23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Trust in God
(Readings: Wisdom 9:13-18; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33)
Introduction to Mass
In today's gospel Jesus highlights the choices we might face as disciples in giving our basic trust or allegiance to God. As we begin Mass this Sunday, let us think of the times when we've failed to be wholehearted in our discipleship and in our trust in God, and ask God for his mercy and guidance.
There's a passage in one of Saint Vincent De Paul's biographies where the author writes that Vincent's work with the destitute in Paris had expanded to such an extent that he when he leaves his parent's house after a short visit home, he walks away realising that he won't be back again, and he'll never see his mother and father alive again. Vincent interpreted his vocation from God, to form a missionary congregation and to build hostels and orphanages to look after the poor, as taking precedence over his ties to his family.
For many centuries something similar was true of all the men and women who joined missionary congregations, or the individuals who entered monasteries and convents: they understood, and their parents and brothers and sisters understood, that they were committing themselves to God, and dedicating their lives to the gospel, in a way that involved surrendering the ordinary ties of family life.
They saw themselves as following the kind of path that Saint Paul describes vividly in the second reading when he talks about being a "prisoner" of Christ Jesus - giving up their right to determine their own direction in life so as to allow Christ to determine it completely.
There's always been an aspect of Christian discipleship, which is the word Jesus uses here, which isn't simply identical with our conventional notions of what is reasonable and humane.
In his preaching Jesus often spoke in the way he does in this Sunday's gospel, proclaiming in rather black and white terms that attachment or allegiance to God means being detached from other objects: family relationships, material possessions, personal freedom, the normal desire to avoid suffering. He often claimed that if these sorts of things interfere with, or hold us back from, our relationship with God, then they have to be rejected.
The real issue, I think, for Jesus, is the question of where we look for ultimate happiness and security. He was always anxious to warn people not to look for permanent security in anything or anyone else except God.
The love between husband and wife, and between parents and children, for example, obviously isn't a bad thing, but it would be a mistake to put all our hopes for happiness in even those close relationships. For all sorts of reasons they may not provide happiness: as many people know, they often turn out to be the source of considerable pain and unhappiness.
Especially today, when the atmosphere of society at large seems cold and disconnected, many people treat their personal relationships and their family life as a sort of cocoon, a private refuge from a world lacking tenderness and mutual supportiveness. If that private world falls apart, for whatever reason, then the loss is terrific. We could say the same about children who, as they grow older, bring worry and sadness to their parents rather than the contentment or pride that their parents anticipated.
Christ's teaching here echoes the sentiments of the first reading from the book of Wisdom in the Old Testament. Like the author of the book of Wisdom, Christ had a strong sense that human motives and intentions are unstable, that everything in this world is perishable.
So that behind all the other allegiances we have, our underlying allegiance should be to God, who isn't unstable or perishable. Behind all the other goals we might set ourselves in life our primary goal should be friendship with God and communion of life with him. Then, when other attachments disappoint us or betray the trust we've put in them, we'll find that we can rely on the support and strength of God's grace.
It was to encourage that basic attitude in our spiritual life that Jesus spoke in the bold and uncompromising terms that he did about the choices we might face, and the things we might have to reject, in order to be his disciples.