CACINA

.Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Sept. 25)

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on September 22, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Sept. 25)

Jesus is getting even closer to Jerusalem and his indictment of the people who have too much, the rich, gets even stronger. This indictment is not a new one for the Jewish people. The prophet Amos preached the same thing years before, as we see in the First Reading. In this reading, God is speaking through Amos. He is directing his prophecy to two Jewish groups, the people of Zion or Jerusalem, the Southern kingdom and the Jews in the north represented by their place of worship Mount Samaria. The Jews had split into two groups by Amos’s time. Both of the groups were very complacent, even though the signs were all around them that they would be conquered. They strongly felt that they were God’s people and God would never, ever, let this happen to them.

But Amos sees things differently. He shows them a mirror of themselves in which their complacency has led them to ignore the very people that God cares most about – the poor.  By “poor”, by the way, is meant anyone who is treated unjustly in society. He shows them in this ‘mirror’ as lying on beds of ivory, lounging on couches, eating their fill, singing idle songs all day, drinking lots of wine, and grooming themselves with expensive products. Then Amos says that they are not “grieved by the ruin of Joseph!” This was an expression that was similar to one we might use when we say Nero fiddled while Rome burned, meaning that they were oblivious to the things falling apart around them, the poor, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, who were crying out for help.

God is angry with them because God is a just God. The reading doesn’t say that God punished them, but God is not going to help them either. God lets history take its course and allows the conqueror to do what conquers do. God is just forecasting what will happen.

Luke’s Gospel today gives basically the same message in terms of a parable that Jesus narrates. Luke doesn’t mince words and he tells us right from the start that Jesus told this parable to the Pharisees who loved money. We get the point immediately.

The rich man in the parable behaved in much the same way as the Hebrews before the captivity. He doesn’t pay any attention to the suffering around him but only makes sure he is living it up as much as possible in the moment. He too wears expensive, fine clothing and spends the days in lavish eating and drinking. He, too, ignores the pathetic man, Lazarus,  outside his home who is starving and sick and destitute.

Upon their sudden deaths, however, they were apparently judged by God, and Lazarus was taken up to heaven along with the great men of Hebrew history, especially the father of all Jews, Abraham. The rich man, on the other hand, was in Hades suffering the torment of flames and heat.

The rich man apparently was able to see what the other side was like in heaven while he was suffering and he saw Abraham up in heaven, and he shouted to Abraham for help. He didn’t even ask Abraham to save him or bring him up to heaven, but just to give him a little drop of water to ease his thirst. Abraham is blunt in his reply: “You had a lot of good things while you were alive and revealed in them, while someone like Lazarus had only bad things happen to him. You ignored Lazarus when you could have helped him. So no way! You made your bed. Lie in it!”

Having perhaps learned his lesson, the rich man then asks Lazarus at least to go to his brothers and warn them about the consequences of rich living. But he is told by Abraham that there is no need for that. If they just read the Scriptures, the Law and the Prophets, they would know what to expect – just like in our first reading from Amos. But the rich man, who himself had ignored Scripture, said that if Lazarus came back to life and told them, that would be a miracle that they might believe. And Abraham’s final ironic, prophetic statement rings out as truth today: No, even if someone came back from the dead, they wouldn’t be convinced. Notice, here, the other Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead!

Remember: this was addressed to the Pharisees who undoubtedly felt that their wealth was a sign that God was blessing them as seems to be the message of Deuteronomy long before the Prophets. There is an abundance of proof in Deuteronomy that God blesses the righteous person with an abundance of prosperity and riches. The Pharisees felt they had Scripture on their side. Jesus obviously feels that they are misreading Scriptures and cherry-picking verses to give validity to their way of life. The story of the rich man and Lazarus is at base a story of how to interpret Scripture. This is where Jesus and the Pharisees are at odds.

