Freedom flows through all the readings this day. Moses reminds the people of Israel they have the freedom to choose between life and prosperity or death and adversity. Ironically, this freedom to choose life comes through the freedom to choose obedience to the commands of God. In other words, Moses tells the people, they are free to choose bondage to God and life or bondage to sin and death. Either way they will be bound to something.
In the second reading Paul reminds Philemon that he—Paul—is not free but is a “prisoner of Christ Jesus.” This is Paul’s linguistic wordplay to help convince Philemon to free his slave Onesimus. Paul reminds Philemon that he has the freedom to hold on to his slave Onesimus and the freedom to grant Onesimus freedom as his brother in Christ.
In the gospel Jesus speaks a challenging word, which resonates in ways that might make modern people a tad uncomfortable. You might phrase it: Do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you? Jesus seems to suggest that our stuff, our possessions, could make it difficult to follow faithfully. It is easy to dismiss this suggestion with a wave of the hand, “Oh, that certainly is not me”—until you start to consider just how much stuff is stored up in our homes and attics and garages (some of the latter with no room for cars).
In Christ, freedom comes from letting go. Freedom comes through giving away and trusting Jesus. In Christ we are free people. Free to choose life, free to choose faithfulness, and free to open our arms wide and receive the free grace of God. This is the God who chooses to never stop loving us.
Jesus speaks frankly about the fearsome costs of discipleship. Those who follow him should know from the outset that completing the course of discipleship will finally mean renouncing all other allegiances.
25Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus;] and he turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”