23rd Sunday Year C
Theme of the week: Enlightened by the virtue of wisdom, let us reflect on what we must do to uphold Christian teachings.
The Second Reading is a letter Paul wrote to his friend Philemon, to be hand-delivered by none other that Philemon’s escaped slave, Onesimus. Before reading this Scripture text, it helps to understand the back story: Philemon was a Colossian whom Paul has converted. As he wrote his letter to Philemon, Paul was being imprisoned because of his faith (verse 9). Onesimus, a slave of Philemon, escaped from his master, came into contact with Paul and was converted. While Paul recognised the wrongs of slavery, he was limited by the prevailing social norm where slavery is a commonly accepted practice. Paul was in a dilemma. To keep Onesimus with him, Paul would be depriving his friend Philemon of what was rightfully his under the law of that time – his slave Onesimus. On the other hand, to return Onesimus to Philemon would be to condone the practice of slavery, a practice that undermine the dignity of the human person. In the end, Paul did send Onesimus back to Philemon; though cleverly, he penned this letter to Philemon, urging but not compelling Philemon to set Onesimus free.
The lesson we may draw from this story is: We live in a sinful world and often, we are faced with practices unacceptable to our Christian teachings but are nevertheless commonly practised in the society. When faced with such challenges, while limited by the constraint of social rules, we must nevertheless stand firm to the teachings of God. While Paul was faced with the practice of slavery in his time; we today are similarly faced with practices unacceptable to God but are accepted as social norms – same sex marriage, abortion, divorce, euthanasia, pre-marital sex, etc. While we must never discriminate against those struggling with these practices; we also must never condone these practices themselves. By his example, Paul urges us to approach such issues with sensitivity and delicacy; while doing our bit to right these social ills. This is not always easy. Today, we hear of many Christians parents whose sons and daughters engage in practices immoral in the eyes of God. Afraid of alienating their sons and daughters, many Christian parents often choose to silently accept the immoral practices.
If I am a parent in this situation, what should I do instead? If I am a friend of someone undertaking an immoral practice, should I say something? Rather than raise the issue and risk a conflict, isn’t is better to stay silent and keep the peace? The First Reading teaches us that our finite mind is incapable of fully understanding the infinite God; our earthy limitations weigh down our ability to attain full spiritual fulfilment (verse 15). This echoes the teachings of Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, … For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” To help us discern His divine will, God gives us wisdom, presented to us as a gift of the Holy Spirit (verse 17). Jesus affirmed this a thousand years after this text was written, when he promised: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13)
Two weeks ago, in Lk 12:51-53, we were taught that the price of following Christ could be the division of our families. In this week’s Gospel, Jesus continued this teaching by asking us to “hate” our relatives and follow Jesus. To properly understand this passage, we need to understand that in Hebrew, the word for “hate” does not necessarily mean emotional hatred but rather relegation of something to a lower priority, in other words to adopt a sense of detachment. As Peter taught us in Acts 5:29, when faced with a conflict, “we must obey God rather than any human authority”. That is why following Jesus often requires us to bear hardship, to carry our crosses and follow Him (verse 27). Our stand against practices unacceptable to our Christian teachings is one example. The parables of a person building a tower and a king waging war against another (verse 28-33) explain that following Christ is a free act of will that require us to deliberate over our action before undertaking it. May the Holy Spirit grant us the wisdom in difficult situations; and may our actions always convey love – love of our God; and love of our neighbour.
May the Holy Spirit be with you. Amen.