I want also to point out that this is just a story Jesus told. It does not mean literally that there is a burning fire in hell as so many have taken it, or that we will sit around feasting all day in a heaven. These are metaphors of states of being and we don’t know what those states will be. Many theologians think hell will be the absence of God from one’s life. But we don’t know. We can only theorize and guess.

Jesus’s point overall is the misinterpretation of the Scripture looked at as a whole – which all the way through indicates that food should be shared with the one’s who have none in countless verses of Scripture from Leviticus to the Prophets.

My point today then is that we must not ever let someone prove something with a verse from Scripture, especially the New Testament, which does not fit with the overall message of justice and love. “God is love,” John constantly tells us. God also demands justice, That is the underlying theme of Scripture and should be the measuring rod for all our dealings, and anyone who says otherwise is just like the rich man in the parable today.

This week, let us try to remind ourselves of this “forest” of an idea instead of looking at the individual tree that might be rotten. Paul has it right when he sees that forest includes “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”  And this is the Good News that will lead us to be like God and Christ: just and loving.  God bless.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily September 25, 2016 the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, ethics, Faith, forgiveness, homily, religion, scripture, Word by Fr Joe R on September 21, 2016

26-sun-4Once again today we are reminded of wealth and poverty and our responsibilities in using worldly goods. Why, we might say, are we always talking about the poor? Poverty is a relative term and means different things in different parts of the world. Wherever we go in the world, we are going to find poverty and poor people. It is just a proven fact that no society or country can simply eliminate poverty from their midst. Even in our own country, if we recall the “War on Poverty,” we know that while it helped poor people, it did not eliminate poverty. Yet, Jesus keeps reminding us that we have a 26-sun-3responsibility to those around us, a responsibility born out of a love of God and a love of neighbor that should fill us as we make our commitment at baptism. Not all of us are called to live a life of poverty or a religious life in some religious order. But all of us are called to be responsible to ourself and others in our daily life. How we live and how we act toward others, is certainly reflective of our beliefs and values. What are we to do, if a hungry man is before us? There is no easy answer, but have we done what we can or do we simply leave it to others? Can we really live in comfort if we can see and experience the discomfort of others? The important thing is that we try, and that we do
not forget. If we truly love our neighbor, we can’t forget that we all have needs and wants. Christ often reminds us we should not get too comfortable but to reach out to others in ne26-sun-2ed, whether it be physical, psychological, or spiritual. We are called to share what many call our time or treasure or talent. It doesn’t mean we are called to invest our whole lives, but certainly at times we can give of one or more of these. In reality, it means we are giving of ourself, of what I am and what I have and can share out of love of Jesus and his love for all of us. Never forget that often it is not the grand gestures that captures the hearts and heals others, but the simple day-to-day things to bring a sense of comfort to another. Openness, loving and sharing, sometimes just presence or listening is the best formula for a loving peaceful life.

September 18, 2016 Homily at Holy Trinity Parish, the 25th Sunday in Ordinary

Posted in Called, christian, ethics, Faith, homily, inspirational, scripture, Word by Fr Joe R on September 18, 2016

Homily for September 18, 2016 the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, ethics, Faith, forgiveness, homily, religion, scripture, Word by Fr Joe R on September 16, 2016

25-sunToday, the readings talk about wealth and power. I think many believers feel that Jesus was opposed to wealth and the wealthy and to those who rule and have power. I think the first thing we must realize is Jesus did not condemn the wealthy or the rulers who had power, but was most concerned about how the wealth and power was used. The prophet Amos today tells us how much the Lord abhors those who take advantage of the poor, or even cheats them. The Lord will never forget them or their lack of love and abuse of fellow creatures. Every person is valuable to him.
25-sun1In the gospel, many become confused that the owner praises the servant who takes measures to insure his future by granting discounts in his master’s name. Like a two edge sword, the servant curries favor and some security while at the same time presenting his master as generous and giving and caring. What seeming praise he gets, is that yes he somehow solves the immediate problem, but, and there always is a but, what of the future and his relationship to God. Can a truly dishonest person have a loving relationship with God. It is interesting that Luke uses the word Mammon. Mammon is an Aramaic word which means trust or believe. A word we use frequently comes from the same root and also means trust or believe. That word is “Amen” which we use to affirm “I believe” or trust. So ultimately, we see that Jesus is 25-sun-3asking us where we place our trust, our belief. Are we children of the present time or place, looking out for ourselves or are we Children of God looking to the future? That choice certainly defines us in how we look at ourselves, at authority, at wealth and how we use them and act.
Yes, Amen is a powerful word, and an ever-present way to affirm our love and relationship with God and all of his creation. It at the same time is a powerful prayer as God all ready know all our thoughts and desires and asks only that we be honest with ourself and with Him.

Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Sept 18)

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on September 14, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Sept 18)

Today’s readings all have something to do with wealth in terms of finances. The Gospel writer, Luke, of all the writers, has been the most active in talking about issues of poverty and wealth, and we have seen Jesus talking about this many times in the last few weeks as he moves onward toward his final destination. Jesus seems to find it imperative that this theme is repeated again and again, possibly because it was the cornerstone of his teaching.

It is very clear from the first reading that the prophet Amos does not hold rich businessmen in high regard, The rhetoric is a lot like that we are hearing today about Wall Street as the cause of all our financial woes. According to Amos, corrupt rich businessmen trample on the those who are needy, never taking their needs into consideration, but only trying to amass more and more wealth. This has also been a long-standing theme in the Old Testament – it was not new and unique to Jesus. Amos decries their putting wealth before all other considerations. Even if they do keep the Sabbath, for example, they can’t wait for it to end, to get back to the business of making money. Amos says they also use methods or tricks to make more money even – they fix the scales so people are getting less grain but they charge them more. They even sell the grain that falls on the floor along with the dirt. While Amos is quite aware of what they are doing, he makes one important point, however. God sees everything and he will not ever forget!

The Psalm today shows the opposite of this greed. It shows a God who will provide for the poor, lift them up out of the dust, and seat them at the heavenly table with princes. The poor will get their reward before the rich ever do!

Despite the criticisms in Paul’s time of the Roman government and how they too manage to oppress the poor and needy, Paul is quick to say that we need to pray for them, to ask God to awaken them to the “knowledge of the truth”. Paul sees the kind of sharing that was going on in Christian community as a role model for others in this regard.

Jesus attitude to the rich is not always consistent in the parables. Often he is criticizing the rich, but sometimes in the parables, they are saved. He praises those who have enough to give food to the apostles as they go from town to town. He praises Mary who uses expensive ointment on his body. He sometimes tells us that wealth and possessions can be a good thing.

In this tradition then, we have another parable today about wealth which is strikingly different. Luke saw that poverty and wealth were not black and white issues and that sometimes there was a lot of gray. This week’s Gospel and next week’s Gospel are really contrasting stories about wealth and poverty.

This week’s and next week’s Gospel both start with the sentence..”There was a rich man…” but the two parables will point out very different things. Today’s reading is directed at the disciples themselves and talks about how you can use riches constructively. After the parable itself ends, Luke has Jesus draw some conclusions about the meaning of it.

As I have talked to you before, we know that some people reading this parable are confused and some are even offended that Jesus would praise dishonesty.

The dishonest servant falsified documents almost as a bribe so that he would be helped by the people who profited from his falsification of accounts. He hoped that they would be hospitable to him after doctoring the bill of debts. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus told his followers to be “wise as serpents” and this might be an illustration of that.

The dishonest servant used his brain – something we are not always allowed to do in organized religion. Because his disciples brought nothing with them, they would have to use their brains to make sure they were taken care of. It is not the dishonesty Jesus is praising but the cleverness of the servant to make sure he would be provided for.

After the parable, we have a number of somewhat unrelated statements about wealth, some of which don’t really seem to apply to the parable itself. But some do.

