Wis. 9:13-18b; Ps. 90; Phmn. 9-10, 12-17; Lk. 14:25-33
(Audio recorded live, 4 September 2022)
Today’s readings focus on the importance of wisdom. The Book of Wisdom was written about fifty years before the coming of Christ by an Israelite in Alexandria. After the Greek Emperor Alexander the Great had conquered most of the known world in the late 4th Century BC, Greek philosophical thought and ideas began to spread throughout the different regions. Alexandria was a major hub of this kind of thought. Philosophy is a combination of two Greek words: phileó, which means “to love,” and sophia, meaning “wisdom,” therefore, philosophy is the love of wisdom. This love of wisdom was central to the Greek polis, or city. Philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and their disciples, would often gather in the city squares and talk about their love of wisdom. As this love of wisdom spread throughout the empire, the Israelites could not help but be influenced by it. I would imagine they were quite curious, too, about how these pagan philosophers were grappling with the mysteries of the cosmos, including God. They would have recognized the many truths they uncovered just by observing the world around them, but they also would have recognized their limitation, namely, no one is truly wise without the grace of Almighty God. This is why the author of the Book of Wisdom says, “[W]ho ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high?” There is a great deal of knowledge we can ascertain from our observation of the world around us, but without the spirit of God, wisdom is limited. In other words, as St. Augustine says, “Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not.” There is a certain give and take, that is, a relation, between our spiritual growth and the wisdom of God. It takes work, as Jesus describes in the Gospel, namely, the denial of self, that is, the denial of that which we desire because of our physical senses so we can instead grow in the spiritual life.
How often do we set aside time to pray and reflect on our spiritual life? Perhaps we make time to pray for the things we need in this world, and that is good, but that is about growing in the world. How often to we make time to deepen our spiritual life? How often do we pray to God because God is our heavenly Father?
St. Paul’s letter to Philemon shows a bit of the spiritual growth in Onesimus, who was one of Philemon’s slaves. It is likely that Onesimus ran away from his master to follow St. Paul. He did so without satisfying the debt he owed to his master. But, St. Paul, realizing his eagerness to serve in the mission of Christ, saw him already a free man. So, he begs Philemon to accept Onesimus back not as a slave, but as a man, a brother in Christ. This is the result not of an easy way out, but rather by the sacrifice of the cross that has indeed freed us all.
Jesus speaks of the significance of the cross in the gospel. He says, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” In fact, he says the phrase, “cannot be my disciple,” three times in this gospel passage. There are requirements for discipleship, and Jesus outlines them, namely, to put God first, even before one’s own family and one’s own life; second, to carry one’s own burdens, one’s own cross; and third, to renounce all possessions. If one is unable to do these, they cannot be his disciple. This seems difficult. With teachings like this it is no wonder Jesus’ disciples would ask, “Who then can be saved?” So, let’s break these down a bit.
First, on putting God before family and one’s own life. God says to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I knit you in your mother’s womb, I knew you” (Jer. 1:5). Does it not stand to reason, then, that our relationship with Almighty God came prior to our relationship to our family? There is also the First Commandment: I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me. There is also what Jesus says to St. Peter when Peter was trying to prevent him from going to Jerusalem: “Get behind me Satan, you are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” In other words, we are to follow behind the master. All this points to putting him first in our life, even to our families. Does this mean that we treat our families like second-class citizens? Most certainly not. It’s just that everything we do ought to begin with God and extend to others. The families we have are an extension of the love God has for us.
Second, on carrying the cross. This should go without saying, but how often do we find ourselves running from our problems? How often do we avoid making necessary changes in our life? If we find ourselves struggling to pick up those crosses, we should look to Jesus himself, who not only rebuked Peter, but embraced his own cross and carried it to Calvary. Jesus models for us the struggle, but also has given us hope in the Resurrection. We may have to struggle, but that is only so that we may be purified and made to stand among the elect in heaven.
Lastly, renouncing our possessions. This is perhaps one of the most difficult since we live in a consumeristic society. Most of what we have is cheap and replaceable, making it easy to acquire a gluttony of stuff. The trouble with possessions is that they can possess us. We do well to make sure what we own does not rule us, or cause unwanted anxiety as the Book of Wisdom warns against: “[T]he earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns.” Rather, we ought to be ready to leave it all behind. Because, “What we utter is God’s wisdom: a mysterious, a hidden wisdom. God planned it before all ages for our glory…Of this wisdom it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, ear has not heard nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him.’ Yet God has revealed this wisdom to us through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:7-10a).
And so, as we seek to carry out this life of discipleship, may our gathering here today keep us steadfast first in our love of God, may the crosses we bear help us to grow in virtue and holiness, and may the sacrifices we make teach us wisdom. For it is not our possessions that satisfy, but rather, the conscious effort we make to welcome the holy spirit of God from on high.