"The corruptible body burdens the soul"

Tom Bartolomeo
23rd Sunday Ordinary C 2013
Wisdom 9, 13-18a; Psalm 90;
Philemon 9-10,12-17; Luke 14, 25-33
Reproduced with Permission

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things." (Here is another version of the last sentence, "I pummel my body and make it a slave".) (1 Corinthians 9, 24-27). Are we surprised to hear such advice from the Apostle Paul? He knew from personal experience that the "corruptible body burdens the soul" as we heard spoken of in the Book of Wisdom. Miss that bit of wisdom and nothing else in today's readings makes any sense especially Jesus' austere declaration, "If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he can not be my disciple."

The great crowds who followed Jesus were no different than the crowds we have today who follow any celebrity on television, on the internet or in person. Jesus knew that his teachings of repentance and sacrifice would be ignored by many and he would eventually stop teaching the fortune seekers. "Do not give dogs what is holy", he said, "do not cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot and turn on you." (Matthew 7, 6). Despite all their curiosity the crowds would eventually turn on Jesus. The vast majority of his followers were not drawn to his teachings but were looking for favors. Cure my arthritis. Can you help me with my indigestion? After feeding twenty thousand of them (including their family members) on a hillside, for instance, they decided to make him their king in some welfare state where they would receive a generous supply of food stamps, perhaps.

Two weeks ago - we heard Jesus say in this church - that he "came to bring fire to the earth" and how he had wished, "it were already blazing." Do we remember? Did we plumb its meaning then? Today Jesus essentially repeats what he had said then, "I have come" not to "bring peace" but "division" . . . To pit "father against son and son against father, mother against daughter" and so on. Actually, he left no family relation out of his plan. (Luke 12, 49-53). He would just not let up! Here is where I am going to lose a number of us especially those who do not know their family history, not their biological family origins but their lineage in God which is documented in Sacred Scripture. You should know, too, that this history I am about to tell you - if you are considering it for the first time - than you have not known Jesus Christ or his teachings. I am not bold enough to say this on my own, but Saint Jerome who spent his entire life bringing together all the books of the Bible together in one common language said, "ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ" (Saint Jerome's Commentary on Isaiah, Nn. 1.2: CCL 73, 1-3; also cited in the "Office of Readings", Office of the Hours, September 30).

Consider, for instance, our first family, Adam and Eve. How did they raise their firstborn, Cain, who murdered his younger brother, Abel? Did they hate what Cain had become under their parenting? Then further in the Book of Genesis in what should we take away from Esau's threat to kill his brother Jacob and his abhorrent life style. Rebekah, Isaac' wife and Esau and Jacob's mother, had to secretly arrange Jacob's escape to his uncle's home in Canaan. Then consider the relations David had with Bathsheba, Uriah's wife, whom he had killed so he could take Bathsheba for his own, and how God punished David by taking the stillborn life of a child born to them. Then consider David's daughter's, Tamar's, rape by his son, Amnon, and David's mild rebuke of Amnon's crime, and how Absalom, Tamar's brother, took his revenge against his half brother Amnon killing him. Eventually, Absalom went to war against his father, and although David did not want Absalom killed David's commanders decided to kill his son, regardless. Absalom's death emotionally destroyed David. King David's repentance consumed much of his life thereafter recorded in many of his Psalm's which we have in Sacred Scripture. David hated the life he had formerly led.

Our union with God is not in our blood lines, our "corruptible" sin-prone bodies - which are doomed to decay "unto dust we shall return". Our relationship with God resides in his grace only. We should hate what severs our relationship with God including our biological relationships, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and siblings. There is no heaven in "the desires of the flesh" in the world. Saint Paul knew this well. At one point, he was so exasperated with his conflict of body and soul that he declared, "would someone rid me of this body of death in me." Please. We lost that harmony of spirit and body with original sin which explains why there is so much conflict in our lives, our base temptations at odds with our higher aspirations. Paul humbly described his own disorder of body and soul. "I am a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me", he said, "waging war against the law of my mind." "Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord", Paul concluded, but not without his determination to overcome the enemy within. (Romans 7:23-25).

To repeat, "In a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things". He pummels his body into submission. It is impossible to win the prize of salvation without discipline which can only be attained in suffering which builds endurance and holds hope fast. Near the end of his life Paul shared his personal thoughts with his favorite young disciple, Timothy, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7 ). Saint Paul did not skateboard his way through the pearly gates.

Last Sunday I repeated the question Saint Paul had originally asked two millennia ago which no one ever since has satisfactorily answered. So let me ask, again. "What do you have that you have not received? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7). Of course we would fain boast of our suffering, which we should, because they are mostly our own doing. Everything comes back to love, real, imagined or distorted. John, the last Apostle who wrote about our Lord began his Gospel of Jesus Christ stating,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. [And a few short lines later]. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to those who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood or the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us. (John 1, 1-9).

This despite the fact that many, then and today, still do "not know him . . . and his own people [still do] not accept him." (Ibid.). John explained this phenomenon in one of his letters:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the worldthe desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life - is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. (1 John 2,15-28).

Do we have to name names?