Sunday, September 04, 2022

Letting Go

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Readings: Wisdom 9:13-18; Psalm 89 (90): 3-6,12-14,17; Philemon 9-10,12-17; Luke 14:25-33

Picture: Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

My dear friends, do you remember when you first learned how to swim? What did you find most challenging? For me, it’s learning how to float. Using my arms and legs to propel myself through the water is easy enough, because I remain in control. But floating requires letting go, and there's something inside me that resists that. Yet, without knowing how to float, I move through the water only with much tension and anxiety.

I believe this anxiety, this need to be in control, is also what our scriptures help us to ponder today. The first reading talks about how difficult it is for us humans to know the intentions of God…. (For the) reasonings of mortals are unsure and our intentions unstable. Isn’t this instability of intention due, at least in part, to my own anxious need for control? Which affects not just how I relate with God, but also with things and people. At home, at work, and even at play. Whether I realise it or not, when I seek to control everything and everyone in my life–even those I may profess to love very much–I end up treating them like my personal property. As a result, I turn them into obstacles that keep me from drawing close to God.

Isn’t this is why Jesus says that I cannot become his disciple without first hating my father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and even my own life as well? Perhaps what needs to be hated, or set aside, is not the people themselves, but my need to control them, to treat them as mine. For none of us can be a disciple unless we give up all our possessions.

But if it is really so difficult, how does one learn to let go? The readings offer at least three insights. The first is that it’s helpful to have a companion and guide. Which is the role that Paul plays in the second reading. Someone who, whenever I may find myself stuck in my own anxiety, gently nudges me to contemplate a fresh perspective. Reminding me to consider that, in God’s eyes, a thousand years are like yesterday, come and gone, no more than a watch in the night. Inviting me to pray for the grace to know the shortness of my life, that I may gain wisdom of heart.

Also, in addition to companionship and contemplation, a third insight is the usefulness of a crisis, such as the one faced by Philemon in the second reading. He has been separated from his slave, Onesimus. And, like someone teaching another to float in deep water, Paul shrewdly makes use of this crisis to challenge Philemon to let go. To surrender his ownership of Onesimus, and to treat him as a brother-in-the Lord, instead of just another piece of property.

Companionship, contemplation and crisis. Aren’t these insights particularly relevant for us, who live in such anxiety-provoking times? They offer us a path by which we may be set free. The better to reach out and to connect with others, with our world, and with God, in humility, mercy, and love.

Sisters and brothers, even as we may find ourselves immersed in deep and troubled waters, how might we help one another float more freely in God’s tender embrace today?

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