Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time – C

Readings: Wis 9:13-18; Ps 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17; Phmn 9-10, 12-17; Lk 14:25-33

PUUTING GOD FIRST

  • There once was a man who had nothing for his family to eat. He had an old shotgun and three bullets. So, he decided that he would go out and kill something for dinner.As he went down the road, he saw a rabbit and he shot at the rabbit and missed it. Then he saw a squirrel and fired a shot at the squirrel and missed it. As he went further, he saw a wild turkey in the tree and he had only one bullet, but a voice came to him and said “Pray first, aim high and stay focused .”

    However, at the same time, he saw a deer which was a better kill. He brought the gun down and aimed at the deer. But, then he saw a rattle snake between his legs about to bite him, so he naturally brought the gun down further to shoot the rattle snake.Still, the voice said again to him, “I said ‘Pray, aim high and stay focused.

    “So, the man decided to listen to the voice. He prayed, then aimed the gun high up in the tree and shot the wild turkey. The bullet bounced off the turkey and killed the deer. The handle fell off the gun and hit the snake in the head and killed it.And, when the gun had gone off, it knocked him into a pond. When he stood to look around, he had fish in all his pockets, a dead deer and a turkey to eat.

    The snake (Satan) was dead simply because the man listened to God.

    Pray first before you do anything, aim and shoot high in your goals, and stay focused on God. Never let others discourage you concerning your past. The past is exactly that – ” the past.” Live every day one day at a time. And remember that only God knows our future and that he will not put you through any more than you can bear. Do not look to man for your blessings but look to the Lord. He can open doors for you that only he is able to do. Doors that you will not slip through but doors that only he has prepared in advance for you in your favor. Wait, and be still, be patient: keep God first and everything else will follow.

  • “Put God First” is a lesson Mother Teresa lived from the time she was a little girl. Her mother, Drana, was a strongly religious woman who taught her children to trust in God in all circumstances.

    Drana’s own faith was not shaken even after her husband, Nikola, was murdered because of his outspoken political beliefs.Instead she continued to teach her other children the importance of following Gods will. By the time she was eighteen, Mother Teresa had become convinced that God was calling her not only to become a nun, but also to serve as a missionary in India. Following what she had been taught by her mother, she accepted the mission even though it meant leaving her beloved family and homeland behind.

    The decision was neither easy nor without challenges. Among these was the fact that Mother Teresa’s brother Lazar was horrified that his sister wanted to “bury” herself (as he put it in a letter) in a convent. In addition, her commitment to India placed geographic barriers between her and her original home, and political changes soon made returning to her birthplace impossible. Although she did not know it at the time, her departure from home at the age of eighteen was the last time Mother Teresa would see her mother or sister alive. Even so, she never doubted that she had made the right choice; and throughout life, she honored her mother’s memory by being the servant of God Drana had encouraged her to become.

    Mother Teresa is going to be raised to the altar of sainthood on September 4, 2016. Let us learn from her to PUT GOD FIRST.Total surrender consists in giving ourselves completely to God. Why must we give ourselves fully to God? Because God has given himself to us. If God, who owes nothing to us, is ready to impart to us no less than himself, shall we answer with just a fraction of ourselves? To give ourselves fully to God is a means of receiving God himself.

It’s easy to say we put Jesus first in life. It slips off the tongue so easily. But, in this post Christian culture, it can be difficult. To put Jesus first in life requires diligence and serious purpose. Do we really want to put the time and effort into the faith enterprise?

FIRST READING: The author of the Book of Wisdom asked a question. How can we know the will of God in a turbulent world? His answer: seek wisdom from God. Wisdom will show us divine guidance.

PSALM: Psalm 90 was a cry of one in depression. The author cried out to God for help when none seemed to be found. Yet, he did not give up on God, even in his time of hopelessness.

SECOND READING: In his personal letter to Philemon, St. Paul asked him to act like a Christian toward his slave, Onesimus. Yes, Philemon had rights as the owner of Onesimus, but he had a duty to treat him as a fellow believer.

