Homily for 4 September 2022 by Fr. Gerard Jonas
Sunday of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time
First day of School
Wisdom 9:13-18; Psalm 89; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33
School has already reopened. Do you still remember your first day in school (many many pounds ago for me!) – the ambivalent feeling of excitement and at the same time anxiety? Who brought you to school?
In the Gospel Reading today, the Lord offers discipleship and points out its demands. Literally, a disciple is a student. So now, it’s like the first day of school and Jesus is The Teacher. We hear Jesus stating the requirements to be counted among his students. Actually, something deeper is happening. Jesus is first establishing the student-teacher relationship. He first guides us into taking a new relational identity as a disciple.
He may sound harsh in requiring that a disciple has to first hate one’s father and mother, children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life. Indeed, how can a kindergarten or Grade 1 pupil enter the classroom with one’s whole family in tow? We may understand hate here to mean “not to prefer to be with” because I need to prefer to be with my teacher. But how about Jesus requiring one to hate even one’s life? Again, let’s put this in the context of “preference.” The Lord is just telling me that my personal preferences, my self-will, cannot and should not prevail over Him and what He will teach me. Here the Lord is opening the heart and mind into the attitude of fully trusting Him as my teacher, my mentor- the one who can lead me into learning not only intellectual knowledge but heart wisdom as well. Something that may carry me on beyond any relationship even with my dear family. For, in the end, the Lord is preparing me to embark on my life’s journey unto eternity. But meanwhile, I have to learn the skills for the journey. St Benedict exhorts that one “Prefer nothing to the love of Christ.”
Taking up the identity of a disciple is just the first step into the life-long journey of seeking, following, and learning from God – of communing with God.
Jesus also presents the images of a builder and a king, both embarking on some significant endeavors. The Lord points out the need to check one’s resources. Do I have what it takes? If we consider Jesus as the builder or the King and we are his resources, does He have in us what it takes to build or to go to battle? I’m sure He sees that we have what it takes to complete the task – and so He invites us to be His disciples today.
For anyone who wants to join any of our monastic programs and be a monk for a month or even a year here at Mepkin or who really feels called to join the vowed community for the rest of his life, the first question is “Can you live the life? – for a while or for life?”
The Lord concludes by saying that “anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” Discipleship is not only about learning but also unlearning. If I come with a full cup, how can I receive more from the Lord?
But discipleship is also not only dismissing everything that I have gained so far. It’s all about the openness to advance and transcend and letting the Lord lead and accompany me so my true self may emerge, so my pure self may reach its communion with God.
Jesus calls us to be his disciples and the only way is to fully abide by Him.
Our three Monastic Vows may well be lived in the context of Christian discipleship by anyone anywhere.
- Obedience – Jesus calls that we obey Him and no one else.
- Stability – beyond physical immobility, Jesus calls that we stay connected with him as branches to the vine.
- Conversatio morum – fidelity to the life which means readiness for the consequent inevitable transformation. Jesus calls that we constantly be configured with Him, to take up his cross – all the challenges of loving God and each other.
In the end, discipleship is both giving up and taking up. One needs to give up so one can take up. One has to free oneself from inordinate attachments so one can freely be involved with another.
Looking back, how we have so much advanced from that exciting but anxious first day in school as we also retrace our first step of the journey of discipleship in preferring nothing to the love of Christ? May we continue to let our Christian discipleship all the more emerge from day to day until we are fully in communion with God in eternity.
Let us celebrate with the Church on this day of the Beatification of Pope John Paul I.