Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year C

Joseph L. Narog, O.S.A.
Church of Saint Thomas of Villanova
Rosemont, Pennsylvania

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

The Choice is Ours

A married couple was celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. At a party given by family and friends, everyone wanted to know how they managed to stay married so long. The husband responded, “When we were first married, we came to an agreement. I would make all the major decisions and my wife would make all the minor ones. And, in 50 years of marriage, we never have needed to make a major decision!”

Decisions, choices – life’s full of them, isn’t it? From what we’re going to wear any given day – though that one’s pretty easy for me – to the cereal we eat or the car we drive. In our culture, we’re inundated with choices. We live in a world that seems to offer limitless choices. And then there are the bigger decisions, the major ones: seniors in high school choosing a college – I still remember fretting over that one; what we’re going to be, what we’re going to do with our lives our vocation, our career; how we’ll spend our retirement. As someone once noted, “Life is a sum of all our choices.”

We were made to decide, to choose. God gave us free will. It’s what makes us human. In a survey done a few years back, asking how God could have made us differently, practically all the respondents agreed that, despite using it wrongly at times or in a negative way, free will is essential; they wouldn’t change it. God doesn’t force our love because, as we likely recognize, forced love really isn’t love at all. And, in this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us of that. He challenges us to consider the ultimate decision, the ultimate choice – to follow him or not. Don’t we squirm a bit when we hear his words? “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life…cannot be my disciple.” Wow! What in the world does Jesus mean? Didn’t he also tell us to love our neighbors as ourselves? He didn’t even hate those who crucified him, asking the Father to forgive them. Wasn’t one of Jesus’ last thoughts on the cross of his own mother? He knew that family is a great gift from God.

So when Jesus talks about “hating” in our Gospel passage, he’s speaking from within his time and culture, where “hate” meant “to love less; to not be so attached.” Jesus deliberately picks the most precious of relationships, the highest of human loves and suggests that even these should have as their foundation the love one has for God. In other words, do we truly love God above all? Love all in God? Is Jesus the Christ the top choice in our life? How often might we decide for lesser things? Following Jesus and loving God aren’t something we can do in our ‘spare time’ or in-between life’s activities. It’s not simply one choice among others. It’s the major decision, the ultimate one that underlies all the others.

But we’re not left alone in our deciding, in our choosing. We can inform our consciences, our free will. There are divine resources at our disposal, as the 1st Reading from the Book of Wisdom reminds us – the gifts of “God’s counsel,” wisdom, and the “holy spirit from on high.” Do we pray for guidance when faced with important decisions? As Jesus declares, “first sit down” and consider the cost, then decide. What we never could achieve on our own, we can achieve with the strength and the grace that comes from God – sacrificing time and energy to care for older parents; saying “no” to an affair because of a commitment to love in marriage; renouncing attachment to material possessions and freely giving of our time, talent, and treasure.

True wisdom is knowing where to put our energies, how to focus our attention, and with whom to commit ourselves. Putting God first, being a disciple of Christ helps us with all those other decisions in life. In choosing Jesus, we’re also deciding to take the high road, “the straight path”: to live simply so that others can simply live – echoing the spirit of Mother Teresa, who is being canonized today. In deciding to follow Christ, we’re deciding to be there for others – and perhaps to see them in a new light, as St. Paul does the slave Onesimus in the Letter to Philemon; and, yes, we’re deciding to carry our crosses. Rarely is it the easy way, but is there one that’s worth more? The choice is indeed ours!