For example, Jesus says that he would trust the one who took care of the little financial things each day to take charge of the larger account. “Whoever is faithful in very little is faithful also in much.”

How does this apply to us? Well, perhaps we need to start taking care of and noticing the little things each day, those small opportunities that get us ready for larger issues. Those who give a beggar a dollar, who write a friendly email, who visit a sick friend, who vote when it is time, who share a meal with a neighbor, who read a story to a child won’t have time or inclination to create a life driven by the almighty dollar. Luke finishes by saying that we can’t serve both God and money. What God asks us to do – to love our neighbor – doesn’t take great wealth. But it does take thinking about another, looking for those opportunities when they arise in order to best prepare for the future – our eternal reward. And isn’t this very Good News for us all?  God bless.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Peace and Service- What Do You Choose?

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year c, 9-11-16 Exodus32:7-14, Ps 51, 1Tim 1:12-17, Luke 15: 1-10

I had my desk piled high with books & commentaries about the Book of Exodus, looking for ideas for today. Then I read today’s opening prayer.  Let me read it again: “Let us pray for the peace which is born of faith and hope.  Father in heaven, you alone are the source of our peace.  Bring us to the dignity which distinguishes the poor in spirit and show us how great is the call to serve, that we may share in the peace of Christ who offered his life in the service of all.”

 

Well, this week Mother Theresa of Kolkata was canonized as a Saint, and today we have a Day of Remembrance for the attack on September 11th.  How much more clearly could the Holy Spirit have urged me to talk today about peace and service?

 

Moses was God’s servant bringing the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.  The people all had been born in slavery, as had their parents.  It was the only life they had ever experienced.  Freedom was new, and difficult.  They were accustomed to being dependent, to having decisions made for them.  They escaped from Egypt only 3 months before, and now Moses had been up on Mount Sinai for 6 weeks with God; they were afraid he wouldn’t return.  They fell back on their experiences from Egypt; they made and worshiped a golden cow, and their behavior became wild & uncontrolled.  Worshiping something they made did not bring them peace.

 

The people still thought of God as being made in their image, like an idol. So God is described as having a human fit of rage.  They expect God will destroy them, just as their Egyptian masters would have done.  But in the next chapter, Moses presents the 10 commandments to the people, and they promise to do their part of the covenant with God.  This is actually the high point of the Old Testament story.  The people commit to worshiping only God and God commits to protecting and loving the people.  Their worship space is filled with the Ark of the Covenant and they work together the make the space ornate and beautiful.  The Glory of God fills the meeting tent & peace returns to the people.

 

So, I think we can say this: that service is to bring the word of God to one other.  And peace comes from God’s word and from trust and obedience to God’s word.

 

Our Psalm is the confession of King David after he broke God’s law and took Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. David was God’s servant, making the nation of Israel a strong and great nation, leading the people into a time of peace, ensuring the people were faithful to their covenant with God.  But there would be no peace for David until he confessed his sin.

 

Likewise, our 2nd reading is a confession by St. Paul about murdering Christians prior to his conversion to Christianity.  Paul had been a Pharisee, proud & arrogant.  He had actively and violently worked to stop the followers of Jesus after the resurrection.  But then Jesus appeared to Paul, and asked, “Why do you persecute me?”  So Paul became a servant of God, taking the Word of the Risen Christ into the world.  He helped form the faith as we know it.  His peace came from not from hatred and violence; instead he found peace even as he became the subject of violence and hatred.  He was beaten and jailed, all in service of the God he praised and worshiped.

 

Finally, in our Gospel, Jesus, the ultimate servant of God, tells us two parables of not only peace, but heavenly joy. The Pharisees, like the Israelites led by Moses, wanted God to be in their image.  They were angry and disgusted that Jesus didn’t put people in their place – mainly the people who didn’t make a great pretense of being holy, people who didn’t or couldn’t afford to follow all the complex rules the Pharisees helped create to set themselves above other people.  So Jesus says, “What if a woman looses a tenth of all her money?  Won’t she tear the house apart, frantically looking for it, not stopping until she finds it? And won’t her happiness in finding it be known to everyone?  The angels in heaven, Jesus says, are the same way over just a single person who repents of their sin.”  Like the woman who found her coin, the repentant one will find peace and joy in finding forgiveness.

