Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The Readings for Sunday, September 5, 2010:

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Jeremiah 18:1-11

Psalm: Psalm 1

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17 (Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 NRSV)

Second Reading: Philemon 1-21

Gospel: Luke 14:25-33

Here we have another tough Gospel, where Jesus seems to knock all our defenses out from under us. With his reference to the person building a tower, he seems to be telling us to think very carefully before we leap onboard his Kingdom train. We may have to give up (or at least transform our relationship to) much that we've held dear.

First, he tells us that we have to hate our family. Notice that I'm not exaggerating--hate is the verb Jesus uses. He doesn't use a verb that would be more palatable, like reject or leave or forsake. No, we have to hate them. Many of us have spent much of our lives struggling against a certain human tendency towards hating others--now we're instructed to hate our family?

It gets worse. In that list of family, Jesus includes our very lives. We have to hate our own lives? What's that all about?

Many scholars would tell us that Jesus is telling us that we can't have the same lives when we're Christians as we did before we came to Christ. Our relationships will have to be transformed. Many of us place our relationships with our family members above all else. Many more of us place our own self-worth above everything else. We've spent the last several weeks listening to Jesus telling us that we can no longer behave that way. We have to transform our world of relationships. For those of us who have been used to hiding away with our families, we are called to treat the whole world as our family, especially the poor and the outcast. For those of us who put no one's needs above our own, we can no longer behave that way. The only way towards the world for which we yearn is to place the needs of others ahead of our own.

Our relationship to our possessions is not exempt from this discussion. Here is Christ again telling us that we have to give up all that we have. For some of us, it might be easy to hate our family and give them up. For some of us who are filled with self-loathing anyway, it might be frighteningly easy to hate ourselves. But to give up our possessions too? How will we ever feel secure? Again and again, Jesus reminds us that we rely too much on the things of this world, the things (and people and our own egos) that pull us away from God.

At this point we might feel despair about our ability to walk this pilgrim path.

But as our spiritual forebears would tell us, if we would listen, this all gets easier the more we practice. If we think of all that we own as being on loan to us, it's easier to pass our stuff along. If we simplify our lives, it's easier not to clutch to our money as much. If we spend our time in prayer and spiritual reading, it's easier to rely on God. If we spend our time practicing inclusivity, it's easier to expand our idea of family. The world is filled with lonely people who would like to be invited to dinner or coffee.

And some day, we might look up and realize that the life we once lived was living death. We might realize that by renouncing that life (or by expanding it to include others), we've gained a life worth living.

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