The message that runs through the first Reading, (2 Kgs 4:8-11, 14-16), is that generosity brings blessing. The Reading presented us with the generosity of a Shunamite couple, (though initiated by the woman), who invited Prophet Elisha to break his journey in their house, whenever he was passing their neighbourhood, to have a meal. As time progressed, they built a room for him on the roof of their house which they furnished with bed, table, and lamp. Thus, Elisha was able to have a rest in their home before he continued his journey. This couple was motivated by altruism. They provided services to Elisha because he was a prophet of the Lord, not because of any reward they were anticipating receiving. None-the-less, the Lord appreciated their generosity and blessed their home with a child because they were childless. “’This time next year,’ Elisha said ‘you will hold a son in your arms.’”
We were advised in Hebrews 13:2 not to “neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.’’ We recall that Abraham and Sarah welcomed and fed three strangers who turned out to be angels. For their hospitality, they were blessed with the gift of baby Isaac, whom Sarah conceived, (Gen 18:1-15).
The theme of hospitality to God’s messenger linked the first Reading to the Gospel, (Mt 10:37-42). “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me; and those who welcome me welcome the one who sent me.” And again, “’If anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.’” Here, we acknowledge all the sacrifices our forebearers had made, and you are still making for the spread of the Good News.
We recall all the physical, emotional and spiritual sacrifices, the financial support and all the hours volunteered in the service of the Church as: cleaner, reader, Special Minister of the Eucharist, florist, gardener, money counter, computer technician, piety stall attendee, a member of St Vincent de Paul Conference, Sacristan, altar servers and so on. All these sacrifices that you have made for the Church shall not be in vain. The Lord will reward you abundantly the way he knows best.
Today’s Gospel passage also contains some challenging texts like, “anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me. Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”
The above texts should be understood through the lenses of the two greatest commandments in which the love of God takes precedence over the love of neighbour. Jesus had taught that loving God with all our heart, soul and mind is the first and greatest of the commandments and loving one’s neighbour as oneself is the second commandment, (Mt 22:36-40). The sacrifice Jesus envisaged that we would make as his followers is not an easy one, because our family is important to us. Jesus expects us to love and care for our family indeed. For instance, he criticised the practise of ‘corban’ by the Pharisees in these words, “for Moses said, ‘Honour your father and your mother’, and ‘the one who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man shall say to his father or mother, “Whatever benefit you might receive from me is corban” (that is, set aside as a gift to God), he is not obligated to help his parents'” (Mark 7:11 – 12). Jesus believed that this interpretation of the Law which negated one’s responsibility to one’s family is contrary to the commandment of God and must be abrogated.
The theme of family was central to the two Genesis accounts of creation of human beings. The first account narrated that God created humans in his image, male and female He created them, (Gen 1:26-27). In the second account, Adam was lonely until Eve was created. Thus, the creation accounts underscored the importance of family and community. However, the call of discipleship may at times demand that we make big sacrifices. There are many countries and communities around the world where Christians are persecuted. To be a Christian in those communities is to make a huge sacrifice because one’s life may be in constant danger.
The call of Jesus to discipleship is an invitation for us not to be complacent in the society in which we live. It must be engraved in our consciousness that our Christian calling demands us to live a holy life – to be the best-behaved child, the best husband, wife, dad, mum, uncle, and aunt. It also challenges us to be altruistic and compassionate in our daily living, and to be diligent as we discharge our duties or responsibilities.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp