THIRTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR IN ORDINARY TIME
At the close of work on Thursday, June 29th, I was sitting in front of the parish office enjoying the cool warmth of the breeze. Suddenly, a man appeared to me from the back carrying a bag and a half bottle of water. He walked past me at first, then turned back towards me. “Hey, can you give me some water to drink?”, he said. Remember, that was the parish office, not my house. I attempted to go into the office to look for a bottle but he called me back and asked to take water from the pipe outside instead. I tried to persuade him but he insisted, and collected water from the pipe. After that he sat down beside me and asked if I was the pastor of the church here. I said no. Then he went on to say, “Can you give me something to eat?” I didn’t know what I could get. Finally, I got a pack of crackers. I kept thinking, he must have been hungry and perhaps the crackers would be small. But he was so glad that he collected the crackers with a note of gratitude, then went off through my back again. Later, I started reflecting on that visit. You never knew when God visits.
The woman of Shunem sets the tone for generosity in the readings of today. The woman of Shunem recognized Elisha as a “man of God”. But the woman, “has no son, and her husband is getting on in years”. But she kept her personal burden aside to attend to the needs of the man of God. From making occasional dinner for Elisha, she inspired her husband to provide accommodation thus, “Let us arrange a little room on the roof and furnish it for him with a bed, table, chair, and lamp, so that when he comes to us he can stay there” (2Kgs.4:10). She was not expecting any return from Elisha. She just did it out of her generosity and love for God. It paid her off in a great way. Elisha blessed her and she was rewarded with a son.
In the gospel, Jesus sets an apparent contradiction, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt.10:37). Is Jesus condemning family ties? Is he hateful of family affinities? It appears that Jesus is not a family person from the way he reacts to issues regarding commitment to family life. Let’s recall the incident of the “boy Jesus in the temple”. After the Passover, he stayed behind without the knowledge of the parents Mary and Joseph. When they found him after three days of intensive search, his response to them was, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk.2:49). In another encounter, Jesus invited a young man, “Follow me”. When the man asked to go, and bury his father, Jesus’ response was, “Let the dead bury their dead” (Lk.9:59-60). He says in another passage, “For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against his mother, a daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be members of his household” (Matt.10:35-36).
In the context of today’s gospel, these final verses in the sermon on the mount affirm first the relationships between disciples, Jesus, and God (10:40). Jesus insists, “But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Lk.9:60).
The second phase of the gospel demonstrates the certainty of the reward due to those who welcome prophets, the righteous, and the little ones (41-42). Could Jesus be implying hatred for family members and still be enjoining us to welcome our fellow human beings? The demand here is the call for greater commitment to God. We must place priority on whatever leads our earthly family to our heavenly home. God must be preeminent in our lives. That’s what the woman of Shunem did in her reception of Elijah. Prophets work for God. Disciples preach the gospel message. The little ones bring God’s presence by their innocence and simplicity. And we need to recognize them. Christ tells us, “Seek you first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness, every other thing will be added unto you” (Matt.6:33).
We belong to our earthly homes by natural birth whereas we belong to our heavenly home by baptism. Saint Paul tells us that we who are baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death. If we compare our belongingness to both homes, we notice that the baptismal connection is stronger because it leads us intrinsically to God and into eternity. The journey begins here though. For example, when a child is born in Africa, there is great jubilation. The biological home (community or clan) celebrates the child’s arrival. If it’s a boy, gunshots are released in the atmosphere to announce that a boy has been born. If it’s a girl, the women gather to chant songs, beat drums and play music to welcome her. These are rituals of initiation. In the spiritual realm, families gather at baptism to celebrate the birth of a newborn into the community of the faithful. There is singing and dancing. Baptism makes us members of Christ’s body, the Church.
The call to baptism is a call to generosity towards God’s work. Who are the prophets of our time? Who are the disciples of our time? Who are the little ones in our midst? They are those who bring God’s message and support to us. The priests are the disciples of God, messengers of the gospel. They are like Elisha the prophet. Priests must be men of God. Priests must be people whose presence announces the reality of God. We must support our priests and pastors, welcome them, and they in turn bless us. Christ says to us, “Amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward” (Matt.10:42). Every good thing done for God’s sake will be rewarded.
Like the woman of Shunem, may we be willing to support our prophets and men of God. Like the woman of Shunem, may we place God first in our lives. Like the woman of Shunem, may we be abundantly rewarded for the generosity we show for the course of the gospel and for our faith. Amen.