 

The shepherd likewise finds his lost sheep, and rejoices, telling all his neighbors and friends. He finds relief and peace, just as there is joy in heaven over a single sinner who comes to repent and find forgiveness.  I always have thought this has a touch of sarcasm from Jesus.  Did Jesus suggest that the Pharisees see themselves as the 99 righteous people, when really their pride and their prejudice creates a barrier to the so-called sinners finding peace?  But still I hear of churches refusing sacraments to people.

 

My neighbor has a bumper sticker that reads, “We need a Department of Peace.” Peace, like charity, begins at home. Peace, like service, is a choice.  I don’t plan to move to India to pick up the dying off the streets there.  I have found enough abused and forgotten people dying in sub-standard nursing homes right here at home.  There are enough hungry children at our local Elementary school and enough refugees and immigrants in the housing development within walking distance of this church; there are enough social agencies, church charities and social justice groups crying for volunteers and donations to keep us all busy all day every day.

 

Every death, every injury, every mourner from 9-11 deserves our prayerful remembrance today. As does every one of the hundreds of thousands of innocent children and adults who still now continue to die from hunger and acts of war and hatred.  We know the one source of peace, and we know a life of service to be the Christian life.  I suggest to you, as well as to myself, to make our act of remembrance in the coming days by finding new ways to be of service, and new openings to bring peace in our own families, our own neighborhoods.  Surely the Holy Spirit whispers in your ears chances to do this service, so let us encourage each other to do it.

September 11, 2016 Homily for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Faith, forgiveness, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on September 7, 2016

24-sunAll the readings today talk of sin, forgiveness and God’s love. In the first, we see the people setting up an idol as Moses and Yahweh were together on the mountain. Only Moses’ interceding and pleading spared some of God’s anger. Paul acknowledges in the second reading that he had a checkered past and actually was a terror to the Christians, but Jesus interceded and forgave and presented him with a new mission. In the gospel, we see Jesus enraged the scribes and pharisees by his eating around with all different segments of the society and the people he encountered. 24-sun3One of the problems of the scribes and pharisees of Jesus time was that they were only able to see things strictly in terms of black and white. Love, mercy and forgiveness were not part of their vocabulary unless of course it pertained to themselves. So many then saw the law in terms of absolutes directing humanity, rather than seeing it in term as a way to serve and help humanity to relate and serve God. The parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep were meant to point out the importance of what we have, that a possession, or thing or person, were meant to be kept, to be sought out to be kept near and dear.

The story of the 24-sun5Father and the 2 sons points out not only forgiveness, but the encompassing love that God has and is always extending. This story shows that both sons were at fault and misread the Father’s love. The one who left tested it most by moving on and losing sight of it until he returned. The other son in his feeling of superiority and desire of exclusivity of the 24-sun6Father’s love and care, missed out on what that love and care was and how he was too much wrapped up in his own care and concern. After all a father’s love is not meant to be exclusive but is inclusive of all his children. So it is with God that his love is for all his creation, and it extends to those who also need his forgiveness. All God asks is that we seek him out, ask for his forgiveness and love. Every human ever born must seek out this forgiveness and love except for Jesus Himself, who took on all of humankind faults and sins as mediator before His Father. Thus, today our message is threefold: mercy, forgiveness, love.

Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C ( Sept. 11)

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on September 6, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C ( Sept. 11)

Today’s readings are all about God’s response to our sinful nature, a response that always tempers justice with mercy. I don’t think anyone can combine these two things without having some empathy for the sinner, be it an understanding of why they acted, or simply just a great love for that person.  Someone does something wrong to us. Our immediate reaction is often to see that justice is meted out. This is the black and white, eye-for-an-eye approach. It is the approach the early Bible period took because their thought had not matured to a point where they could see beyond black and white issues. You do this and you suffer the consequences!

