Jun 28, 2020: 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

1st Reading – 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.”

The second book of Kings deals mainly with the wars between the kingdoms of Judah (southern) and Israel (northern), and the attacks on them from outside. The situation became even more critical when the Assyrians invaded, first in the 9th century BC and more vigorously in the 8th. Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom (Israel), fell in 721 BC, and later Judah also became an Assyrian vassal.

Today’s reading is the second of a set of ten stories in 2 Kings about the prophet Elisha of Israel. By literary form, it is a legend; that is, a traditional story handed down through oral tradition to build up a hero as a model for succeeding generations. What’s unique is that the stories about Elisha are not building up Elisha as a hero, they are building up God as a hero.

One day Elisha came to Shunem,

Shunem is located about 30 miles northeast of Samaria. It was not a major Israelite site, so the identity of the prophet was probably not well known in this area.

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.

Compare this to the reference to Lydia in Acts 16:15.

So she said to her husband, “I know that he is a holy man of God.

The passage does not tell us how she was able to recognize Elisha as a holy man of God, but she will be shown to be correct in her judgment.

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.”

In biblical times, hospitality was considered an important virtue, especially when extended to someone doing God’s work. In that case, the reverence was extended to the office and not necessarily to the person — in other words, the woman’s kindness in making special arrangements for Elisha was in reality a kindness to God.

Her ability to afford to add a room to their home and furnish it shows that, in addition to being a woman of influence, she is also a woman of means. Doing this so that the prophet can stay with them on a regular basis was an incredibly generous act.

Sometime later Elisha arrived and stayed in the room overnight.

The woman welcomes Elisha into her home because she knows he is a holy man of God. We will see that this is a perfect example of what Jesus will teach in today’s gospel reading: When a person welcomes someone else into their life in God’s name, that person is welcoming not only the guest, but God himself. That is why Jesus says, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” God is the guest.

Later Elisha asked, “Can something be done for her?” “Yes!” Gehazi answered.

Gehazi, a name which means “valley of vision,” is Elisha’s servant. Elisha wants to do something to reward the woman’s kindness.

“She has no son, and her husband is getting on in years.”

It was regarded as a failure if no son was produced to inherit the estate.

“Call her,” said Elisha. When she had been called, and stood at the door, Elisha promised, “This time next year you will be fondling a baby son.”

Just as the childless woman’s hospitality went beyond what was expected of her, her reward went beyond her wildest hopes: the gift of a long-desired baby boy.

Although Elisha appears to act independently of God’s direction (after all, he consulted his servant in the matter, and not God), the only way he could have made this promise would be through the power of God.

Our reading ends here, but the verses that immediately follow (2 Kings 4:16b-18) tell us how the story ends: She said, “My lord, you are a man of God; do not deceive your servant.” Yet the woman conceived, and by the same time the following year she had given birth to a son, as Elisha had promised; and the child grew up healthy.

2nd Reading – 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.

This week we continue our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans, which will take us all the way through the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

In this passage, Paul explains how baptism has enabled Christians to participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Similar to Christ’s teaching in today’s gospel, he reminds us that there is self-renunciation involved in becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters: Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

The baptism ritual itself is the reenactment of Jesus’ death and resurrection. As Christians were plunged into the water, they were buried with Christ in death; as they emerged from the water, they rose with him into new life.

“Paul says this so that we might know that once we have been baptized we should no longer sin, since when we are baptized we die with Christ. This is what it means to be baptized into His death. For there all our sins die, so that, renewed by the death we have cast off, we might be seen to rise as those who have been born again to new life, so that just as Christ died to sin and rose again, so through baptism we might also have the hope of resurrection. Therefore, baptism is the death of sin so that a new birth might follow, which, although the body remains, nevertheless renews us in our soul and buries all our old evil deeds.” [The Ambrosiaster (between A.D. 366-384), Commentaries on Thirteen Pauline Epistles Romans 6:3]

We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead

This rite of initiation does not merely identify the Christian with the resurrected Christ who has won victory over sin, but introduces him/her into the very act by which that victory was won.

