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Bulletin: September 8, 2019

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s readings continue the theme of humility explored last Sunday. All three readings today encourage us to admit that we have limits, and God has none. The poignant poetry of Wisdom resonates with all of us who have ever struggled for peace in situations we cannot control: “For the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns.” Saint Paul recognizes his own limitations, both physically (he is in prison) and spiritually: he cannot compel his friend to obey his wishes; he can only propose his request and respect Philemon’s free will. In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us that God alone can complete the good we wish to do in the world. While we thank God for the gifts we receive—and the families we love—we acknowledge that they are temporary, and humbly cling to God.


Although God gives us remarkable gifts and talents, our influence on others is incomplete, transitory. Our limitations frustrate us, particularly when we can do nothing to change a painful or harmful situation in our lives or the lives of our loved ones. Few experiences are as bitter as the helplessness we feel in the face of misery. Mysteriously, this same helplessness is a gift. For many of us, we must become helpless before we truly understand where our help lies: in our loving God. We face innocent suffering, humiliation, disaster, and death, remembering that Jesus chose these tragedies for himself. Jesus suffers with us. Jesus invites—but never forces—us to ask him to enter our broken hearts and messy lives. We are neither capable of nor responsible for saving the world, but Jesus can redeem everything we offer him.


We may balk at our helplessness, but remarkably, Jesus placed limitations even on himself. As people filed past Jesus hanging on his cross, they mocked him: “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, if you are the Son of God, [and] come down from the cross!” (Matthew 27:40). Jesus could have glorified himself and forced his ridiculers to accept him as the Messiah, but God does not compel our belief or our love. Saint Paul echoes this as he writes to Philemon, “I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.” In Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamozov, a character actually yells at Jesus for respecting our freedom. He claims human beings would be better off if Jesus used his power to control us, compelling us to believe in God and to care for each other. But God prefers to respect our freedom. In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites us to renounce what we have and rely totally on him. It’s our choice.

Today’s Readings: Wis 9:13–18b; Ps 90:3–4, 5–6, 12–13, 14, 17; Phlm 9–10, 12–17; Lk 14:25–33

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