“Walking in Deliberate Choices”
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time : September 8, 2019
Deuteronomy 30: 15-20/Psalm 139: 1-4; 13-16/Philemon 4-16/Luke 14: 26-33
Bishop Ariel P. Santos
Why did Jesus become man and offer His life for us? Is it so that we can go to heaven, not hell, when we die? The simple answer is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” St. Paul also explains in 2Corinthians 5:15, “He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” God loves us, and He wants the best for us. God knows that if we live not for ourselves, but for Him, it will be good for us.
In our sin, we were living for ourselves and not for God. Sin, in Latin, means turned toward self. It is ‘me’ first. This is idolatry, which is putting anything first before God including ourselves. If we live for ourselves first, and we live for God second, then we have ourselves as idols.
The gospel today is preluded by what is called the “Parable of the Dinner” where there is the generous host who invited people and three of them gave excuses. One said, “I just bought a piece of land, so I have to check on it.” The second one said, “I just bought oxen, and I have to take care of them, so consider me excused.” The third one said, “I just got married. I have a wife and we are still on a honeymoon. Consider me excused.” They did not necessarily hate the host of the dinner or the dinner itself, but they sounded to me that they politely asked to be excused. What is the problem? They put other things first before God.
Some Christians love God; it is just that He takes a back seat to other things, which we prioritize. Anyone taking first place in our lives and in our hearts is an idol. God knows if we live for Him and if we make Him number one, it is good for us. If not, it is called idolatry and sin.
Understand that land, oxen, wife are gifts and blessings from God. God is a giver – He gives and gives and gives. St. Paul says in 1Timothy 6:17, “God richly supplies us with blessings to enjoy.” God gives us blessings to enjoy, and God is not a ‘kill joy.’ How do we enjoy our blessings? It is when we put them in their proper place, that is, next to God not before God. If we do otherwise, then, we will be enslaved to them and we will not enjoy them. Everything in our lives should be second to God, and this is how we get the most out of them, otherwise, they become idols.
Jesus said in the gospel to hate father, mother, wife, children…even our own life. He said, “If anyone does not hate them, they cannot be My disciple and follow after Me.” If we prefer them over God, we cannot follow Him, but when we do follow Him, Moses says that it is equivalent to choosing life because we choose to obey His commandments. Jesus said that this is what it takes to be His disciple.
Count the cost before we make a commitment, but counting the cost is not intended to discourage us from fulfilling God’s will for us. It is said that no one starts building the tower without counting the cost otherwise, they would start and not finish, and people would ridicule them. The will of God for us is to build. We can make an excuse and say, “I counted the cost and I cannot finish a building so I won’t start in the first place.” Start, but understand that Jesus is telling us how not to be ridiculed and be embarrassed and succeed. It is by sacrificing and giving up other things and putting God first before all of them; and then, we will be able to build.
I have heard this Bible verse misinterpreted to justify family planning: count the cost. You have to count the cost before you have a big family, so children are limited. The Word of God says, “Be fruitful and multiply,” but learn to count the cost. When we have a big family, it will cost time, money, and attention, and as we fulfill the Word of God, we get fulfillment. God is showing the way, not discouraging us from fulfilling His will.
I am boasting in the Lord with this personal testimony. After I graduated from college, which took me a lot longer that it should have, I applied for a job, and in the first three jobs that I was accepted in, I turned them down as soon as I learned of the work schedule. It interfered with the schedule of my ministry. Ministry came first; God came first.
When I got married, in the first apartment that my wife and I occupied, we paid Php2, 800 a month. At that time, as a Church staff, we were receiving Php3, 000 for monthly allowance. Did this mean that I had Php200.00 that is left for me to spend for other things? No, there is the tithe that I had to offer for receiving Php3,000, which should come first before the rent. My wife and I survived! We ate three times a day! We moved into another apartment whose rent was Php5,000, but did I lack even if there was an increase in our allowance with the same amount? No, because God is our Provider, and I don’t know how He provided.
Again, this is boasting in the Lord. For 32 years now, I have been tithing – when I was single, when I was jobless, when I had a job, when I got married, and I still tithe now that I have six children. We have a roof over our heads, and we have food to eat and clothes to wear. God is faithful! He wants us to enjoy the things that He gives and the way to enjoy them is to put Him first before these things.
Why put the provision before the Provider? With God, we do not lose. We hear about “the cost of discipleship” as if we are on the losing end or as if we get the short end of the stick when we follow it. No, we always benefit and we always get the sweet end of the bargain. We should tithe anytime. Who would want a 90% return on their 10%? It always works when we put God first and His gifts after. He knows how to make us succeed in all that we do.
There may be a price and one example of an early Christian who paid a high price for being a disciple of Jesus was St. Paul. He, who suffered a lot, said this in Romans 8:18, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” We always get a good bargain when we follow Jesus.
On a personal note, two years ago, I thought that I want to be healthier because I found out that my cholesterol was border-line. I run and ate healthy for one month and I lost 10 pounds. Just this past two weeks, I gained five pounds. The other day, I decided to run again, but as I did, my legs were screaming, my mouth was gasping, my lungs were heaving, and my mind was sympathizing to all of them. It was difficult! I realized that the farther we stray away from where we are supposed to be, the harder it is to get back. It is not impossible, but it is difficult. It is much easier to maintain one’s weight than to splurge for two weeks or three weeks and shed it off. As it is said, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.
In terms of discipleship, as the price gets higher and higher, the farther we stray away from the Lord. If we stay where we are supposed to be, it is easier. Again, St. Paul said, “I consider the sufferings of this present life are nothing compared to what the glory will be revealed to us.” There may be a price, and it can get difficult, but the requirements of discipleship are far outweighed by the abundant life that we receive in following Jesus and what awaits us in the world to come which eye has not seen nor ear heard and is beyond what we can ask or imagine.
Instead of seeing the cost and the price of discipleship, why don’t we see it as the blessing, the joy, the privilege, the happiness, and the fulfillment of following Jesus. Walk in a deliberate choice to follow Him knowing that we are always getting the sweet end of the deal whenever we put Him first in our lives before all the other things which He gives to us to enjoy.
Seek first the kingdom of God and all the other things will be added unto us. I don’t say this as a punchline. It is true; it works; I have experienced it. All of us have experienced it and I am simply reminding all of us. This has always been, is, and will always be the way it is in the kingdom of our God.