THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2020)
2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16
Psalms 89:2-3, 16-19
Romans 6:3-4, 8-11
Our gospel reading, as was last week’s, is from the great Missionary Discourse in Matthew’s gospel. After choosing His disciples, Jesus tries to give them some idea of what to expect when they begin to leave and bring Jesus’ gospel to all people: no sack for the journey, no tunics, sandals, or walking sticks (10:11); they are being sent “like sheep in the midst of wolves” (10:16); people “will hand you over to courts and scourge you” (10:17); “you will be hated by all because of my name” (10:22). No wonder that the disciples needed to be told in last week’s gospel: “Do not be afraid”! This missionary journey would not be easy, but it would also not be without some reward, however distant.
Before Jesus and His disciples set out for the surrounding towns and villages to preach the gospel, Jesus wished to make sure that the disciples had an accurate understanding of what lie ahead. The beginning of today’s gospel might continue to sound a little harsh, for we hear Jesus say that “whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” We are told that the word for “worthy” that Jesus uses is not like the word we say just before communion: “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.” Those words of the centurion imply something more like ‘I am not sufficiently dignified’ to receive the Lord. Jesus’ word for ‘worthy’ in today’s gospel means something more like “equal to,” “ready for,” or “capable.” The context suggests, says Mary McGlone, “that Jesus wanted to shake the disciples into asking themselves, ‘Am I ready for this?’ They had to comprehend that this was not just an adventure or sales trip, not even another round of ‘follow the leader.’ They were about to go out on their own to share what they believed was the ultimate good news. Were they really dedicated enough to communicate the gospel message?”
The Christian vocation is never to be separated from mission, the act of going out to preach the good news, not only by what we say, but also by what we do. Are we equal to the task? Do we have the courage to not only call ourselves Christian, but to actually be other Christs? Can we love Jesus above all other things, including ourselves and friends and families? Can we choose generosity over self-interest, can we choose humility over pride, can we choose love over hate, healing rather than division, peace rather than violence? We are called to be like Jesus, so that we never accept the unacceptable or tolerate the intolerable. Our mission as Christians is to have the prophetic dedication that will lead people to come to know Christ’s love because they have met us. This is precisely what Jesus means in today’s gospel when He says “Whoever receives you receives me.”
Just as the disciples did not go out into the countryside alone, so too, whatever our efforts, we are not divorced from the community of believers. Jesus commissions a community, not individuals. No one of us can accomplish the ministry of Jesus, a ministry that could never be accomplished on our own, no matter how holy we might think ourselves to be. We might find the first reading of today’s liturgy a curious way to begin, but it shows us several things that are important.
Elisha the prophet appears to have been accustomed to taking his meals with the “woman of influence” and her husband. The unnamed woman recognizes in Elisha a “holy man of God,” someone worthy of even more generosity than the gift of food. She asks her husband if they might set up a furnished room on the roof where Elisha might relax and refresh himself in order that he might be more prepared for the work that God has chosen him to do. Some might find this incredible act of generosity peculiar, or, for the truly suspicious, even coerced. However, what is happening, even at the time of the prophets, shows the cooperation that is necessary for the prophetic to do what God has called them to do. The woman from Shunem goes beyond the bounds of normal hospitality, creating, with her husband’s approval, a true dwelling for the prophetic Word, allowing it to transform her everyday life. For what the woman and her husband have done they are given a blessing beyond their wildest expectations – a child that they never imagined possible.
This brings us back to the subject of rewards, for Jesus tells us at the end of the gospel, that those who are “ready,” those who live out their Christian vocations in the way He taught us, “will surely not lose his reward.” That reward is spelled out for us in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” We know there is no avoiding the cross if we intend to follow Jesus. It is precisely what Jesus was trying to tell His disciples before they left to preach. The cross, for mystics and others, was seen as its own reward, for the misfortunes and the crosses we encounter in life are capable of bringing us ever closer to God. Blessed Celia Merloni, the founder of the Congregation of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart, tells us “that we need God alone, [for] He alone knows the secret for comforting out battered heart, and in Him alone will we always find the true comfort for our ills.” Our rewards might be small in this life, and they might come from the most unexpected of people, but the reward of eternal life with God makes the hardships of serving Christ more than worth it. “Be cheerful then and know that every opportunity to suffer is money with which you can buy a little peace and comfort and special graces for your own soul, in the trials and struggles which will accompany you until death (Blessed Merloni).” Knowing that this is the case, it gives us the courage to say “I’m ready” to God’s call to serve Him, whatever might come.