But if we walk in another’s shoes, we gain an understanding of what led them to that sin or that behavior. We may then temper our judgment with mercy.  Or if we love someone, like a son or daughter, the love alone may temper that judgment.

In our first reading, God has been so good to the Israelites. Yet, when Moses is out of their sight for a few days, they get frightened and turn to worshipping idols again. God is furious with them, but Moses tries to make God see what is happening with them through the eyes of a sinner, himself. Moses asks God to remember all the good things – how they followed Moses out of Egypt, trusting in the Lord, how they wandered the desert for 40 years, again trusting that God would make things better. God listened to Moses and through his mercy was able to pull back and change his mind about punishing them.

Similarly, in Paul’s letter to Timothy, we hear how Paul felt he should have been judged quite severely by God for his violence against Christians, for his persecution of the early church. But God tempered that with mercy because God understood that Paul “acted ignorantly in unbelief”, just as Paul says he will do with all sinners. Through his son, Jesus Christ, God has been able to empathize as well as love mankind. God was able then to use Paul as an example to other people, of how God could be merciful to great sinners.

Our Gospel is long today, and has many things we could talk about, but let’s simply look at how the father treats his prodigal son. How upsetting it must have been for the father when the son proved himself ungrateful, when he left his family behind and led a sinful, dissolute life. Many parents would be tempted to be black and white.  “You treat me like this! You are cut off completely!” How many fathers do we hear of today have done that to a gay son or daughter, or dismissed a child because he sought out a profession not to his liking, or who was disrespectful to his parents, or who abused drugs, or stole money from them.

But this parent of the prodigal was, as the Scripture says, “filled with compassion” for his child. He could have resentfully taken him back, but relegated him to the other servants’ quarters. But, no, through compassion, through empathy, he was able to temper the boy’s rashness with mercy and could only rejoice that the boy had made a right decision in coming home.

The other brother had not yet matured. He still saw things in terms of black and white.  He treated his father and the family badly and he should be punished for it.  His behavior was very child-like – he was a pouting child!

The parables that precede the Prodigal Son story are also examples of this merciful, loving side of God.  God is the shepherd that will leave his other sheep to go after the stray. God is the woman who will spend hours looking for the one lost coin.

It is interesting to note that this whole series of parables are all a result of Jesus being accused by the Pharisees of him eating and drinking with sinners. The fact that God has become one of us, and did eat and drink with sinners, shows great empathy for those sinners. God loves them, God wants them back, God will attempt anything to get that to happen, short of taking away our free will.

We might also note that many parables end with a banquet, much like the one Jesus is at. Our coming together at Mass in all our sinfulness and Godliness is the visible sign that God has connected with humanity, and that the breaking of bread is symbolic of the merciful side of God. We are today at the banquet the father prepared for the prodigal child. All we need do is ask for forgiveness, as we do in the “I confess” at beginning of Mass.

I finish with a question that continues to bother me and comes from these readings: Why are we so put off or even offended when God does something good or accepts those whom we don’t think merit it? We too need to have empathy, to walk in the shoes of those less fortunate. We need to be like God!

And this is the challenge I leave you with today from the Good News of God’s tempering justice with a healthy dose of mercy!

God bless.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily at Holy Trinity Parish September 4, 2016 the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Communion, ecclesiology, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on September 4, 2016

Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Sept. 4)

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on August 31, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Sept. 4)

The reading from the Book of Wisdom and the Psalm today try to make us aware of our insignificance in relation to the universe and to God. Our “perishable bodies” make sure that no matter how puffed or great we think we are, in the end, we will simply be dust. In Jewish writings, the writers were often weighed down by that insignificance and by the fact that there was nothing really after death except what people remember about us. Around the time of Christ, that thinking began to change and they began to look more closely at an afterlife, but certainly during the period of the writer of Wisdom, they did not think in terms of an afterlife. 

