O God, Who through the grace of adoption chose us to be children of light, grant, we pray, that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth... Collect for the 13th Sunday
A Prophet's Reward by Msgr. Richard Henning
First reading: Second Kings 4:8-11, 14-16a Responsorial: Psalm 89:2-3, 16-17, 19-19 Second reading: Romans 6:3-4, 8-11 Gospel passage: Matthew 10:37-42
Life can be unpredictable and precarious. It would be wonderful if we could assure believers that they would never face want or difficulty or loss. But such is not the human condition or the character of discipleship. Nonetheless, it is possible to promise this: that when God is present there will be the renewal and growth of life.
The woman of Shunem is a fascinating character. She is certainly strong willed as she takes the initiative in supporting the ministry of the Prophet Elisha. This is the first mention of her in a cycle of three encounters with the prophet and his work. The woman grasps the importance of the Prophet and his work and she participates in it by using the resources available to her to provide him with hospitality, refreshment, and respite. In doing so she leads her husband and acts even before the Prophet asks for assistance. Rather than rebuke her forwardness, the Prophet thinks to reward her initiative and her desire to support his work. The reward he offers her is beyond price - it is a gift of new life - a child in circumstances that seemed grim. This motif of God's power to bring life where all seemed lost is not unique to this passage. Although the full cycle will see her lose that same son in later years. She will then confront the Prophet with the plea to restore the life of her son - and be granted that second gift of impossible new life. In that double gift, this woman's story stands out as unique.
It is easy to see the echoes of this woman's firm leadership and effective hospitality in the life of any Christian community. Those who serve God and preach His Word rely upon the goodness and generosity of others. The mission, when authentic, is always a shared mission - less concerned on the gifts or status of any one and entirely focused on the mission shared by all.
There is a link between the portrait of the hospitable woman and the passage from Matthew. In that passage, Jesus draws His missionary discourse to a close. The last past of the discourse praises those who help to make the mission possible by their openness, hospitality, and generous spirits. The reference to the "little ones" provides a double picture of care for the missionaries (this term is a term of self reference for the Matthean community) and care for the vulnerable and the poor.
Even as the passage offers the promise of blessing upon those who play their part in proclaiming the Gospel, it goes further in its demands than the passage from Kings. We hear in this case of a demand that exceeds even the commitment of family loyalty. And we hear of a reward that looks more like a steep price. It is shocking to hear Jesus speak here in His Galilean ministry of taking up the cross. Given that the disciples will fail to grasp its meaning in Jesus' Own passion, it is difficult to imagine anything other than scandal at the image here. They knew the reality of the cross in a visceral way - one difficult for us to imagine. SO what kind of reward is this?
It is the same reward spoken of in Romans. To be united to Christ is to know His death as well as the power of the resurrection. In these few words, Paul sums us great mysteries of the Christian life. If we would live in Christ, we must put to death all that is not Christ within us. We must surrender our willfulness and turn away from our sins. We must be willing to offer ourselves in love and trust to the Father with the Lord. Even our fears, suffering, and mortality become gifts that we offer to the Lord and in them we participate in His saving self offering.
Notice that these readings are accompanied by a Psalm of royal lament - a lament of a king who has known defeat. The same king proclaims his trust and fidelity in the Lord. He knows even in defeat that the Lord is a God of life and goodness.
And so we return to where we began - with the truth that God will always bring life where the despairing can only see defeat and death. That life takes forms that may be unexpected - even shocking - but we count on the Lord. The Prophet's reward is ever and always new life. Sometimes that new life pours over us in this mortal coil. And sometimes we await it in the kingdom. But in every case our hope is that "we too might live in newness of life!"