Homily for the readings of Sept. 5, XXIII Sunday in OT, cycle C
No one but God knows what the future holds.
In the past three centuries, humanity has made huge strides in the realm of the sciences, but we still cannot predict the next day’s weather with certainty and precision, let alone the future of our health or careers, or the spiritual blessings and trials we will encounter. As the first reading says, “scarce do we guess the things on earth, and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?”
We never really know what will come tomorrow. The one thing we do know with certainty is that God works in and through all circumstances, for our good. He does not control our human freedom, but He knows all the past, present and future, and the world with its laws and properties is His creation. He mysteriously intertwines the free decisions of human beings with the perfect obedience of the rest of the material world to form the magnificent tapestry of the story of salvation.
We see this at work in the second reading. Through circumstances that are not altogether clear, Onesimus, Philemon’s slave, has come to be with St Paul. It is thought that he was probably a runaway slave. What’s certain is that Onesimus had a problematic relationship with Philemon before. Now, however, St Paul has brought Onesimus into the faith, and is sending him back to Philemon “no longer as a slave, but … a brother, beloved … as a man and in the Lord.” God has taken bad situations – a fugitive slave, a disgruntled slaveholder, and an apostle in prison – and through these circumstances has brought them all to love one another and live in Christian freedom and mutual respect.
As unpredictable as the future is, Jesus warns us in the Gospel that we should have foresight and prepare ourselves to be sure we are ready for the demands of following Him as Christians. In his parables he compares it to calculating construction costs and thinking through a resolution to armed conflict. Nonetheless, he doesn’t expect us to know exactly what to expect in a way that we could come up with a precise plan and list of expected costs and risks. He really only asks us to love Him above all things – even more than the people we most love and our dearest possessions – and willingly take up the difficulties – the “cross” – that will inevitably come with accepting His teaching and following His path.
Complete commitment to following Christ gives us the joy of being willing, conscious participants in His loving plan for the salvation of all humanity. We don’t know what the future holds, but He does, and although it will be difficult at times, it will always be for the best. Let us renew our love and trust in Him, and pray with today’s psalm: “Fill us at daybreak with your kindness, that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days. And may the gracious care of the Lord our God be ours; prosper the work of our hands for us!”