GOSPEL: “If anyone comes to me without turning his back on his father and mother, his wife and his children, his brothers and sisters, indeed his very self, he cannot be my follower,” (v. 26).

When we hear a gospel passage like this, we often find ourselves wondering whether Jesus really meant that we should turn our backs on our families. Or was he exaggerating? Is it really necessary to hate and abhor our parents, family, brothers and sisters and even ourselves in order to follow Him? If we do this, then, our loved ones get angry with us if we follow literally this word of Jesus; we have a problem.

This is a dilemma especially for those who believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible. Even the fundamentalist born-again brothers and sisters of ours who preach family values too are also against the literal interpretation of this gospel passage. Jesus was neither exaggerating nor literally. Rather, he was engaging in poetic expression to emphasize the kind of dedication he expects from his followers. These were sayings of Jesus collected by St. Luke about the theme of dedication.

So the phrase ‘no turning back’ used in our gospel has no negative meaning but it has a positive implication. It means that if a certain person says, ‘I like this more than that,’ that he likes this thing as compared to that thing. It does not mean that because he doesn’t like this, he hates this, no that is not the case. It so happened that there is something more than that. According to a drug advertisement: “Good is not good where better is expected.” In other words, God must come first no matter what. God is above anyone else.

We must love God more than others, even more than our parents, family, brothers and sisters. This is a very serious matter. If we meet a conflict between our loved ones and Christ, what should be our priority, our family or God?

God is not in competition with our family, parents, brothers and sisters for our love. He states very clearly, however, that God comes first in our lives, nobody and nothing that become his rival. Giving God the first place, on the other hand, assures us that we practice true love to all people and give each person his rightful place. Jesus has often taught that our love for neighbor is the real test of our love for God. It is mainly in our caring and serving attitude to our neighbor that we cooperate with God’s plan. If we disregard this to please people, it will be a very questionable kind of love we express. We cannot agree to perjury out of our loyalty to a friend or to cheating to benefit our relatives or avenging or killing to meet the expectation of our family. Our love for people can never be an excuse to surrender our love for God.

Sometime in 2005, Fr. Herculean, the former parish priest of Mae de Deus, Corjuem Goa, India asked, one Sunday afternoon, a group of children playing at the church yard if they went to Mass. Some answered, ‘yes’ while others answered, ‘no’. He asked them if they were Catholics, most of them answered, ‘yes’ while the other two answered, ‘no’.

Fr. Herculan, asked the two who answered, ‘no!’, “where are your parents?” One answered, “My father is drinking liquor in the bar and my mother is playing cards with other ladies.”

I reflected that if these parents give God as the number one priority, they had to teach these children about God and how to worship him and relate with him, but they had other priorities in their lives.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus laid out three “trip wires” for discipleship: attachment to family, the hard consequences of discipleship, and attachment to possessions. All three have a caveat. If someone cannot detach from family or possessions, if someone cannot live out the consequences of Christian life, he or she “is not able to be my disciple”.

Attachment to family came first. For, place in family defined place in society. Jesus did not condemn society or the clan system that built it. He simply used a Semitic idiom of extreme language to make his point. When he said “hate,” Jesus was not talking about emotional revulsion and physical distance. He was talking about spiritual detachment, the ability to put God first (before relationship or self-interest). Indeed, spiritual detachment requires one to die to self-interest and let God be Lord of one’s life. Without such detachment, one does not have the ability to truly follow Jesus.

Next, Jesus spoke of carrying one’s cross. We moderns sometimes reduce the meaning of this phrase to our personal struggles. For early Christians, however, this phrase had a far more literal meaning. As Jesus went to the cross, his followers could taste death for their devotion to the Master. Jesus, then, told his audience they must accept that palpable danger. If they did not, they did not have the ability to be a true disciple.

Third, Jesus turned again to the notion of attachment. This time, he addressed the subject of possessions with two parables. The first parable involved a farmer constructing a silo (i.e., a “tower”). Without the money, why should a farmer rush to build a silo that will stand only half-finished? If that happened, the farmer would look like a fool.

