23rd Sunday in OT (September 4, 2016)

23rd Sunday in OT (September 4, 2016)

With school back in session, it’s time once again to resume that most revered of educational opportunities, sorely missed over the long summer months, beloved across the generations: math homework—that nightly does of calculations that is so often the delight of both students and parents alike, especially now that it’s taught differently.  If you’re good at math, perhaps it can seem like any other chore.  But if math is not at the top of your skill set, then it can indeed be quite vexing.  Of course, whether we like math or not, it is an important part of our education.  It teaches us logic and problem solving; it helps make us more comfortable working with numbers, which we will need in order to manage our own personal finances, if not also for our job.

Jesus’ teaching in our Gospel today focuses on the cost of discipleship.  He gives the example of calculating whether a tower can built or not, and the example of a king calculating whether a battle could be won or not.  For us, we have the tendency to not only ask “Do I have enough?” to do a certain thing, but also “What’s the least cost I can get away with?”  Now of course this is a good question for money management, but I think that it has a tendency to seep into our minds and hearts in other ways as well.  Perhaps we look at certain aspects of our lives as only requiring “minimum coverage” (if you will) so that we can, in a sense, try to “stay legal for less.”  What’s the least I can get away with? 

Perhaps this even becomes our approach to God, even if unconsciously.  Yet Jesus tells us that to be His disciples requires total dedication and commitment.  “If anyone comes to me without hating [that is, loving less even our most important relationships]…and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple… anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” 

The thing is, when considering the Christian life, if we do the math/if we make the calculations, it’s always going to seem to come up short for us on our end.  So would it be unwise, then, to follow Christ?  We hear in our 1st Reading from Wisdom that daily life on earth has a tendency to distract us from the things of heaven.  And yet in the end it asks of God, “who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight.”  No matter how much math homework we do, there are limits to human knowledge and wisdom.  But God does not leave us to our own devices, but rather gives us grace to light the way of true wisdom, the way of the Paschal Mystery of the Cross of Jesus Christ, through which we are saved.

Does following Christ have a cost?  Absolutely.  Whether it be time, money, relationships, the esteem of others, an easier life…whatever it might be, living out the Christian faith has its costs.  From giving daily prayer and Mass on Sunday the priority they must have, to defending the rights of the unborn; from standing firm in God’s design for sexual integrity, to be willing to reach out to those who suffer; even proclaiming faith in Christ in the midst of a secular environment…discipleship has its costs.  Even St. Mother Theresa had her detractors, and still continues to have them today!  But when we are willing to embrace the cost—to embrace the Cross and its redemptive power—everything else is transformed for the good: our choices, our relationships, our priorities, our very selves.  We see an example of this in our 2nd Reading, when St. Paul encourages Philemon to welcome back his former slave Onesimus, but now to see him no longer as a slave but as a brother in the Lord.

In the Gospel we see that great crowds were traveling with Jesus [the numbers were up!], but Jesus ultimately wanted them (and us) not just to be part of a growing group of “fans” but to be transformed in Him, a transformation that comes when we give ourselves over in love to the One who has given—and continues to give—everything out of love for us.  In the ways of the world, it’ll never add up on paper.  But if it did, would it really be worth our lives?