Just as it was necessary for Christ to pass through death to rise to eternal life, so it is necessary for us to die to self, to die to sin in order to rise with Christ.

by the glory of the Father,

The efficacy of the resurrection is ascribed to the Father, specifically to his glory. As in the Old Testament exodus where miracles were ascribed to Yahweh’s glory, so too is the raising of Christ.

we too might live in newness of life.

Literally, “may walk in newness of life.”

“To walk” is a favorite expression of Paul, borrowed from the Old Testament (2 Kings 20:3; Proverbs 8:20) to designate the conscious ethical conduct of the Christian.

If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.

Paul’s purpose in drawing these lines of comparison between the death and resurrection of Jesus and the baptism and new life of the Christians is ethical exhortation. He seeks to encourage them to set aside their old manner of living and take on a new life of holiness.

We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.

Just as death had no lasting power over Christ, so sin need have no lasting power over the baptized Christians.

As to his death, he died to sin once and for all;

His death was a unique event, never to be repeated.

“Paul is saying that if Christ had died for sinners two or three times, there would be no danger in going back to our old sinful ways. But as He only died once, we who have been buried and risen again with him will not die to sin again. There will be no second baptism, no second death of Christ. Therefore we must be careful to stay alive.” [Diodore of Tarsus (ca. A.D. 373), Pauline Commentary From the Greek Church]

as to his life, he lives for God.

Through death, Christ entered into his glory where time has no dominion. He is continually offering himself to the Father on our behalf (see Revelation 5:6) so that all generations are freed.

Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.

When we were baptized, we joined Christ in death, so we have already died with Christ. Consequently, we must think of ourselves as “dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”

Through baptism, we now have the power of the resurrected Lord to withstand the assaults of sin. This being the case, Christians no longer live for themselves, they live for God in Christ.

Gospel – Matthew 10:37-42

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.”

This week we continue to read Jesus’ instructions to his newly named apostles as they are sent out on mission. These instructions highlight both the demands and the rewards of discipleship. The demands are quite radical; the rewards are remarkable.

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;

Jesus offers three examples of the cost of discipleship, insisting in each case that if the disciples are not willing or able to measure up to these demands they are not worthy to become his disciples.

The first two examples come from the setting of the family. They challenge the ties of kindship that are marked by natural love or affection (philéō), universally the principal bonds of relationship in society. Jesus insists these bonds must take second place to their commitment to him.

This was not unheard of: A similar statement about teachers having claims that supersede those of parents is found in rabbinic writings [M.Bab.Metzia ii:11].

These words from Jesus have been occasionally been misinterpreted to mean that one can shirk family responsibility in the name of discipleship, but Jesus never taught his followers to neglect their families. Jesus is simply teaching that nothing can take precedence over their fidelity to him.

Said another way: Jesus’ words do not create any opposition between the first and fourth commandments; they simply indicate the order of priorities. When one puts Jesus first, others will be loved too, in Jesus’ name.

and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.

This is the first time Matthew uses the word “cross.” Other allusions to the passion are found in this gospel before Matthew predicts it openly.

Our modern everyday use of the cross as a Christian symbol makes it difficult for us to grasp the shock of this statement. Crucifixion was a method of execution of Oriental origin which the Romans adopted and perfected for rebels and slaves. It was so horrific that Roman law prohibited its use on a Roman citizen.

The disciples, however, would have been very familiar with crucifixion. After the Roman general Varus crushed a revolt in Galilee in 4 BC, he had two thousand Jews crucified there, with the crosses placed by the roadsides as a lesson to others. The people also often witnessed the common practice of other condemned men carrying through the streets the crossbeams of the crosses upon which they would die, a practice that would later be applied to Jesus.

The point Jesus is making here is this: Just as the disciples may not choose family over following him, they may not choose self over discipleship.

