2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16a
One day Elisha came to Shunem, where there was a woman of influence, who urged him to dine with her. Afterward, whenever he passed by, he used to stop there to dine. So she said to her husband, “I know that Elisha is a holy man of God. Since he visits us often, 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.” Sometime later Elisha arrived and stayed in the room overnight. Later Elisha asked, “Can something be done for her?” His servant Gehazi answered, “Yes! She has no son, and her husband is getting on in years.” Elisha said, “Call her.” When the woman had been called and stood at the door, Elisha promised, “This time next year you will be fondling a baby son.”
Romans 6:3-4, 8-11
Brothers and sisters: Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.
Gospel Cycle Cycle A
Jesus said to his apostles: “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; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. 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. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple-amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”
When we hear this reading today from the Second Book of Kings, our hearts need to go forward also to remember that this woman, so hospitable, does receive a son. Later that son dies as a little of some kind of odd disease. Then he is restored to life by the Prophet Elisha. So it does have a nice ending to the story. But most of us know what it is to suffer through a death of someone we love. Not many of us know what it is to suffer the death of an only child for which we have waited such a long time. What anguish this woman has gone through. The focus of the story is always on the power of Elisha the Prophet, but this woman is an incredible model of total trust in God. Her heart and her spirit are tried over and over again and she always trusts in God and in God working through the Prophet Elisha.
The point of today’s readings, of course, is hospitality: how do we receive others, how do we accept others, how do we treat others?
The Gospel speaks about receiving a prophet, about receiving a righteous person and about receiving any disciple. Our memories should bring to mind the passage later in this same Gospel, Matthew 25:32 and following, which tells the parable of the final judgment and the separation of the sheep and the goats. There, the parable is clear: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” This is not even about a disciple but our actions towards anyone else.
It is natural for us to love our families and friends, even when we fight we them. They are still our families and our friends. Okay, perhaps sometimes we do lose a friend or a friend rejects us. That also happens. But generally our friendships tend to go along in a fairly stable manner.
But what about loving the unlovable people in our own society today. As Catholics, of course, we have a really strong example in learning how to love our priests who are pedophiles. No one wants to talk about that, but we are supposed to be Christians. And perhaps even strong for some is learning to love the bishops who did nothing about disciplining such priests. At the level of society, there is the challenge to love all pedophiles, all people who abuse others in any way. These examples can show us right away that most of us keep our love for people who are not going to bother our consciences.
In the Church we still are trying to figure out how to love and treat correctly the divorced and remarried Catholics. That is usually a more public situation and now lots of us have divorced and remarried people in our own families.
What about those who are serial killers? Another example of God asking us to open our hearts. And another example that teaches us that loving someone is not the same as allowing them to do whatever they want. But generally we are still a bloodthirsty people who are quite happy to punish others without any thought of rehabilitation. Our world in general is not very good on rehabilitation. We would rather execute people or simply lock them up. That is something that should challenge us as Christians today but generally it is just accepted.
Just as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta cared for the dying in our time, we can pray for God to raise up those who will show us how to love the many types of unlovable people in our own day. It is the same challenge as if we were to find that one of our sons or daughters or sisters or brothers is a pedophile or a murderer or a blackmailer or a serial killer. Every other person in the world needs to become our daughter or our son or our brother or our sister or our mother or our father.
When we begin to live that way, our lives will change drastically and we will know so profoundly the presence of the living God.