THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
JULY 1-2, 2017
2 KINGS 4:8-11; ROMANS 6:3-4, 8-11; MATTHEW 10:37-42
Before focusing our reflection on the Gospel passage, I would like to recall the first scripture for today, the account of Elisha and the Shunammite woman.
The First and Second Book of Kings covers a period in Jewish history before the horrific Babylonian invasion of 538 BC, and the mass deportations that followed. The Books weave the lives of the great prophet Elijah and his successor Elisha into the political history that spanned their lifetimes.
This story about Elisha teaches a beautiful moral which Jesus will carry into his teaching in today’s Gospel passage. The story is a simple one. A “woman of influence” invited Elisha to dine in her home. As time went on he stayed with her and her husband many times. Eventually the woman was given permission to construct a guest room for Elisha and his servant Gehazi on her rooftop so that the prophet would have a comfortable place to stay whenever he came to the area. Elisha was touched by her generosity, and her desire to care for his welfare. He was, what might be called, “the court prophet.” He was God’s representative to the king and his generals. He would offer them advice and deliver God’s messages to them. So in appreciation, Elisha asked the woman if he could say a good word to the king on her behalf – a political reward. She replied that she had no need for such a reward. So Elisha asked Gehazi what he thought could be done to reward her. Gehazi answered his question; “She has no son and her husband is getting on in years.” Gehazi was then asked to bring the woman to Elisha. She reverently stood outside the door of his room. He then made a spectacular announcement to her, “This time next year you will be fondling a baby son.”
This story mirrors the story of Abraham in the Book of Genesis. He gave hospitality to three men who were walking by his tent during the heat of the day. He invited them in, washed their feet, gave them something to drink, and cooked a banquet for them. After the dinner they announced to him that he would have a son even though he was old, and Sarah was well beyond childbearing age. The moral of both stories is quite clear. Selfless hospitality will reap an unimaginable reward from God.
In the second part of today’s Gospel passage Jesus builds upon this moral. “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward.” (Matthew 10:41) Jesus doesn’t specify the reward but implies that it will be like Abraham’s, Sarah’s and the Shunammite woman’s. God will touch that part of their lives that is unfulfilled. Selflessness will always reap a pro-found reward from God.
But Jesus is not merely moralizing about hospitality, he’s extending the principle in order to define the spiritual prerequisites for discipleship. The first part of the passage enumerates them. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves daughter or son more then me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37) The selflessness of the disciple must be rooted in an expansive love that transcends even the powerful bonds of family. It must be a selflessness like that of Jesus himself. “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38)
Jesus is demanding a radical response from us, his disciples. We must be brave enough to lose ourselves, to abandon our ego, to empty ourselves, to love ourselves out of existence. “Whoever finds his life will loose it, and whoever looses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)
In last week’s Gospel passage from the same chapter 10, Jesus told the disciples three times, “Do not be afraid!” We’re all afraid, aren’t we? Look what he’s asking of us. In John’s Gospel Jesus put it this way. “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (John 12:24) The only way we can become who we truly are, who God created us to be, is to abandon our false self – to let it die so that the true self can emerge. This is a universal mystical principle. Many people think that it’s only part of Hindu and Buddhist spiritual teaching, but Jesus understood very well this teaching of the sages. However, for him, this was only a platform from which to leap to a reality none of the sages could ever have imagined!
“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40) Here Jesus is telling his disciples, his messengers, who have been called, and have accepted to carry his teaching, that their work is so much more than repetition of his teachings. Because they have died to themselves he is living in them. They have become his real presence. “Whoever receives you receives me.” In us, he continues to draw the world to himself. In him and through him, the world is consecrated and selflessly offered to the Father.
When we speak of the Eucharist, we refer to the “real presence of Christ,” the abiding presence of the resurrected Lord under the appearance of bread and wine. Jesus is telling us that we are his “real presence,” so that through us the work of redemption continues.
Don’t be afraid to die – to give the gift of yourself to the Father as Jesus did. Always keep clearly in your mind Jesus’ words at the supper before he accepted the cross. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.” (John 15:16)
Reflect often on the last three verses of Matthew’s Gospel. We have been chosen to offer his life to everyone and anyone who might accept it. Don’t be afraid to show them the way – don’t be afraid to die to self. Don’t be afraid to bear much fruit.
“All power in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)