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Jesus plays with the idea of finding and losing. Here, to “find” one’s life means to live only on one’s own terms and in one’s own self-centered framework. This can give only temporary satisfaction; it cannot guarantee a life of ultimate fulfillment. On the other hand, a life of self-sacrifice, lived unselfishly for the sake of Christ and the gospel, will be rewarded with ultimate life.

Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.

The tenor of the instruction shifts. Jesus sketches some of the benefits disciples will enjoy, but he does so in a way that seems to be instruction for other people, those who are approached by disciples.

Since Jesus was the agent of God sent into the world to accomplish God’s plan, and since the disciples are agents of Jesus sent into the world to continue that mission, those who are open to the disciples are also open to Jesus and to God.

Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is righteous 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 he is a disciple – amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”

It’s easy to picture ourselves as receiving and offering the kind of welcome that Jesus has described. However, he makes it clear that he expects hospitality to be extended to all, not just to those of distinction. Many might well be inclined to welcome a prophet or a righteous person who is greatly respected in the community, but welcoming a poor or disenfranchised person is a challenge.

However, the welcome given need not be elaborate: Jesus promises rewards to any who welcome the least little one simply by giving that person a cup of cold water.

Later in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus will reiterate and strengthen this teaching by saying that anyone who does even the smallest service to the least significant person has shown generosity to our Lord himself (Matthew 25:40).

The disciples must put Jesus first because their mission is identical to the mission that Jesus has received from the Father. In putting Jesus first, the disciples will not love others, including family members, less — in fact, they will love them more.

Connections and Themes

Baptized into Christ’s death.  Who are called to be disciples, to become the new creation, to be prophets in the world? Who are called to be sent, to share the gift they have received from God? Who are the chosen ones, the special people, the kingdom of priests, the holy nation? All who have been baptized, who by the grace of God have been freed from sin.

Baptism is for us both life and death. Through it, we enter into Christ’s death and we die to lives of selfishness and sin. Through it, we rise with Christ to a new life freed from everything that previously held us down. As glorious as this new life might be, it requires death to our old ways of living, and this is always difficult. It is not easy to put the needs of others before our own especially when everything around us encourages us to think first of “Number One.” It is not easy to refrain from acting as if we know more or better than others. It is not easy to show interest in the concerns of others, especially when we judge them to be trivial. It is not easy to forgive slights or oversights, to say nothing about deliberate assaults. These are all patterns of thinking to which we must die if we are to rise to new life, and these are very difficult deaths to undergo.

The cost of discipleship. The cost of discipleship cuts right to the core of our being; it lays bare the very structures of kinship. Baptism recreates us as children of God; through it, we are given a new life and born into a new family. The bonds of discipleship are now even stronger than the bonds of blood. This means a radical divestment has occurred, a divestment that may or may not be tested but which has occurred nonetheless. Lest we think this is too much to ask, we should remember that marriage requires a similar transfer of loyalties from the family of origin to the new family being created, and because of the love they share, a couple is eager to make the transfer. Discipleship is no less demanding. In fact, it requires the primary loyalties now to be directed to the Lord comma and we are to live out all other loyalties in the context of that primary relationship.

Discipleship requires our very lives. As disciples, we can no longer put ourselves first. We must be willing to spend ourselves and to be spent, to serve others in the day-to-day unfolding of life. As disciples, we must demonstrate our commitment and whatever we do regardless of how insignificant the task may seem. We must be honest when we shop; We must be truthful in her speech; We must be considerate when we drive; we must be patient with members of our family. As disciples, we must be open to the needs of all people. Wherever we are and in whatever we do, we must be committed to peace in the world, to economic justice, to the integrity of creation. If disciples are not so committed, who will attend to these matters? We may find such commitment very demanding, but that is part of the cost of discipleship.

The prophet’s reward.  God promises that such wholehearted commitment will be rewarded. If we lose our lives in this way, we will really gain them. If we are unselfish in the way we share ourselves with others, we will be enriched through our generosity. If we spend ourselves and are spent in our service of others, we will be filled with blessings unimaginable. We all know people who are so committed, whose lives radiate goodness, whose hearts are open to all. This is the promised set before us. This is the reward of the prophet.

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