23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, September 4

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Book of Wisdom, from which our first reading is taken, is more philosophical than any other biblical writing. As the name suggests, the book centers on our need for wisdom. But wisdom in the Bible is not primarily some intellectual gift or the ability to reason brilliantly. Rather, wisdom is the ability to perceive God’s true self and to discern God’s will in all the circumstances of human life.
In today’s gospel Jesus implicitly appeals to wisdom as the attribute most needed by his disciples to discern their true vocation. Luke positions this teaching of Jesus within the travelogue, the story of Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem leading up to the passion account. The tension is mounting as Jesus and his followers approach ever more closely the climax of the gospel. Jesus uses this occasion to admonish his disciples. “If you sign up for this duty,” Jesus warns in so many words, “you should think twice about what you’re committing yourself to.”
For us, Jesus’ words capture the challenge we face as his disciples. Indeed, living in our world as a disciple committed to Jesus brings innumerable challenges.
The middle reading is an extensive excerpt from what is the shortest book in all of the bible: Paul’s one page letter to a friend of his named Philemon. The letter concerns a young man named Onesimus, a runaway slave who has escaped from Philemon and sought solace and safety with Paul. When we read the letter today, we have to make many adjustments to accommodate the customs and laws of Paul’s day. Paul pleads with Philemon to accept Onesimus back into his service without penalty, what constitutes a remarkable act of generosity for the time. Listen to Paul’s reasoning as he tries to motivate Philemon to rise to the occasion. Paul was no respecter of the lines of division in his society. Onesimus, Paul concedes, has run afoul of the law, but the greater truth is he is no longer a slave but a brother. And Paul wants Philemon to treat him that way.
—Walter Modrys SJ

This week’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.