Reflection for Sunday – September 4, 2022
Readings: Wisdom 9: 13-18b; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14: 25-33
Preacher: Christine Nowak Kvam
I do not mean to diminish the honor and privilege it is to be asked to write for God’s Word Many Voices, but when I first read the lectionary texts I would be reflecting on for this Sunday I laughed out loud. And if you had been a fly on my wall at any point of the last 2 months as my family and I moved from one home to another, you would laugh out loud too.
Reading “anyone of you who does not renounce all [her] possessions cannot be my disciple” while surrounded by mountains of boxes, bins, and totes full of thousands of worldly possessions is just too much of a paradox to stifle at least a chuckle. But really a laugh masks my deeper feelings of embarrassment and shame. The enormous moving truck full to the brim of all our stuff seems like a certain indication that by the standards of this Gospel text, I am absolutely unqualified to be a disciple.
Having made this realization, it’s tempting to try to downplay the essence of today’s Gospel message…Jesus doesn’t really mean we need to give up our possessions or lessen our devotion to our loved ones; this is an example of exaggeration like when he says to cut off our hand if it makes us sin, right? But if we look closely at his closest followers and at Jesus himself, it seems like he might be serious.
Earlier in Luke’s Gospel we learn that Peter, Andrew, James, and John left everything behind when Jesus called them to follow him (5:11), and during his public ministry Jesus says of himself, “the Son of man has no place to lay his head” (9:58). Today’s second reading begins with Paul identifying himself as “a prisoner for Christ Jesus” – a clear indication that he made tremendous sacrifices to be an authentic disciple.
If those scriptural examples seem to set unattainable standards, the liturgical calendar for the weeks ahead show that such discipleship is indeed possible in the “real world” too. This month the Church celebrates the memorials of Saint Peter Claver (a 17th century Jesuit missionary who ministered to slaves arriving in the Americas) and Saints Cornelius and Cyprian (3rd century Church leaders whose faithful leadership during a time of persecution led to their arrest and exile or execution), and Saints Andrew Kim Tae-jon, Paul Chong Ha-sang, and companions (19th century Korean Catholics who were martyred). So we’re not off the hook; if they can do it, we could do it.
But let’s be real—we’re not going to. At the risk of speaking for others, it seems safe to say that we’re not going to respond to today’s Gospel by selling our spacious homes, leaving our families to become missionaries, or laying down our lives. So how is this Gospel Good News for us? I’m not sure that I have the best answer, but as I prayed with the question, I recalled a phrase I heard on a retreat in college: God doesn’t call the qualified, [S]he qualifies the called. Applying this idea to today’s Gospel might mean reconsidering the order of events and thinking about discipleship as a life-long endeavor. Perhaps my mountains of things don’t automatically disqualify me as a disciple, but rather my discipleship can help me to divest of my attachment to them.
As we walk the path of discipleship—strengthening our relationship with Jesus who had no where to lay his head and praying with the Saints who have followed his example of sacrifice throughout the ages—our priorities can shift. As we embrace the global nature of our Church—which is experiencing the greatest growth in places of economic need—we might become more generous. As we continue to experience God’s loving providence—expressed by today’s Psalm “In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge”—we may come to rely less on our material wealth.
As we come to greater recognition of God as the source of all goodness—including our loved ones—we may be more able to put God first. Perhaps we don’t have our priorities aligned with today’s Gospel yet, but we can get there. As the first reading indicates, our path can be made straight with God’s counsel and wisdom and the gift of the Holy Spirit. And the gifts of the Church, particularly the companionship of our communities and the nourishment of the Eucharist, can help us along the way.