Philemon 9-10, 12-17
Luke 14:25-33 [129C]
In the Gospel reading for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, we hear Jesus define the conditions for discipleship. Jesus’ words are an important reminder for followers of all ages to seriously “calculate the cost” of what you profess in faith.
The Gospel reading for today is actually a collection of Jesus’ sayings, and much of the material is unique to the Gospel of Luke. It is possible that some (or most) of these Jesus’ sayings were originally independent of each other, and that Luke himself wove them together under the general heading of sayings on discipleship. Within Luke’s narrative context, Jesus directs these sayings to the “great crowds” that were following him on his journey to Jerusalem. We hear three different conditions for discipleship in today’s reading. First, a disciple must prioritize relationships in life. One’s primary relationship must be centered on Jesus. From that single relationship, all other relations, including family and self, can be ordered. Second, a disciple must be willing to suffer. The “cross” of Christ should be the guiding image and template by which disciples come to understand the divine, as well as come to understand the purpose in one’s life. Third, a disciple must “renounce all his possessions.” Dependence on material goods and wealth serve only to distract a disciple’s total commitment to God and the mission of discipleship that follows.
Jesus offers two metaphors (the construction of a tower and the king marching into war) as a means of inviting the crowds to seriously discern whether or not they were ready to take the next step beyond simply listening to Jesus to actually following Jesus as one of his disciples. Calculating the cost of discipleship should be taken with equal or greater measure than any other area of our lives. Jesus’ challenge is as applicable today as it was when originally heard by the crowds who witnessed Jesus from afar.
The second reading is taken from Paul’s Letter to Philemon. Only on rare occasions do we hear a Sunday reading from Philemon. Two reasons account for such a minimal use of this Pauline letter. First, the letter is very short, only twenty-five verses in length. So there is not much material to draw upon for a Sunday reading. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Philemon is not very theological in nature compared to Paul’s other letters. The letter basically takes up the question of how to treat slaves who have become believers in Christ. Written from prison (traditionally identified as the city of Rome) around the year AD 60–61, Paul meets and converts a slave by the name of Onesimus. Paul comes to discover that he knows Onesimus’ slave-owner, a man named Philemon. The letter from Paul is an appeal to Philemon to treat Onesimus as a “brother” now that he is a fellow Christ-believer. Paul also hints at his desire to have Onesimus work on his behalf for the Gospel, but is unwilling to assume such duties for Onesimus without Philemon’s “consent.”
Similar to Jesus’ conditions for discipleship, Paul is challenging both Philemon and Onesimus to seriously “calculate the cost” of their discipleship. Is Philemon willing to give up his possession of Onesimus for the service of the Gospel? And is Onesimus willing to give up his possible newfound freedom and become a “slave” of Christ Jesus, a title by which Paul often referred to himself? In their association with Paul, both Philemon and Onesimus encountered a follower of Christ who truly modeled Jesus’ conditions for discipleship.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz