by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the Idente Missionaries
New York, June 28, 2020. | XIII Sunday in Ordinary Time.
2Kings 4: 8-11.14-16a; Letter to the Romans 6: 3-4.8-11; Saint Matthew 10: 37-42.
Jesus speaks to his disciples of that time and us, of radical and surprising demands if we interpret them literally.
No rabbi has ever claimed so much to those who followed him. Perhaps for this, one day, the Jews have asked Jesus: Who do you claim to be? (Jn 8:53).
Jesus could not and would not contradict the best of the Law, and the wise commandments demanded to honor father and mother, the elderly, and to educate and care for children.
The message of today’s Gospel is not that love for Christ and love for family, or other loved ones are mutually exclusive. Instead, Jesus is trying to tell us that all our affections must be directed and modulated by our love for Him. This is true even for the love of enemies. Why should I love my enemy? It is not out of mere compassion, or to earn merit for how difficult it can be. The essential reason is that our Father makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust (Mt 5: 45).
We have to thank Jesus because he gives us the reason for the love of the enemy. But today he is suggesting to us that all our love, including the love for the people closest and dearest to us, requires a profound effort to make it the love of a true Christian, of one of his disciples. In particular, we have to live detached from the persons we love; they can in no way be instruments at the service of our affections or our plans.
At times, Providence also leads us to depart from the people we love most to serve other children of God. One day, even Jesus abandoned the security provided by the home of Nazareth. Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Mt 8:20). He also left the family: Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? Then he pointed to his disciples and said, ‘Look! Here are my mother and my brothers’ (Mt 12:48-50).
This makes an essential difference between the love of the world and the love of the Gospel. If we do not live that detached love, free from the instinct for happiness, which urgently demands to see results, changes, fruits of our efforts, we will quickly abandon people; even our love will change into hate.
But the disciple of Jesus knows that his humble contribution will serve to confirm the work of the Holy Spirit. This explains why Jesus speaks to us of the value of a simple glass of water that is given to the pilgrim, to the one who goes in search of God, or to the apostle, or the prophet. One day, the person we love with the love of the Gospel will find his or her true life, not without that small light, perhaps unnoticed or forgotten by many, but which serves as a simple candle to illuminate the steps in the night and to reach the house of the Father.
Therefore, he who sows for the kingdom of heaven lives joyfully: he knows that he is not alone, despite what others think, despite the persecutions, despite the many forms of separation or indifference.
In these days we have remembered in the liturgy of the Mass the example of Elisha, of whom it is said: Nothing was too hard for him. Even when he was dead, his body worked a miracle. In life and in death, he performed amazing miracles. But despite all this, the people did not abandon their sinful ways until they were taken from their land as prisoners and scattered all over the world. (Sir 48: 13-15).
We indeed need to be continually confirmed in our mission. The Holy Spirit does this in many ways, not just with some visible “success”. Above all, it shows us the active forgiveness of our heavenly Father, because every day he confidently invites us to a mission, to take care of souls in a new way. At other times, God gives us signs that for others are irrelevant or just coincidences. But for the person to whom the Holy Spirit is addressed, they have the power to change his or her life:
A young man who had been raised as an atheist was training to be an Olympic diver. The only religious influence in his life came from his outspoken Christian friend. The young diver never really paid much attention to his friend’s sermons, but he heard them often.
One night the diver went to the indoor pool at the college he attended. The lights were all off, but as the pool had big skylights and the moon was bright, there was plenty of light to practice by. The young man climbed up to the highest diving board. He turned his back to the pool on the edge of the board and extended his arms out. He saw his shadow on the wall—the shadow of his body in the shape of a cross. Instead of diving, he knelt and asked God to come into his life. As the young man stood, a maintenance man walked in and turned the lights on. The pool had been drained for repairs.
Jesus is talking today about the little ones. The little ones are those who have gone out on a mission. Some think the little ones are just little children or the poor and helpless. But in today’s context, the little ones are the disciples. They are called little because they are insignificant in the world’s eyes. Those who somehow respond to you when you proclaim the Gospel will be blessed. And you will have the incredible blessing of knowing that God is using you. Leading someone to faith in Christ is one of the greatest joys we can experience.
We must be prepared, because God calls us to a mission in an unexpected way, at any time. Sometimes we are almost unaware of how he uses us as instruments of salvation; some other times, He does so in a way that is visible to all, serving as a testimony of how a creature reflects in his smallness the immense love of the Father.
On January 13, 1982, Arland Williams was a passenger aboard a domestic flight, set to leave Washington, D.C., for Florida. Williams always had a fear of water and was even nervous about his college’s swimming requirement.
When the flight took off, Washington, D.C., had been experiencing unusual winter weather. Almost seven inches of snow had already fallen under a temperature of 24°F. Though the flight was cleared for takeoff, it failed to gain altitude and dropped into the freezing Potomac River. Only six of the plane’s 79 occupants remained alive in the icy water. The rescuers, who finally arrived on site, were unable to assist survivors because they didn’t have the proper equipment to reach them in the wide river. Moreover, below-freezing water and large icy chunks made swimming out to them impractical. All efforts proved futile.
That’s when Williams, still floating in the frozen river, did the only thing he could to help the other five survivors escape to safety. As a helicopter arrived to rescue them, Williams insisted the others reach safety first. Life vests were dropped, then a flotation ball; Williams let others use those first. Two more times, he gave the hovering helicopter’s line to others instead of using it himself. As the helicopter shuttled the other five to shore, the tail section of the wrecked plane sank further down, dragging Williams with it.
In the First Reading, the generous attitude of this sensitive and anonymous woman from Shunem, allows us to understand that the fruits of our actions are unexpected. In her old age, she thought Elisha’s promise, this time next year you will be fondling a baby son, was a joke. But the prophet’s announcement was unfailingly fulfilled.
We welcome Christ today as the woman of Shunem welcomed the prophet Elisha. But the Christ we welcome is the Christ who gave his life for others, and our celebrations would be a mockery if we were not prepared to welcome him in one another, even in the most complicated and difficult brethren, without getting tired of showing him/her our affection, our forgiveness and our desire to walk together.
We could say that hospitality is the first step towards charity. To be ready to listen to a person, to plan how to spend time with a person, to welcome someone when I am very busy, to help somebody when I really have few means to do so, etc. If you invite people to dinner to impress them with your home, fulfill a social obligation, or create a sense of social commitment in them so that they will then invite you to their homes, you may achieve those goals. But there will be no spiritual benefit because there has been no spiritual intention. But if you invite to dinner people who are afflicted, the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind…they will not be able to return the invitation. Therefore, because your intention was spiritual, your reward will also be spiritual. Your repayment will come from Spirit and will contribute to a deeper consciousness, a greater awareness of the kingdom of heaven.
Of course, hospitality is not just offering a meal or a room but rather sharing my intimacy and welcoming the intimacy of the other with sincere affection and compassion. Because God always wants to tell me something through the presence of a human being. Sometimes we say in gratitude to a person: You have been an angel to me. But at other times we do not suspect that a human being has indeed been sent into our life as a messenger angel: his presence, his pleasant or harsh attitude, will speak to me of God’s will for me right now.
Jesus sets forth another request for following Him, even more dramatic: the willingness not only to lose it all but also to give up our lives.
The image of the cross refers to the inevitable consequences which goes to meet those who want to live according to the dictates of the Gospel: like the Master, he will meet the cross.
We do not choose our cross. It is given to us in our own limitations, whether moral, material, physical or spiritual. Also through the envy, violence and hatred of this world. The cross represents our constant and generous self-sacrifice. But today Jesus tells us that the cross is truly an instrument to follow him, as it was for him to achieve our redemption.