June 27, 1999 -- 13th Sunday "A"
2 Kgs 4,8-11.14-16a; Rom 6,3-4.8-11; Mt 10,37-42
H O M I L Y
(pronounced at Holy Spirit Abbey, Conyers, Georgia, USA)
Jesus had a place in Bethany, near Jerusalem, where he knew he could stop at any time with his disciples for a meal or a moment of rest. It was the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Likewise the prophet Elisha had his own room in the house of an influential woman in Shunem. In both cases as in so many cases in the Bible, we see that hospitality is linked with the gift of life: either the announcement of a new life or the restoration life to someone who was dead.
A few Sundays ago, on the Feast of the Trinity, we read the beautiful story from the Book of Genesis, where Abraham received three mysterious visitors, and as a reward for that generous hospitality of the desert, he and his wife gave birth to a son in their old age. Likewise the prophet Elijah, after receiving hospitality from the widow of Zarephath, brought her dead son back to life (1 Kgs 17, 7-24). In today's first reading, the woman of Shunem who received the prophet Elisha (disciple of Elijah) received, like Sarah, the gift of fecundity and gave birth to a son. In the Gospel, Mary and Martha obtained the resurrection of their brother Lazarus from their guest, Jesus.
At the last Supper, Jesus told his disciple something both very simple and very deep, the meaning of which cannot be totally perceived without replacing it in the larger context that I have just mentioned. It was the phrase where Jesus said: "If you love me, you will observe my commandment; my Father will love you; we will come and we will make our dwelling with you." In that short sentence, there is first the statement that God wants to make his dwelling in us, in each one of us. This is a tremendous mystery on which we could meditate with love for ever. But there is also the affirmation of the condition that must be fulfilled for that to happen. The condition is : "If you love me you will observe my commandment..." Of course, the commandment in question is the commandment of love mentioned by Jesus just before: "Love one another as I have loved you". Those last few words : "as I have loved you" indicate what is new, really new, in Jesus message. His message is that love must go beyond the traditional bonds of solidarity of a family, a tribe, a nation, a religion. It must embrace everyone, without any exception, but most especially, the weak, the poor, the abandoned.
There was a very keen sense of solidarity in the Jewish people. Love and care for all the members of the extended family and all the kinsmen were sacred precepts. The Old Testament abounded in precepts like: "You must not slander your own people... You must not bear hatred for your brother... You must not exact vengeance... against your people. You must love your neighbor as yourself... (Lv. 19:16-18). But brotherhood towards some always involved enmity towards others.
The shocking message of Jesus was that he wanted to include everyone in that solidarity of love, even one's enemies; and he did not hesitate to spell out the almost inconceivable consequences: "Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly" (Lk 6:27-28). "If you love those who love you, what thanks can you expect? Even sinners love those who love them". (Lk 6:32). Group solidarity is natural (it can be very strong among thieves, for example!). Jesus is appealing for an experience of solidarity with the whole of humankind. This is more than what we call Christian brotherhood, that is, the reciprocal or mutual love of those who share the wonderful experience of being disciples of Christ. Jesus asks for more: he asks for a loving solidarity that includes everyone, and rejects absolutely no one.
On the day of the Judgment, the Lord will say: "I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was naked, I was in jail... What you did to the most little one of mine, you did it to me." That's exactly the same message that we find in today's Gospel, when Jesus says to his disciples, those whom he constantly calls "the little ones": "He who welcomes you welcomes me, and he who welcomes me welcomes him who sent me... And I promise you that whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of these lowly ones because he is a disciple will not want for his reward."
And, finally, the first verse of today's Gospel about renouncing father and mother or son and daughter to follow Christ -- which seems to be quite out of context here -- is really not out of context. What Jesus is saying is that in order to be his disciples, to love as he has loved, one must break some barriers; one must transcend the limits of the natural family, the clan, the nation, one must transcend the solidarity that anyone experiences as natural, in order to grow into a solidarity that embraces all those who are embraced by Jesus' love.
That message is as important today as it was in Jesus' time. It is amazing how often, after two thousand years of Christianity, even in countries that call themselves Christian, our love and solidarity with other human beings is restricted by our loyalties and prejudices of race, nationality, language, culture, class, ancestry, family, generation, political party and religious denomination. Our love is too often exclusive. Jesus wants it to be totally inclusive.