Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 8, 2019)
September has returned - a growing shortness in daylight- crispness in the early morning air. Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are becoming just a memory. Whether we are still in school or long gone from school, there is a September spirit in the air: new beginnings. There is the start-up of activities – an unwritten, carry-over into adult life: things re-awaken in September.
New adventures need planning. We have a tradition for planning that goes back long before Jesus. It is being a realist when we initiate something. The examples that Jesus uses of the king contemplating battle and the builder contemplating construction are stark reality.
“No one plans to fail they just fail to plan.” is a helpful adage. The Ryugyong hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea is a 105-story, abandoned, concrete shell that was begun in 1989. It was expected to be the tallest hotel and one of the tallest buildings in the world. It is permanently uninhabitable because of its faulty structure and cost. It towers over the skyline as an international monument to poor planning.
No one plans to fail they just fail to plan. Cost is an essential part of planning. Dietrich Bonheoffer, the German theologian who died in a Nazi death-camp, understood this. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, he says, using different words but the same thought as Jesus, there is no “cheap grace.”
Jesus tells us the cost for our planning to be a disciple in today’s gospel: you must “hate” even your father and mother. Now, we know that the Aramaic word for hate does not mean the same in English as it does in Aramaic; there, it is not an emotional hate, but rather means “to love less” or “not to choose.” The meaning of the gospel is that nothing and no one can be put ahead of God in our personal hierarchy of values. So, both the wisdom of common sense and the wisdom of the Lord is, “No pain no gain.”
I think every one of us takes a long time to come to comprehend that “hard” saying of Jesus about prioritizing god above all. We tend to ignore it. Jesus teaches us that there must be no idolatries in our life - no matter how worthy the object of our devotion may be. People, like father, mother, loved one, children, friends; things, like career, education, talent, physical fitness, television, sports. We must “hate” [refuse to idolize] all persons, all things. Discipleship with its cost is paramount; it redefines all other loyalties.
We have an advantage over the people who heard Jesus that day. Neither Jesus nor his listeners knew then all that lay before Jesus: the cost of loss of the respect of many, the cost of the passion, and the cost of his crucifixion. We have the benefit of having seen the whole picture, including his resurrect-ion. We have seen what has happened within us after our appreciation for what he has done.
In considering the cost of discipleship, we raise another question: what is the cost of not following? Only God knows. In our hearts, we sense a great tragedy avoided. Jesus asked peter, after many had left Jesus when he spoke of his real presence in Eucharist, “Will you also go?” Peter answered for so many of us on many questions even in our own lifetime: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”
September is a time for planning. Just as football teams have a game plan, financial analysts have a fiscal plan, teachers have a lesson plan, students have a study plan -- each one of us today needs a personal, spiritual plan. No one plans to fail they just fail to plan.
How are we planning our use of our time, our talent, and our treasure? It might be a very good idea to answer that question during quiet time after communion as we entertain Jesus in our spirits and bodies.
Smell the change in the September air.