Philemon 9-10, 12-17
There are three lessons from Jesus today.
First, Jesus reminds us that we each must carry our own cross. If we do not, we cannot be his disciple.
Second, Jesus uses provocative language about hating one’s family to show how he wants each of us to love him above all the people in our lives.
Third, Jesus wants us to renounce all of our possessions; all of our material baggage, all of our positions of honor, all of our positions of power. And make Jesus first and foremost in our lives.
I'd like to share a story about a boy I know.
When he was seven, his baby sister died. She had a congenital heart defect. The little girl lived to be three and her suffering made a big impression on her big brother.
Some of the boy's first memories are of going to the hospital to see his little sister held up to a window as he stood with his grandmother outside.
The little girl would die in the arms of their mother on the way to the hospital after a long illness.
Fast forward seven years, and the boy was now a teenager. He was 14 and in middle school, but he was hiding a dark family secret. His sister's death had triggered his father's mental illness. For several years, his father checked into mental hospitals for electric shock treatments in hopes of ridding him of his demons. It was an all too common drama for his mother, two brothers and himself. One the boy was too embarrassed to share with his friends.
The boy had a paper route and was up at the crack of dawn every morning to deliver the daily news.
One November morning as he was returning from his paper route, his father met him at the door.
It was a workday, but his father was not dressed for work.
The 40-year-old man had eyes red with tears as he told the boy he loved him and then said "goodbye."
The boy knew something was wrong. But he didn't tell anybody. Instead he just dressed and went to school.
That afternoon, his uncle picked him up after sports practice and told him his father had committed suicide.
The boy started to cry.
Just then, two of his friends came up and said "Hi," and the boy buried his tears of anguish and pain, putting them away for many, many years.
Fast forward again and the boy was now a man. He has two children of his own and a beautiful wife. His life has been extraordinarily blessed. But there's an unresolved wound in need of healing.
The man goes to Church with his family, but is not really buying this faith thing. His wife signs him up to be a lector in the parish. He studied speech in college. She thought it was a good place for his talents.
He agreed, but only to keep his faith-filled wife happy. It wasn't going to change how he felt about going to Church. For him, he was just going through the motions.
The man trained with a long-time lector in the parish asking the lector if he should count to five or ten on the "prayers of the faithful" when it called for "prayers in the silence of our hearts." The patient trainer told him to "just listen for the Holy Spirit." This confounded the man.
As he began to serve as a lector, the man could swear the readings he read and heard every week were aimed directly at his life. This startled him.
Over the next advent season, the man had an amazing experience. As he read and listened to the readings at Mass, he felt he was being called to do something he swore he would never do.
So, one day after Mass, he told his wife he wanted to go for a drive to a special place to do something important.
As they approached the place, his young boys asked, "Daddy, where are we going?" The father explained, "You know my dad died when I was a boy. This is the cemetery where he's buried... next to my little sister."
As the man walked up to the tombstone, he knelt and did what he heard the Word of God telling him to do.
He forgave his father.
As he forgave his father, a weight was lifted off his shoulders and he began to cry.
And in his tears of sorrow and joy, the man realized the Father he was really forgiving was God the Father. And the man wept even harder.
Jesus knows we each carry our own cross. We each are called to radical detachment from the things that keep us from the Kingdom.
I think many of you have probably already figured out the identity of the man whose life was changed by the word of God.
The wisdom of God spoke deeply through the events in my life.
I’m sure you’ve had your own experiences where God spoke through your life.
Jesus is telling us today about the cost of discipleship.
When we turn our lives fully over to Jesus everything changes.
Yes, we all will be asked to carry our crosses, but our lives will be ordered in such a way that we can bear this pain and help others to carry their own crosses.
To bear our cross means much more than patiently accepting our human condition of suffering, illness, weakness and the like. To carry our cross means to voluntarily accept all that comes from following Jesus: pain, sacrifice, ridicule, rejection.
Some will be unprepared to make the necessary sacrifices to make Jesus the top priority in our lives.
But this is what we are all called to do.
To hold nothing back. To accept all of our lives’ experiences as the cross we must carry.
This is how we show our commitment and love for our savior and king Jesus Christ. And how he can transform our lives in beautiful ways.