23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Picture: cc Long Mai
My dear friends, do you know if this is true? Perhaps it’s just an unfair stereotype, but I’ve been told that there’s a difference between how men and women react to being lost. Have you ever experienced this? It is said that, when a woman discovers that she is lost, she usually wastes no time. As soon as the first opportunity presents itself, she immediately asks someone for directions. And quickly finds her way to where she needs to go.
But, with a man, things get a little complicated. Apparently, when a man gets lost, his first reaction is usually to deny it. No, I am not lost. I just need a little more time to figure things out. Check the GPS again. Try this road. Or go down that street. It’s only after perhaps several hours of driving around in circles, that the man finally admits to himself that he really doesn’t have a clue how to get to where he needs to go. And decides to ask for help.
What do you think, my dear friends? Is there perhaps some grain of truth to all this? Does a woman really experience more freedom to ask for directions than a man? And, if so, what do you think is the reason for this? Why do some of us find it easier to admit to being lost? And to ask others for help? Whereas some others find it so difficult?
I’m not sure, sisters and brothers, but I suspect that it has something to do with a difference in the priority of our desires. According to the stereotype, a woman’s first priority is to find her way to where she wants to go. And in the shortest possible time. And she lets nothing hinder her from achieving that primary goal.
The priorities of the stereotypical man, however, are slightly different. Although, like the woman, he too wants to get to his intended destination in a timely fashion, there is often something else that he wants even more. He wants to have the satisfaction of knowing that he made it there on his own. Without any help from anyone else. And this second desire gets in the way of the first. It hinders the man. Makes him less free. In order to satisfy the first desire–reaching his destination–the man must first let go of the second desire–the satisfaction of doing it himself.
Freedom and hindrances. Desires and letting go. These are the same things that we find in our Mass texts today. You will recall that, in our opening prayer earlier, we asked God to grant us, God’s beloved sons and daughters, true freedom. But what does this true freedom look like? What do we use it for?
We find the beginnings of an answer in the first reading. Which tells us how difficult it is for a human being to discover the will of God. To penetrate the intentions of the Lord. For the reasonings of mortals are unsure and our intentions unstable… Often we don’t know what we ourselves want. What our own priorities are. Let alone discovering the wishes of God. So that, relying only on our own strength, we are unable to reach our intended destination. We cannot discover and carry out the will of God. We are hindered by our own weakness. We need God’s help. Thankfully, God does help us. God has granted Wisdom, and sent us God’s holy spirit from above, to show us the way we need to go.
We receive this guidance especially through Christ Jesus our Lord. The One who describes himself as the way, the truth, and the life. It is only when we follow in his footsteps. It is only when we are willing to imitate him in laying down our lives for love of others. That we are then able to find the way to where we need to go. To discover God’s will for us in our lives. To receive the guidance that God provides us. But to do this is not easy. We first need to admit our own weakness. To acknowledge our tendencies to get lost. And to let go of the competing desires that curb our freedom. Hindering us from receiving the Lord’s help. Keeping us from truly following the Lord. We need to make our desire for God our very first priority. Above all other priorities.
All of which may help us to make sense of what Jesus is saying in the gospel. If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple…. And, none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions. At first glance, the Lord seems to be demanding far too much from us. How can he expect us to hate the very people who are closest to us? The ones we hold most dear? And how are we to survive if we were to give up all our possessions?
But the Lord is speaking in relative terms. He is inviting us to examine our priorities. He is telling us that we need to make our desire to follow him the topmost priority in our lives. Above any other priority. Above any other relationship. Above any other desire. So that we may be willing to let go of everything and everyone else, when that person or thing hinders us from becoming the Lord’s disciple. This is the meaning of true Christian freedom. The freedom to make our desire to follow Christ our highest priority. Just as the stereotypical lost woman makes it her top priority to arrive at her intended destination.
The second reading gives us a concrete example of what this looks like in practice. In his old age, Paul writes a letter from prison to his friend Philemon. Concerning Philemon’s runaway slave, Onesimus, whom Paul had baptised. Even though Paul would like to keep Onesimus with him as an assistant, he decides to let him go. Paul sends the slave back to his master. But only so that Philemon might have the opportunity to set Onesimus free. To treat him no longer as a slave, but as a fellow disciple of the Lord. A dear brother in Christ.
Quite paradoxically, although Paul is physically still in prison, still bound by the chains that the Good News has brought him, he experiences great spiritual freedom. He does not let his desire to keep Onesimus for himself hinder him from doing God’s work. From helping to reconcile the slave with his master. Giving Philemon the opportunity to exercise his own freedom. To let go of his possessions. In order to follow Christ the Lord.
Freedom and hindrances. Desires and letting go. These are the things that we find in our Mass readings today. But not just in our readings. If we are honest with ourselves, we find these same things in our lives as well. On a daily basis, we are challenged to remain focused on discovering and fulfilling what the Lord wants of us. That is our intended destination. And yet, from time to time, for one reason or another, we may find ourselves lost. Confused. Disoriented. Times when we may need guidance. It is especially in times like these we need to examine our priorities. To let go of all that hinders us from being truly free. To allow the Lord Jesus to truly be our Way, and our Truth, and our Life.
My dear friends, if it is true that people react in very different ways to being lost. Then what must we do to be more like the stereotypical woman and less like the stereotypical man today?