(In Luke, the subject of social shame as approached in an interesting manner. Disengagement from family and accepting the consequences of discipleship would bring a general shame of society upon the follower, but not in the Christian community itself. The person who had so confused his priorities between Jesus and possessions would have no honor inside or outside the community.)

The second parable spoke of a king planning strategy against a belligerent opponent. Can the king win the battle against an army twice the size of his own? Or should he sue for peace? [31-32] In either case, the message of Jesus rang out clearly. Stop! Think long and hard about Christian discipleship before a decision is made. Divided priorities drain the ability of the person to be a disciple.

Luke created a symmetry between the first and third “trip wire.” In the end, discipleship required one to “renounce” both possessions of the earth and possessions of the heart (i.e., one’s relationships). Again, renouncing meant the same as “hating.” Both meant putting God first.

Catechism Theme: Our Participation in Christ’s Sacrifice (CCC 618)

Discipleship not only means to follow the Master with our “cross.” It also means to reveal the crucified Christ to others. In other words, through our struggles and the consequences of faith, Christ is present, to us and to those who see us.

As the old saying goes, “God is in the details.” When we put God first in life, we open the door for him to touch people in ways unimaginable. These ways far transcend any religious activities or behaviors we engage in. He works through us!

Think of the ways Christ has touched you through others. Which ways have nothing to do with religious activities (Sunday Mass, daily prayer, Bible study, etc.)? How do these “non-religious” ways confirm the people are truly disciples?

We all have possessions, relationships, or ideals we guard zealously. Like Jesus’ challenge to his audience, he asks us if we can stand back and view them in the bigger picture. Before we grab these things, people, or causes and hold them close, can we ask God how important they are and what priority we give them? Can we look to the Father first and put everything else second?

How can we put God first in our lives? Here’s a simple exercise to help us focus on God. First, mentally focus on your greatest accomplishments. Next, ask yourself if these were your successes or God’s gifts to you. Finally, ask yourself if you can give those milestones back to God.

How about you, what is your priority in life? Is it God and his will? If we throw this question to a drunkard, I think his priority in life is a bottle of beer; to a gambler, maybe a set of playing cards; to a playboy, women; for those unchurched people, maybe sleeping, eating, partying, strolling and many more. How about you, do you put God above anyone and anything else?

An Interview With God

I dreamt I had an interview with God. “Come in,” God said. “So, you would like to interview Me?”

“If you have the time,” I said.

God smiled and said: “My time is eternity and is enough to do everything; what questions do you have in mind to ask me?”

“What surprises you most about mankind?”

God answered:

• “That they get bored of being children, are in a rush to grow up, and then long to be children again.
• That they lose their health to make money and then lose their money to restore their health.
• That by thinking anxiously about the future, they forget the present, such that they live neither for the present nor the future.
• That they live as if they will never die, and they die as if they had never lived…”

God’s hands took mine and we were silent for a while and then I asked…”As a parent, what are some of life’s lessons you want your children to learn?”

God replied with a smile:

• “To learn that they cannot make anyone love them. What they can do is to let themselves be loved.
• To learn that what is most valuable is not what they have in their lives, but who they have in their lives.
• To learn that it is not good to compare themselves to others. All will be judged individually on their own merits, not as a group on a comparison basis!
• To learn that a rich person is not the one who has the most, but is one who needs the least.
• To learn that it only takes a few seconds to open profound wounds in persons we love, and that it takes many years to heal them.
• To learn to forgive by practicing forgiveness.
• To learn that there are persons that love them dearly, but simply do not know how to express or show their feelings.
• To learn that money can buy everything but happiness.
• To learn that two people can look at the same thing and see it totally differently.
• To learn that a true friend is someone who knows everything about them…and likes them anyway.
• To learn that it is not always enough that they be forgiven by others, but that they have to forgive themselves.”

I sat there for a while enjoying the moment. I thanked God for his time and for all that He has done for me and my family, and God replied, “You are welcome anytime. I’m here 24 hours a day. All you have to do is call me, and I’ll answer.”

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Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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