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We are asked to put Christ first

Mary Jo Tully
Chancellor, Archdiocese of Portland

Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 9:13-18b
Philemon 9-10, 12-17
Luke 14:25-33

Mastering other languages is difficult. We learn the literal equivalents more easily than the nuances. That should not surprise us. Even those of us whose first language is English discover that children often use words that we have taught them inappropriately simply because the language does not have the same emotional content or experience for them. Think of the word “hate,” for instance. Adults use the word rarely and then only lightly (I hate Brussels sprouts) or about abstractions (I hate war). In English it is such a very strong word when used about a person that few ever use it. It is filled with emotions that little children have never felt. Unfortunately, when they learn it, they use it. That is why most parents feel devastated when a child declares that s/he hates them.

For that reason, today’s Gospel is uncomfortable for many who hear it proclaimed in English. We simply cannot imagine hating our mothers, fathers, spouse, children, and siblings. However, the Aramaic equivalent of hate does not have that same emotional content. The Gospel is talking about priorities. Even so, the idea of having to choose between Jesus and anyone we love seems more than a little odd to people who have grown up in a Christian family. For most, putting Christ first is not dramatic. In fact, it is so subtle that often we do not realize that Christ is not first in our lives.

Still, it happens. It happens when adult children delay joining the Church because their parents don’t like Catholics. It happens when spouses don’t attend Mass because a wife or husband will not attend. It happens in more subtle ways, too. It happens when we are reluctant to announce our faith when someone we love denigrates our belief.

The questions Jesus asks encourage us to count what appear to be the hidden costs of discipleship. Faith is a gift that is integral to our lives. It requires a full hearted response. The parables suggest that we not take that response lightly. We are to weigh the consequences of choosing to be disciples.

Jesus does not want us to change our way of living without realizing the cost of our discipleship. He wanted us to know that choices will have to be made and they will be hard choices. Some will have to face rejection by those nearest to them.

Today’s Eucharist challenges all of us to recognize our changed baptismal status.

We are challenged to live the Gospel in a style appropriate to our lives and faithful to the spirit of the Church. We make our choices for the Lord, not to meet the expectations of others.

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