Monday, July 3, 2017

A Prophet's Reward

                                    13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s first reading from the Book of Kings is about Elisha, the greatest of the Hebrew prophets. Elisha is often regarded as a precursor of Christ mainly because of his miraculous healings. In our reading today we have only half the story about the prophet’s encounter with the woman of Shunem. We are told that in response to the woman’s hospitality. Elisha promises that the childless woman will bear a son.  

In the passages that follow we see that the woman finds it hard to believe but, sure enough, she does conceive and bear a son a year later. But in a few years her boy is struck down with a severe headache while working in the fields with his father. He is brought home, put to bed and appears to be dying. The grief stricken mother then summons Elisha from a nearby town. When Elisha finally arrives, he restores the young boy to life in much the same way that Jesus would do for the son of the widow of Nain centuries later. For her generous hospitality, the Woman of Shunem had indeed received a prophet’s reward.

This first reading leads into today’s gospel where Jesus speaks about receiving a prophet’s reward. Before we go any further, we have to deal with the seemingly harsh words he says in this passage from Matthew.

Whoever loves father and 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.

We must understand that at the beginning of this chapter Jesus has named and called the Apostles. The rest of the chapter deals with his instructions for those who would follow him on his mission. Like anyone else asking others to embark on a significant and even perilous mission, Jesus asks his followers to understand what they are getting into before taking on the responsibility.

He is telling them that they will meet opposition not only from strangers and enemies but also from their own loved ones. He is also saying that once they embark on the journey, they will not be able to look back. To follow him and take up his cross will involve a total commitment.

We all understand the importance of commitment in life. Coaches preach it to their athletes. They tell them that they must be willing to sacrifice and give up things in order to reach their goal. Usually, the most successful athletes are those who are most committed to their goals. They won’t let anything stand in their way even if their friends and loved ones do not give full support, or urge them to take it easy. To be successful in sports or anything else requires commitment. In a way, only when we sacrifice ourselves for some greater goal do we really find out what we’re made of or who we really are.

We don’t have to be athletes to understand the nature of commitment. Ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things in their everyday lives even though they might not realize it. Last month we celebrated Father’s Day and what takes more commitment and self-sacrifice than being a father, except maybe being a mother.

The saints are models of commitment. I just heard a story about a man on a crowded airplane waiting to take off. As usual, the cabin was noisy before take-off but all of a sudden the cabin turned quiet. He wondered why and looked up to see two nuns wearing blue and white saris walking down the aisle toward his seat. It was Mother Teresa and a companion and they sat down next to him.

They immediately took out their rosaries and began to recite the decades in a low voice. Although Catholic the man was an admittedly lukewarm one, but he couldn’t help following along as they recited the prayers. When they finished, Mother Teresa asked him if he prayed the rosary daily. He said that he didn’t, and so she handed him her own beads and said, “You will now.” His life was change by this brief encounter with a prophet who had given up all to take up her cross and follow Jesus.

Another saint who gave up all for Jesus was St. Paul. His greatest regret was that his own people rejected him. They beat him, imprisoned him, and even turned him over to pagans to be martyred. In today’s passage from the letter to the Christian community in Rome he tells them that they should be aware that since they have been baptized into death with Christ, they will also experience a new life with him. In that new life, they will love father and mother, son and daughter more than they could ever have imagined.


Reading 1. 2 Kings 4: 8-11, 14-16a
Reading II. Romans 6: 3-4, 8-11
Gospel. Matthew 10:37-42 (a prophet’s reward).

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