Scripture Readings: Second Book of Kings 4:8-11, 14-16; Romans 6:3-4, 8-11; Gospel According to Saint Matthew 10:37-42
Hospitality—the art of receiving others well—is a strong focus of today’s Scripture Readings. In the first reading for Mass this Sunday, we hear about the prophet Elisha, a disciple and successor of the prophet Elijah, both of whom were active some seven hundred years before the birth of Christ. We hear of a wealthy woman giving hospitality to Elisha in today’s reading, setting up a little guest room on the roof of her home, a sort of single-dwelling hermitage, for the prophet to use whenever he is in the area. In speaking to her husband, the woman calls Elisha a “holy man of God,” recognizing his goodness and worthiness of their benefaction.
From the roof of the guestroom at Shunem, the prophet Elisha could contemplate the plain of Esdraelon and the mountain range of Carmel. The view was ideal for meditation and prayer. Touched by the hospitality of the woman, she is promised a son in the future. By this, Elisha was expressing the belief that the all-powerful God, sustainer of all life, might hear the prayer of the prophet. An important message of the prophets Elijah and Elisha was the turning from pagan worship in order to adore the one true God, which the woman of Shunem and her husband had done.
An application of the above to the Christian context, is that Jesus, the Son of God, gives new life to those who believe in him, who turn away from false idols, and are baptized in Christ, thus allowed to be born anew to divine life and share in the resurrection of the Lord. Being submerged in the baptismal water, which was the more ancient form of being baptized, the believers share in the burial, thus the death, of Christ. Emerging from the baptismal waters, the new member of Christ’s Body partakes of the very resurrection of Christ, meaning a share in immortal life with the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection means expressing in one’s daily life the conviction that Christ died once for all, and so all believers are “growing in Christ,” by lives on fire for the love of God and neighbor. This love, of course, extends to offering hospitality to others, in its various and sundry forms. It takes place at home, at work, in school, at the market place, the highways and byways, and even at the gas station! We are never exempt as Christians from the duty of acting in love toward all those we meet in the course of each day.
The words of the Gospel this Sunday are intended to edify and strengthen the disciple of Jesus. Jesus’ words to his disciples focus on an essential disposition for anyone who follows the Lord. This disposition will enable the disciple to witness to Christ in daily life without fear, which is possible by God’s power, what we call grace, to dissolve all anxiety and distress.
The follower of Jesus has to be convinced that nothing can stand in the way of belonging to and being dedicated to God. In no way does that mean despising loved ones, or despising anyone for that matter. All believers are to possess the conviction that loving God is our first call, and loving others flows from that primary love of the Creator of all.
Jesus states that following the Master means taking up one’s cross daily, which will entail the readiness to accept difficulties, opposition and suffering. It boils down to surrendering to the call of the Lord in one’s life, which we as Catholic believe is best achieved through membership in the Church through Baptism and participation in the Sacramental life of the Church. By so doing, the disciple will find his or her life “in Christ,” a phrase often used by Saint Paul in his writings.
The final section of today’s Gospel passage zeroes in on the notion of “welcoming,” meaning hospitality as we understand it for sure, but much more besides. What Jesus is emphasizing is the conscious acceptance of others as “people of God,” and honoring them as such. Giving a cup of water is the primordial gesture of allowing another into our orbit, so to speak, and expressing adherence to the law of love of God and neighbor.
Every disciple of Jesus has to live, act and speak in such a manner that he or she is recognizable as a person who has been sent by God. This implies striving to be holy, not to be admired as such, but in order to truly serve rather than be served, in imitation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Just as the woman of Shunem in the first reading at Mass this Sunday recognized the prophet Elisha “to be a holy man of God,” so we should also seek to be recognized as people who bear a message beyond ourselves and of the utmost importance for the peace and happiness of all people.
A blessed and holy week ahead!
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB