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 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."(P) The word of the Lord.
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.(P) The word of the Lord.
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."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Once, while a monk was speaking in a gathering of believers, a young man asked him, "Master, how should I best use my days so that God will be contented with my actions?" "There is only one possible option. Live with love", replied the monk. Minutes later, another man asked the monk the same question. "How should I best use my days so that God will be contented with my actions?" "There is only one possible option. Live with joy", said the monk. The first man was taken aback, and told the monk, "But... Master, the advice you gave me was different." "Not at all", said the monk. "It is exactly the same."
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your souls and with all your strength and with all your mind" and "Love your neighbour as yourself", Luke (10:27), Mark (12:30), Matthew (22:37). "Whoever loves father or mother, or son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me", Matthew (10:37). "Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother", Matthew (12:50), Mark (3:35), Luke (8:31). These sayings of Jesus contain slightly different wording but the message is essentially the same.
Today's gospel is a part of Jesus' mission discourse to his apostles as he sent them out on their own to preach the Good News, Matthew (10:37-42). He called the twelve men and gave them the authority and power to preach and work miracles, as well as gave them travel instructions, warnings about the persecution, and words of encouragement. You may remember last week we heard Jesus encouraging the apostles to openly proclaim the gospel without fear of anyone who might be able to hurt their bodies but not their souls; rather fear the one, referring to God, who has the power to inflict destruction upon both their bodies and souls. At the same time, he reassured them that they are more valuable in the eyes of God than other creatures on earth, particularly referring to sparrows which were so common and inexpensive at the time of Jesus.
In today's gospel, we read Jesus placing heavy demands upon the apostles. First, he demanded total and unconditional loyalty from the apostles. He said to them, "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", Matthew (10:37). These words are very important, because Jesus who had taught them to love even their enemies warned them that if they loved their mothers or fathers, or children more than him they would not be worthy of him.
In fact, Luke uses much harsher language. He writes Jesus saying "If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even their own life, such a person cannot be my disciple", Luke (14:26). The apostles' love for him had to take priority even over their love for their parents and children. They had to choose to between love of Christ and love of family. The suffering and martyrdom of the apostles testify to the sincerity of their faith in Jesus, and their love for God more than for their family.
Secondly, Jesus demanded self-denial and self-renunciation. He told them, "Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me", Matthew (10:38). Many people interpret "cross" as a kind of burden which they must carry in their lives. Pointing out a strained relationship or a physical illness, or a disable person in the family, they might say, "That's my cross I have to carry." But, this is not what Jesus meant when He said, "Take up your cross and follow me." When Jesus carried his cross to Calvary to be crucified, no one was thinking of the cross as symbolic of a burden to carry. At Jesus' time, the cross meant only one thing - death by the most painful, cruel, and most humiliating way. Today we, Christians, acknowledge the cross as a symbol of atonement, forgiveness, grace and love. But in Jesus' day, the cross represented nothing but tortuous death.
Take up one's cross meant carrying one's own execution device while facing ridicule and humiliation along the way to death. So, by "taking up the cross and following Jesus" meant the apostles were to willingly, consistently and wholeheartedly accept humiliation, mistreatment, persecution, suffering, and hardships with serenity, without excuse or complaint, and joyfully follow Jesus. If they did not love Jesus more than they loved their family, and take up their cross and follow him, Jesus said "they were not worthy of him?" What does "not worthy of him" mean? "Not worthy of him", means as Luke expounds, "Not worthy to be called Jesus' disciples". If the apostles had more love for their family than they had for Jesus, and if they were unwilling to accept suffering and hardships, they were not qualified to be the followers of Jesus. They were not worthy of God's favour, or the reward Jesus intended his disciples.
Thirdly, Jesus demanded their life. He said, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it", Matthew (10:39). What does, "He who finds his life will lose it", mean? In worldly understanding, finding one's life means that a person seeks one's own pleasure and passions during earthly life. If a person finds out what pleases self, he then goes after it. Slowly, over time, such persons become more selfish and greedy. They begin to heap and hoard things for themselves. Let us remember the story of a man who approached Jesus and asked what he must to do inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to observe the commandments. When the man replied that he was in fact observing all the commandments from his youth Jesus admonished him to go and sell whatever he has and give to the poor, and then take up the cross, and follow him. But the man was very sad to hear these words, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions, Mark (10:17-22).
When Jesus urged the young man to give away all his possessions, the rich young man walked away. What stood between Jesus and the man was not wealth but an unhealthy obsession for money and material goods. For some of us desire for prominence, power, position and recognition, pride are barriers to our total love for God. Often, temporal goods and human felicity may pass or end quickly and leave us so empty. So, Jesus said that anyone who chooses to find such a life, will lose it. Instead He said, "whoever loses his life for My sake will find it".
Well, what does this mean, "losing one's life"? "Losing one's life", means that a person has to die. Well, that is always a possibility, but not necessarily. What this means is basically the same as taking up one's cross, and follow Jesus. It means that the person no longer lives for himself but for Christ and His teachings. Jesus becomes preeminent in his life. So, Jesus says whoever loses his life for Christ's sake will find another life. That's to say, when person allows Christ to direct his life and as a result reap the eternal life promised by Christ. The reward in losing life is finding life in Christ. If a person never finds Christ or if he rejects Christ, he loses life. Instead, if he denies his self and follows Christ, he might find life.
Finally, Jesus gave words of comfort, reassurance and hope to the apostles. He said to them, "Whoever receives you receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. Whoever receives a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever receives 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", Matthew (10:40-42).
Jesus, perhaps echoing an old proverb, "The messenger is the same as the sender of the message", said to his apostles that those who welcome and serve a God's messenger, do all that to Christ Himself, and if they received Christ they also received the God who sent him. And then Jesus named four types of people who act as his messengers - prophets, righteous persons, little ones and disciples. Prophets are the people who speak on God's behalf. Righteous persons are those who are just and honest, true, and do what is right. Little ones are those who are vulnerable, and those who completely surrender their lives to God. They could be the poor, orphans, widows and preachers. Finally, Jesus named disciples as his messengers, and said if anyone received them just they received a prophet, or righteous person they will be duly rewarded for it.
What is the message for us?
But remember, if we are receptive to others' needs, particularly of God's servants, then God will provide all that we need and more than we want or can imagine, as He has promised.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!