September 4, 2016 — Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Anyone who has been raised Catholic, or for that matter, who has received a thorough Catholic education is aware of what we call the mysteries of the Church. For Catholics, the term is the Latin mysterium fidei, “mystery of faith.” In the New Testament, the Greek word mysterion appears 27 times. In the Eastern Church the sacraments are called “mysterion,” or “mysteries.” The Biblical Greek mysterion is translated more accurately as “that which awaits disclosure or interpretation.” To a certain extent all of today’s readings on this 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time deal with “mysteries.”
The Book of Wisdom, from which our First Reading comes, is in itself a bit of a mystery. It is stated as coming from Solomon, but as is too often the case perhaps, scholars cannot necessarily agree if it is really the words of Solomon. At the very beginning of the book in what is called “Solomon’s Prayer” God is presented as a mystery Who is beyond the understanding of us humans. It maintains that it is only through the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit) that we can attain some element of comprehension and thus wisdom.
The first verse in our Reading from Wisdom today is “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive of what the Lord intends?” We spend our lives seeking the answer to those questions, and it is truly only through faith and trust that we can reach any sort of satisfactory answer. Only God can reveal the answers to us.
The Second Reading is drawn from St. Paul’s Letter to Philomen. That particular epistle is interesting from a couple of perspectives: first, it is the third shortest book in the entire Bible (335 words), and it is by far the shortest of all of Paul’s letters. Also, it is written to a particular individual, not to a church or a group. At the time he wrote it, Paul was imprisoned in Rome, and one of those who served him was Onesimus, a slave of Philomen (who was a Colossian). Paul is sending the letter with Onesimus and is asking Philomen to forgive him for running away and reconcile with him rather than punish him. We referenced the fact that the Eastern Church terms the sacraments “mysteries.” The mystery of God’s forgiveness through reconciliation is a part of that. All the sacraments require a conversion of sorts. The conversion God seeks is a conversion of heart. That is the conversion St. Paul speaks about to Philomen, and that is the conversion each of us requires in order to be disciples of Christ and good stewards.
Jesus continues to explain to us the cost of discipleship in our Gospel Reading from St. Luke. We are all “invited” by the Lord to be His disciple. Nevertheless, it is more than invitation; it is a call to action. Although the reading may sound harsh when the Lord says things like, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, etc. …he cannot be my disciple,” or “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple,” or “…anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple,” Jesus is using comparisons like that to make the cost of discipleship clear. Nothing, absolutely nothing, should stand in the way of our trust and faith in God.
That, too, can be a mystery. Jesus is asking for a complete conversion of heart. There can be nothing halfway about discipleship. Just as Jesus gave all to save us, we may have to give all to be His follower and disciple. Yes, there is a cost to be a disciple of Jesus, but it costs even more to reject Him.