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23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)

Readings:
Wisdom 9:13-18b
Psalm 90:3-6, 12-14, 17
Philemon 9-10, 12-17
Luke 14:25-33

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Wisdom, prudence and the demands of discipleship.
Wisdom and prudence are necessary skills for maneuvering through the obstacles of life. However, true wisdom is not learned from books or even from life experience. True wisdom is a gift of God and leads to prudence in one's thoughts and actions through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The first reading and the Gospel deal with the themes of wisdom and prudence.

In the First Reading, the inspired writer tells us that through his own merits man cannot attain the wisdom of God because his reasoning powers are limited. Mankind is often led astray in pursuit of wisdom by the temptations and cares of earthly life. True wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit that God sends from on high. With the miracle of the Incarnation of God the Son, we now recognize the gift of true Wisdom as manifest in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. By overcoming the curse of death and having brought the gift of God's saving grace to humanity, Jesus Christ has revealed Himself as the true Wisdom of God through whom God has revealed Himself to the world.

In the Psalm Reading, the psalmist reflects upon the fact that only God can provide the wisdom that allows one to make sense of human life that is both short and marked by troubles and sufferings. The psalmist asks God to give His people an internal wisdom "of heart" and to "return" by revealing Himself again to His people, as He revealed Himself to the Exodus generation. The plea for the Lord to return to an intimate relationship with His people is fulfilled in the Advent of the Messiah, Jesus Christ—the Living Wisdom of God.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul admits that in the "wisdom" of the times that slavery is a legal institution. However, while Paul is sending back Philemon's slave, who is also a Christian, he urges that, in view of their conversion to Christianity, and since they both view themselves as disciples of Christ, that master and slave should live as brothers who serve the same master, Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus says that anyone who is not willing to renounce all worldly possessions cannot become His disciple. One cannot belong to both the world and to the Christ. Each person must prudently count the cost of discipleship, but each person must also have the wisdom to understand that what is worldly and material is only temporary and therefore cannot last. The wisdom of making the willing sacrifice of one's life in discipleship to the Christ will result in the glorious riches of eternal blessings.

The First Reading Wisdom 9:13-18 ~ The Wisdom of God
13 Who can know God's counsel, or who can conceive what the LORD intends? 14 For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans. 15 For the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns. 16 And scarce do we guess the things on earth, and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven, who can search them out? 17 Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given Wisdom and sent your Holy Spirit from on high? 18 And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight. And people have been taught what pleases you, and have been saved, by Wisdom.

Verses 13-18 conclude the survey of Wisdom presented in Wisdom chapter 9. True Wisdom is seen as a gift of the Holy Spirit that God sends from on high (verse 17).

and the earthen shelter ... literally "this tent of clay." This image evokes the precariousness of human existence and its limitations. Left to himself, man cannot attain the Wisdom of God because his reasoning powers are limited, and temptations and cares of earthly life often led him astray(verses 14-15).

18b And people have been taught what pleases you, and have been saved, by Wisdom. This line is not in the lectionary reading but completes the teaching. The Wisdom of God has the power to save us from both temporal and spiritual dangers. This last verse says that thanks to Wisdom men and women are saved because through Wisdom they learn to understand God's actions in salvation history and His will for their lives. The last verse is fulfilled in the coming of the Living Word who became man. It is through Christ that we can know the mystery of God. Concerning the revelation of Christ as the true Wisdom of God, St. Athanasius wrote: "Because God did not wish to be known any longer through the image and sign of living wisdom to be found in created things, as happened in former times, it was his will that Wisdom itself would become flesh, and that, having been made man, he would suffer death on the cross; so that in all the days to come, everyone who believed in him could be saved through their faith in the cross. In former times, the Wisdom of God stamped his seal on all created things and the presence of his sign is the reason why we call them 'created' to reveal himself and so make his Father known. But later, this same Wisdom, who is the Word, was made flesh, as St. John says; and having overcome death and saved the human race, he revealed himself in a clearer way and , through himself, revealed the Father" (St. Athanasius, Contra arianos, 2.81-82).