What sustained them then? Why weren’t they totally depressed by that fact? I would be!

The answer lies in the wisdom that was to be learned from God’s holy spirit. Awareness of God and his creation and the joy at being part of such a wonderful creation directed them to look at their present lives, to live for the moment, and to trust in God. So the first reading today ends with: “And thus the paths of those on earth were set right, and people were taught what pleases you and were saved by wisdom.”

Wisdom, then, allowed the people to teach their children good conduct and what was moral, allowing them to make a “meaning” of their short lives. It meant passing on of tradition, values, and respect for the Creator. “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart,” says the Psalmist.

The letter from Paul to the slave owner Philemon, our second reading, shows great wisdom from Paul at the end of his life. He says he is an old man, but he has things to pass down. He is asking this slave owner to treat Onesimus who has been ministering to Paul, as more than a slave. This is the Paul who in Galatians said ‘In Christ…. “there is neither Jew or Gentile,  slave or free, male and female.” He asks Philemon to treat his slave as “a beloved brother”. This wisdom of Paul was highly counter-cultural. Slave owning was a part of the fabric of the Greek life. But Paul is trying to pass on his Wisdom from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus also passes on wisdom in Luke’s Gospel, as shocking as some of the statements seem to be. We note, first of all, that there is a shift in the audience from the last few weeks. Jesus had been addressing his disciples, but now he is addressing large crowds of people. Jesus has not called these people, they have come to him willingly, and unlike the close disciples, are not aware that Jesus is on a journey to Jerusalem to die. So Jesus is addressing this group who are enthusiastic about hearing him, that there is more to following him than just listening to him and watching him. It is difficult to be a follower. Jesus is asking these people to think seriously about whether they want to follow him on his journey -they may think they are parading, but it is really a death march.

Jesus first uses the word “hate” in his list of what followers need to do. It is unfortunate that we have only one word for hate, and that it has taken on the meaning it has in English today. The word “hate” in Jesus’ time and the way Jesus uses it means to detach oneself from something. Jesus is not asking us to hate in our sense, but to detach oneself from anything that binds you to earth, including the love of self. When he says we must hate ourselves, he is saying we must detach  from pride and all the things that lock us to ‘this world’.

So, the Wisdom of Jesus about what it takes to follow him is first, detachment from worldly things.

Secondly, he asks us to take up our cross. This is, of course, a metaphor that most of us get these days. Luke uses it ironically in that Jesus knows he is journeying to a real wooden cross, but here it means accepting the difficulties of life. He uses the image or parable of someone intending to build something. They have to have a plan, Jesus says, or they will suffer the consequences of running out of money, or a poorly built structure.

The second metaphor for the same thing is a king who plans carefully whether he can defeat his enemy, and if it looks like he hasn’t the resources to do so, tries to establish a peace treaty. It would be foolish to do otherwise. This, too, is wisdom.

Therefore, Jesus, in his Wisdom, is saying to people: If you want to follow me, you need to weigh the pros and cons carefully, understand just what it will mean for you. His final statement in today’s readings would be one that would hit the hardest, but is just a continuation of his theme of detachment: “So, therefore, whoever of you does not give up all their possessions cannot be my disciple.” I am sure that was the statement that really stung and I don’t doubt that many people got up and walked away,

What does this wisdom mean for us today? Have we really stopped to consider what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Christ? Have we been able to detach ourselves from worldly things, and not have more money than we can use for living? Have we been able to endure our crosses of suffering and pain, trusting in God that there is a higher purpose?

We are the crowd that Jesus is addressing, and we need to think about how seriously we take our following of Jesus. Let us pray for the Wisdom needed to be good Christians and followers of Jesus in today’s world.

And this is the Good News that can be so hard to follow but leads to eternal life. God bless.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]