Homily – 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time (Fr. Smith)

Last week’s Gospel ended with Jesus’ injunction that “when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled the lame, the blind: blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.” The next day the parish supplied volunteers to feed participants in a workshop for asylum seekers. I would like to thank those who responded. Some of the stories were truly heartbreaking but the actions of so many of our members were heart-mending. This was truly putting flesh onto the Gospel and weight into the truism that a Mass should be judged not by how we feel leaving Church on the weekends but by what we do in our community on the weekdays. 

Later that week several buses deposited about 200 more asylum seekers on Court Street. They were told to go to Catholic Charities. There was of course no warning and by Friday Catholic Charites had no supplies. As you may have seen in our parish email, we do not know if people will be sent up this weekend and if they are St Charles will most likely be the first institution they will find. What then does Jesus’ remark today “This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish” mean for us? 

My first reaction was “Ouch, that comes close,” After remembering the background for the passage, my second was “That hit a bullseye.” 

Last week’s Gospel’s final lines invited those without position and status to dine with those who had. Between that and today’s reading, however, is the parable of the great feast. An important man gave a dinner to which he invited the great and the good. He sent his servants to tell the previously invited guests that the banquet was ready. However:  

… one by one, they all began to excuse themselves. The first said to him, ‘I have purchased a field and must go to examine it; I ask you, consider me excused. ‘And another said, ‘I have purchased five yoke of oxen and am on my way to evaluate them; I ask you, consider me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have just married a woman, and therefore I cannot come.’ 

The rich man then said: “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in here the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame”. And ominously “For, I tell you, none of those men who were invited will taste my dinner.’ 

This is where today’s passage begins. Note its beginning and end:  

First line: “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”

It is commonplace to state here that hate here is not an emotion and that it could be understood as “love less.” This does not fully express the concept. It is best translated as “choose against” The Christian must choose against anything which seeks to take first place in his or her life. This spot belongs only to Jesus. The examples given above pricing land, evaluating livestock and marriage were time-honored reasons for an otherwise eligible Jewish man to be excepted from serving in the king’s army even during an emergency. Nothing however will excuse us from our Christian duties. Thus, a man much choose against his wife who is to become his very flesh if she seeks to take the place of Jesus. 

Last line: “In the same way, every one of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” Passages warning of the dangers of riches are commonplace in Luke. It is not an accident that two of the three examples that Jesus gives of those who did not join the banquet in the parable are involved in money-making activities. As we saw several weeks ago with the rich farmer these are commendable activities in themselves but foolish if they prevent a disciple from entering the kingdom. The clearest is the rich young ruler who knows he cannot commit to full discipleship and “goes away sad.” 

This man does however understand the meaning of “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?”  

A tower is the second floor of a residence. Usually, this was for a merchant who needed more storage space or, as in Arab countries today, room for the eldest son and his family. It would not be outside the town in a vineyard or field but rather in the town proper where everyone could see it. If uncompleted it would be a reminder of foolishness and shortsightedness.  

Choosing for Christ also requires calculation. How much do I believe, how much do I really need and want this? Jesus will take everything I have indeed all that I am, can I give it? The rich young man knew he could not do this. He walked away sad but without people’s laughter ringing in his ears. 

There are those who call themselves Christians and start along the way but then find themselves unable to continue. Their tower is half built and they look foolish 

This can happen to a parish as well. During covid we began to staff a food pantry, last week we aided those who needed friendliness and a meal. Yesterday several parishioners made 125 sandwiches for asylum seekers. We must expect that people will be dropped at our doorstep with no food, lodging, or friends. I fear to even guess what will come next. So, we will be asking for volunteers for an emergency call list. I cannot promise that this will be my last request. We have gone far enough as a parish that to turn back now would be to leave our tower half built and our credibility and integrity in shreds.  

Half formed disciples, whether an individual person or a parish look foolish to the world and feel unfinished to themselves.