Responsorial Psalm 90:3-6, 12-14, 17 ~ God is Our Eternal Refuge
The response is: "In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge."
3 You turn man back to dust, saying, "Return, O children of men." 4 For a thousand years in your sight, are as yesterday, now that it is past, or as a watch of the night.
Response:
5 You make an end of them in their sleep; 6 the next morning they are like the changing grass, which at dawn springs up anew, but by evening wilts and fades.
Response:
12 Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart. 13 Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants!
Response:
14 Fill us at daybreak with your kindness, that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.
Response:
17 And may the gracious care of the LORD our God be ours; prosper the work of our hands for us! Prosper the work of our hands!
Response:

This psalm is unique in that it is the only psalm attributed to Moses. In verses 3-6 the focus of the psalmist is on the creation of man formed from the dust of the earth (Gen 2:7). The psalmist meditates on human weakness and the shortness of life which is made even shorter by sin. The psalmist suggests that awareness of human weakness leads to wisdom which is the fear of the Lord God (see Prov 1:7a). Man's life is fleeting, and even if he were to live for a thousand years, it would be as nothing when compared to the eternity of God (verses 4-6).

12 Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart. 13 Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants!
Only God can provide the wisdom that allows one to make sense of human life that is both short and marked by troubles and sufferings, and so the psalmist asks God to give His people an internal wisdom "of heart" (verse 12). This first petition is followed by the cry for the return of the Lord and a second petition for the Lord's pity and compassion on His servants. If the psalmist is Moses, the plea for God's return reminds us of the Theophany of God to His people at Mt. Sinai that Moses and the children of Israel witnessed. The psalmist yearns for the intimacy of that vision of the Lord God.

14 Fill us at daybreak with your kindness, that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.
In the next petition, the psalmist asks God who pardons man's sins to make the lives of His people joyful.

17 And may the gracious care of the LORD our God be ours; prosper the work of our hands for us! Prosper the work of our hands!
In conclusion the psalmist asks for both mercy and gladness and that our time on earth be spent in fruitful service for the Lord.

The plea for the Lord to return in verse 13 is fulfilled in the Advent of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Living Wisdom of God. Christians know that there will also be a Second Advent. St. Peter quotes from verse 4 of this psalm in 2 Peter 3:8 when he warns that to God "a thousand years are like a day." St. Peter then urges Christians not to be impatient for the Second Coming of Christ, explaining that The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance (2 Pt 3:9).

The Second Reading Philemon 9-10, 12-17 ~ Disciples are Brothers in Christ
9 I, Paul, an old man, and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus, urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment.
12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13 I should have liked to retain him for myself, so that he might serve me on your behalf in my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary. 15 Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord. 17 So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me.

This passage is from a short personal letter of only 25 verses that St. Paul wrote to Philemon of Colossae (see verse 18) during his imprisonment in Rome in c. 62/63 AD. Philemon is one of Paul's converts. Unlike his other letters that are dictated to a secretary, this letter is written, Paul says, by his own hand (see verse 19). Paul is sending back Onesimus, a slave belonging to Philemon who is also one of Paul's converts and has run away from his master to come to Paul in Rome. The letter reveals a softer side of the apostle and shows how he applies his views on slavery to this particular case, telling Philemon that under the laws of society he still owns this man but in view of their conversion to Christianity they should live as brothers who serve the same master, Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of Luke 14:25-33 ~ Sayings on the Commitment of Discipleship
25 Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, 26 "If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? 29 Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him 30 and say, 'This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.' 31 Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? 32 But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. 33 In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.

This is a hard teaching, and verse 26 has to be read in light of Jesus' other teachings in which a commitment to love even our enemies is a requirement of discipleship (Lk 6:27). In this teaching Jesus uses exaggeration ("hating") to stress the total commitment required of the men and women who take up the path of discipleship. Jesus is asking for a complete detachment from the old life that might in any way compromise the priority of one's commitment to Jesus and His Kingdom, the Church. That degree of commitment includes attachments to personal relationships and material possessions. It is similar to the teachings He gave in Luke 9:23-24 and 57-62. This teaching also recalls His warning concerning the division He is bringing to families where some will reject His Gospel and others will embrace His promise of new life and eternal gifts (Lk 12:49-53).

Jesus gives two examples for the importance of considering what the "cost" of discipleship will be before taking up the mission of being His disciple. He gives the examples of building a tower and a king waging war, efforts that require planning and good decision making. And then he says in Luke 14:33, "In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple." In the same way that building a tower and a king waging war requires good decision making and strategies for success, the disciple has to have wisdom and be prudent in taking into account anything in his old life that is a hindrance to traveling the narrow path and entering the narrow door to eternal salvation. He must divest himself of those things or people who will not help him advance in faith and spiritual maturity, especially the attachment to material possessions that encourage reliance on self instead of dependence on God.

Catechism References:
Wisdom 9:13-18b (CCC 295)
Philemon 16 (CCC 2414)
Luke 14:26 (CCC 1618)
Luke 14:33 (CCC 2544)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013; revised 2016