At first glance it may seem that in today’s Gospel Jesus is asking his disciples to burn their bridges, but if we look a little more closely we can see he’s inviting them to “do the math,” to go from a worldly, calculating idea of love and happiness to a liberating one founded on humility, faith, and trust.
It may seem illogical that the Lord would ask us to abandon our family, our health, our security, and our comfort to follow him, but when we read the words of today’s First Reading, we see the “logic” that goes contrary to that invitation break down. When we try to find the answers to the big questions—life, death, love, our calling in this life—we see that the cut and dry business or scientific approach doesn’t work. The big questions escape our categories, experience, and observation, and with such big mysteries looming over our heads, mysteries that seem to decide our fate, our hearts yearn for freedom. Our Lord in today’s Gospel is offering us those answers and that freedom. He asks us to have faith and trust in him
Onesimus, the escaped slave whom Paul mentions in today’s Second Reading, sought freedom from his master, Philemon, but Onesimus found a far greater freedom in the end. In the time of ancient Rome, slaves were a big percentage of the population. Slavery resulted from debts or being on the wrong end of a war. Slave labor was so needed in ancient Roman society that they were a social class of their own. Rome took escapees very seriously, and Onesimus got caught, but the Lord let him get caught so he could experience a true freedom, with the help of St. Paul, whom he met in prison. Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon with the letter, a part of which we consider in today’s Second Reading, to be Christ’s instrument of liberation: a liberation of love. Paul urges Philemon to see Onesimus now as more than a servant, more than a piece of property. Paul invites him to see Onesimus as the Lord wants him to be seen: a brother.
After inviting his disciples in the first part of today’s Gospel to take of their crosses and follow him, the Lord invites them in the second part to “do the math:” to think about what they’re trying to build in their life, like the tower builder, and what battle they’re ready to wage against life’s challenges, like the king. When we follow Christ, our families, our sufferings, our very selves will experience, like Onesimus (and, hopefully, Philemon) a liberation of love When we follow Christ, those we love will also seek in him the answers to the big questions of life that go beyond their “math” too. However, we must put Christ first in our lives. That can hurt us and our family a lot, but when we put our calculations aside, when we face the unknown trusting in Christ, we show him we are following him, and he never leads us astray.
When you consider how you love and who you love, does it feel constraining and confining to you, or liberating? When you love, do you condition it based on the love you have received (or lack thereof)? When we focus on the trouble loving causes us it shows us the disordered love from which the Lord wants to liberate us: egotistical love. If you make an effort to put the Lord and others first in your life, even if it implies renunciation and discomfort, you will experience a liberation of love.
Readings: Wisdom 9:13–18b; Psalm 90:3–6, 12–14, 17; Philemon 9–10, 12–17; Luke 14:25–33. See also 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday and 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.