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Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C
Props: A toy in its original box, if possible, with a ten-dollar price tag and nine one-dollar bills. Obviously, you can change the original price tag with a sticker to suit this Children’s Sermon. The toy could be a football or a Barbie. It does not matter. The prop could also be a candy bar for ten cents and nine pennies. The more desirable the item, the more effective the illustration.
Lesson: [With the toy hidden:] Good morning! (response) We’re going to go to the toy store [(or candy store depending on your prop)] this morning and buy a toy. I know exactly what I want; I want this! Pull out the football. What is this? (response) Yeah, a football. Won’t it be great! We can buy this and then take it home and get in the front yard and play football. How many of you have played football? (response) Will you play with me if I buy it? (response) Good. I wonder how much it costs? (response) The price tag has to be around here somewhere? Does anyone see the price tag? (response) Oh, it’s right here. How much does it cost? (response) Ten dollars!? That’s a lot of money. I’ll have to see how much I have.
Pull out your wallet or pocketbook and take out the nine one dollar bills. Will you help me count? (response) You count them. Have a child hold out her hand for you to lay the dollar bills into one at a time. (One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine) Nine? In desperation look back in your wallet. We need ten dollars not nine. Are you sure you counted right? (response) We’ll count them again. Take the bills and have them slowly count again. Only nine dollars! Do you know what that means? (response) That’s right. I don’t have enough money to buy the football and that means we can’t play football together. I’m sorry; I thought I had enough money.
Put your dollars back in your wallet and hold it up before them: Next time, before I go to the toy store to buy a toy, what should I do? (count how much money you have) If they say you should ask your parents, respond: I’m going to buy this toy with my own money. So what do I need to do before I buy the toy? (response) I need to count my money, and if I have nine dollars, I can’t buy a ten-dollar toy. I need to know how much it costs and how much I have.
Application: The toy store will expect me to have ten dollars if I am going to buy a ten-dollar toy. Jesus said something like that. He said, before we follow God, we need to sit down and think about what that means and how much it’s going to “cost us” to follow him. What do you think it costs to follow God? (response) Give the children time to answer. If they answer with a monetary figure: It will cost more than our money to follow God. What do you think it costs to follow God? (response) Guide them toward appropriate answers. It will actually cost us our lives! Everything we have and everything we own — even everything we are and want to do. Can you believe that? We have to give everything to God: our money, our family, our talents, our toys, our friends, and our love. That’s what it costs to follow God. Jesus told us to make sure we are ready to pay that price before we come to God, because God expects nothing less.
We often don’t know what we have to do, or how to do it. What should we do about Syria, if anything? What should we do about the economy—eliminate debt or stimulate it? What about the NFL and football, now that they settled a $750 m lawsuit? Or what should Hockey leagues do? We can go on and on wondering, hesitating and short-cutting effective action.
What should Philemon do, for example? We have a selection from a one-chapter letter that St. Paul wrote to the slave-holder Philemon. Philemon was a Christian convert; and his run-away slave also converted to Christ, under Paul, in prison. Now the slave, Onesimos, is returning to his owner. What should Philemon do? Should he beat him? Sell him? Or treat him, as Paul urges, as a brother?
We often have the luxury of spinning issues around in our heads, sometimes for months, and sometimes for years. What college will I go to? Should we repaint our house this year? Whether to put money into our old car or buy a new one. Jesus, however, is saying that on one essential point, there can be no ambiguity, no doubt. We all need to know what we have to do when it comes to following him.
We have to put him first. We have to see everything in him. We have to relate everything to him. We have to be his disciples. Jesus puts this in a very stark way which we can easily misunderstand. Hating our parents? Hating our relatives? This exaggerated Semitic way of speaking translates better this way: we have to prefer Jesus to everyone else in our lives and to everything else that we do. That means we have to prefer Jesus’ way, Jesus’ values, the way Jesus loves, the hopes that Jesus puts before us, the vision of the Kingdom he offers us. In the Kingdom, surely, our loves are not weakened; no they are strengthened. But we have to put Christ first.
If we don’t, we won’t survive as believers, and we seem to have plenty of proof of this in contemporary society. From aggressive atheists to vanishing worshippers, from new-style churches luring folks from mainline churches to shortages of clergy and religious, our faith is no picnic. We have to live our faith without the comfort of the cocoon that supported many of us forty or more years ago. This is the cross we have to carry, to develop new styles and motives for our Catholic faith in today’s world.
But it starts with each of us, knowing what to do, and what we have to do, making a clear decision to accept more deeply the discipleship of love that Jesus has invited us to share. The greatest gift we can do for Jesus, and for the world, is to build, and fortify, a foundation of faith that nourishes and sustains us. As we do this, we will find something marvelous. For everything we do, Jesus does even more. Being a disciple is what God does in us, when we open our hearts, in and through the Holy Spirit.