Preparing for Sunday anticipating this day.The Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalms 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17
Philemon 1:9-10, 12-17
Imagine buying and bringing home a thingamajig and upon the opening of the box, you find there is no instruction manual or Owner’s Guide. You would not know which side was up nor how to arrange its many parts. The more complicated something is, the more particulars there are to integrate. Human beings seem to be the most complicated of all God’s creation and we spend our lives trying to integrate our complexities into a harmony.
Our First Reading today describes our befuddlement. “Timid” and “unsure” are our thoughts and plans. So many things there are on earth and within ourselves and others which we just might discover after years of research or relationship. Always we are pondering the existence of God and what does this God expect or wish for us. We have been given a Wisdom and a Holy Spirit to straighten our paths.
We are not given an owner’s Manual exactly, but we are not bereft and left alone to wander and squander time and opportunities, unless we choose this as life for us. We have been blest by the Creator Who desires us to discover what we are as humans and who we are as beloved creatures. We are complex and God is simple. We can project our complexity onto God and then wonder why we cannot figure God out.
This God apparently has come close enough to invite us and yet stayed at such a distance as to respect our God-given freedom and our God-given minds to search and believe. The search replaces the pages of the Owner’s Manual for which we often long. The Owner loves us enough to keep us questioning, longing, hoping, and trusting.
As I write, this part of the world is excitedly tense about a football game to be played here in Nebraska on Saturday night. Fittingly enough, that very day is the celebration of the birthday of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Fittingly, because the Catholic University which bears her name will travel west to attempt to subdue the university, which bears the name of our state. By Sunday’s Eucharistic gatherings, some questions will be answered and others left for future considerations. These days leading up to the “Big Game” are filling with hopes, plans, boastings, and even wagering.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is directing His attention to His disciples and He tells them exactly what is required to stay on the team. These are hard sayings followed by two parables.
I would imagine the coaches of the above-mentioned teams have said similar things to their players at the beginning of training. Jesus puts it very clearly as the Divine Coach; the attitude for a follower of Jesus is “loving-freedom.” A follower must turn towards Jesus and, while loving all others as gifts from God, they are not to be promoted as gods themselves. The “turning” one’s back on family and friends is not an emotional hating, but a prioritizing or attitude-adjustment about the place of Jesus in one’s life. This does come pretty close to being some lines from God’s Owner’s Manual and it is how Jesus indicates we can find integration in our lives.
The word “integration” comes from the Latin meaning “whole” or “uninjured.” The “cross” which Jesus invites His followers to carry is not merely personal sufferings, which can be many, but more than that. The cross has a vertical and horizontal structure to it. The cross we bear is the daily encountering of the human and the divine within us. We are of the earth and its complexities as well as long for the Beyond and its simplicity. The cross we are to carry is ourselves guided by God’s Holy Spirit of Wisdom which hovers, but does not force. The cross is experienced by how we hold on to something or someone with one hand and with the other reach out towards God as the only fulfillment. We, like a cross, are the intersection of contradictions and disintegration.
The two parables are about being up to the task. A person who intends to build a tower better have enough bricks to finish. The king who wants to wage war on his opponent would do well to venture out and see if his troops are numerous enough to win and if not have enough humility to ask for terms of peace. The meaning here is that what is really needed to complete the making of a disciple is freedom from possessions and relationships. Jesus is asking His disciples to have enough freedom to build the kingdom and wage war against the ways of this world and the Prince of Lies.
I cannot imagine the Coach of Notre Dame sending an e-mail to the coach of Nebraska asking to forfeit the game, because his players have been tied up with girlfriends and purchasing new CD players. He and his charges have most likely been quite dedicated to their practicing and their studies which demands a great deal of freedom from other delights.
I also cannot imagine the coach of Nebraska wondering if he has enough players to build up to a victory. The fans of this state’s team would do more than ”jeer at him” if that were true.
The game will take place and the battle within each of us will also take place every day if we are to be His disciples or at least practicing to be on The Team.
“Like a deer that longs for running streams, my soul longs for you, my God.” Psalms 42
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