Wisdom 9, 13-18 + Psalm 90 + Philemon 9, 10,12-17 + Luke 14, 25-33
Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Church, Norman, OK
It was Monday of this past week when I was driving down to Norman (Oklahoma) for dinner with some dear friends when a segment of “All Things Considered” came on the radio. For me it was an interesting piece about the struggle of the Amish people with some technology of these times, particularly with computers and the internet. The reporter was clearly fascinated by some inconsistencies among various Amish communities and obvious compromises some Amish were making with technology that allowed them to be competitive in business. In one of the interviews, a gentleman spoke of the Amish lifestyle in terms of a pilgrimage which required going lightly through this life.
I had spent a considerable amount of time in the study of these chapter fourteen parables anticipating this week’s Gospel proclamation. Luke’s use of these parables for the faithful he is addressing tells us a lot about what they were facing in that second generation after Pentecost and Christ’s return to the Father. Their persecutions were real. The challenge and the cost of their discipleship with Christ and their loyalty to one another was a serious matter and often times a dangerous choice. People would come and go. Their commitment to Christ and the followers who bore his name was not to be taken lightly, and we know from the writings of the early Church Fathers that many would fall away, give up, and leave the community when the challenge was too great. These caused disputes in families, and probably ended in sad alienation.
As I listened to that Amish gentleman speak of his spirituality, he used the word, “pilgrimage” to describe the way he uses and relates to technology. If it furthers with his pilgrimage and his relationships with other pilgrims, it’s good. If it comes between him and his goal or interferes with his relationships, it’s bad. Suddenly, the light bulb above my head came on, and I got it! I remembered again where Jesus was in Luke’s Gospel and in what context these parables were spoken. Jesus is on his pilgrimage. He is headed to Jerusalem. Out of his own experience he speaks to us in the context of our pilgrimage, and remembering and living like people on a pilgrimage through this life and this world begins to give these parables some meaning with wise counsel. Perhaps it is not so much about relationships with family or connections that give us security and privilege or about planning for the future as it is about simply remembering every day, all day, that we are just passing through here, and what we do and how we do it will make a difference on whether or not we get to our destination.
These parables are told to us by a pilgrim, someone on the way to Jerusalem, on the way to the Father. These parables are told to fellow pilgrims going the same way. They are shared with the wisdom of experience and the insight of Divine Grace. They remind us of the truth that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line; and that wandering around and around distracted by a thousand little things that often do not have anything to do with where we are going and who we really are always runs the risk of getting us lost.
For the master, Jesus, and for those who accompany him on the way to the Father, discipleship is not a part-time job, and the journey will not allow detours, stops and starts. There can be no doubt from the way disciples live and how they spend their time and use their gifts about where they are going, and what they judge will get them there. The image of these parables provides us all with a good measuring stick by which we can determine as the old Amish man decided, what helps and what does not; what keeps me focused on the journey, and what keeps me close to those companions I have along the way.
This measure can be applied to everything: to what we spend our time doing, to what we think we need, and how we nurture and sustain the relationships we have around us, where we are right now and later today, and what inspires us and what confirms our identity as disciples of Jesus. A life focused on buying power, prestige, what we wear and how we look, on who we know because they can get us what we want is not the life of a true pilgrim. They already have what they want, and they have nowhere to go. Parents, this is what you have to give your children. It is more important than an education that will put them on the fast track to wealth and the illusion of security. Give them the vision of the journey and show them how to be noble and holy people focused on the only thing that matters and will get them to the Father. Young people, this is who you are, and this is how you make decisions about what really matters, and who you should have as your friends. You will not make the journey successfully with anything or anyone who takes your gaze off the Kingdom of Heaven.
The message of the parables of the builder and the king is similar to that saying about the ploughman, who must give his full concentration to his task: “No-one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62).