God wants what is our deepest desire. We are all called to be the most of who we are…what is that for you?
There is a poem on a wall in the children’s home started by Mother Teresa in Calcutta. Mother Teresa will be canonized as a saint this Sunday.
Never Give Up!
Discipleship is an unusual undertaking;
The better you become at it,
the more difficult and challenging it will be.
Be a disciple anyway; never give up!
The people you are called to serve may be unlikable,
ungrateful and unimpressed by your dedication.
Love and serve them anyway; never give up!
If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Do good anyway; never give up!
The good you do for Christ will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway; never give up!
Honesty, humility and simplicity may make you vulnerable.
Be honest, humble and simple anyway, never give up!
What you spend years building may seem
insignificant in the eyes of others.
Build anyway; never give up!
People really need help but may attack you if you help them.
Help them anyway; never give up!
Give the world the best you have
and you may get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world your best anyway; never give up!
(From Celebration, September, 2001)
A friend of mine gave me an amaryllis bulb just before Christmas. I watered it, gave it light, moved it to a new spot, talked to it…nothing. I thought I saw a little bit of green, but no. He gave me another one that was sprouting already. I have been giving it the same treatment, and it seems to be slowly growing. I don’t have a green thumb when it comes to indoor plants; yet for some reason, it feels important to me that I get one of these bulbs to bloom. I don’t want to fail them. I feel a responsibility for their floral lives.
So God is in all things, right? Where is God in these bulbs? Why does one grow and the other doesn’t?
That’s what life does. It’s like the bulbs are different aspects of my life. Sometimes I water, water, water. I give something lots of attention, try different things…nothing. You know that feeling of wanting so much for something to go right and it just doesn’t work out that way? It’s annoying. You think you’re doing everything right. Why is it not working? It makes you start to doubt yourself and your abilities. Maybe I’m not cut out to force bulbs.
But then there’s bulb #2. I did not have high expectations. Here we go again. Let’s see how many of these bulbs I can kill. I half-heartedly watered, put it next to a window and tried to ignore my hopes that it would grow. It is a trooper! The green leaves are slowly fighting their way out of layers of root ball. I am amazed. It still hasn’t flowered yet, but it’s alive and kicking. I don’t even feel like I have tried very hard with this one.
My life can be like this too. Some things just come naturally. Sometimes things just feel right without the expectation of needing them to be. Maybe it is work but it doesn’t feel hard, because I am drawn to doing it (as opposed to being driven). Or sometimes life unexpectedly turns a different direction, but it feels okay. Maybe I can grow plants after all.
I think God is in both of the bulbs. Many times I hear that everything happens for a reason. I disagree. I don’t think we are God’s robots. God gave us free will. We are bulbs. Sometimes we make life-giving choices and we grow from them, sometimes we don’t and we still grow from them. Or not. Whatever the choices we make, we can see the meaning in them if we look through the eyes of faith. When we look back at our life choices, we can see how God is working in us from what grows and what doesn’t.
And do you know what? Yesterday, the first bulb finally started to sprout too! So there is no clear-cut answer for what works in life and what doesn’t. But I’m convinced God is in all of it anyway. Wherever there is life and love, God can’t help but be a part of it.