“the stranger who stands before us comes not simply as an emissary and representative of Christ but of the Father who sent Christ into the world”
– Fr. Dumlesi N. Tor
(2Kgs 4, 8-11. 14-16; Rom 6, 3-4.8-11; Matt 10, 37-42)
If a common thread is to be found between today’s First Reading (2Kgs 4: 8-11, 14-16) and the Gospel (Matt 10: 37-42), it probably lies in the idea of ‘welcoming’. The reward promised to the Shunamite woman who welcomed and gave hospitality to the prophet Elisha foreshadows the promise contained in the Gospel for those who ‘welcome a prophet because he is a prophet’.
Shunem was about twenty miles north-west of Abel-Meholah, Elisha’s home-town, and twenty-five miles or so beyond Shunem was Mount Carmel (2Kgs 4: 25). The average traveler on foot could cover fifteen to twenty miles per day, so Shunem was the perfect halfway point for Elisha whenever he goes to Mount Carmel to pray, meditate, and seek the face of God. The unnamed woman noticed that Elisha often passed that way on his ministry trips. She also discerned that he was a man of God, and she wanted to serve the Lord by serving His prophet. She sought the permission of her husband who permitted her to have a permanent “room” built on the roof of the house and to outfit it with a lamp, a table and chair, and a bed.
The generosity of this Shunem couple towards Elisha with no thought of reward brought them the blessing and joy of their life.
There is much to be learned from this reading. They were sensitive to the plight and immediate need of the man of God. Little did they know that this was the beginning of their blessing. Hence, through this act of generosity, hospitality, and sensitivity, everything turned around for their good. Their desire for the ages was fulfilled. On the other hand, Elisha was equally concerned and sensitive to the needs of this Shunem couple. So, rather than overburden them with more requests or exploit their generosity, he prayed for them and blessed them through his prophetic ministry. Thus, his presence was indeed a blessing to this house, rather than a burden.
It is here, perhaps, that the second part of the Gospel text, with its sense of ‘welcome’, comes into play. One of the truly striking features of Matthew’s Gospel is the sense of ‘Emmanuel – God with us’. It comes to a climax, of course, in the parable of the Great Judgment (Matt 25:31-46) where, over and over again, we hear the refrain, ‘As often as your did it (or failed to do it) to the least of my brothers, you did it (or failed to do it) to me’. Exactly the same identification appears in the central statement in the present text: ‘Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me; and he who welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me’.
The theological dimensions of this statement are profound: the stranger who stands before us comes not simply as an emissary and representative of Christ but of the Father who sent Christ into the world. In dealing with this person we are dealing with God. We may expect, then, that Christ will come to our doors in many disguises and always at the wrong time! He may not even be wearing clerical garb! Rather, we may find him hidden in the stranger, the outcast of society, the neighbour, the child needing attention, the sick person. Hence, we must be ready to welcome all who come our way.
Furthermore, welcoming goes with charity. Thus, Jesus said: “He, who gives a cup of cold water to these little ones because he is a disciple, will have his reward.” The “cup of cold water” is proverbially quoted as a somewhat dubious sign of Christian charity. Perhaps this is because it does not cost much in rain-drenched climates! In a hot, dusty climate, however, a cup of cold water can be a life-saver. The attitude of thoughtfulness, the lack of self-absorption; these will seem to underline the Christian attitude towards others. It is not what is given that counts but the heart with which it is given.
This theme of welcome and hospitality in the second part of the Gospel does perhaps, in a complementary way, point out where the challenge contained in the opening words applies for followers of Christ. First, there is a challenging instruction of Jesus, warning that ‘anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me’. The challenge doubtless reflects the situation of believers for whom the threat of persecution was very real. In cases where some members of a family were Christian and some were not, the stark choice between ‘preferring’ mother or father to allegiance to Christ faced such believers daily.
Have you ever thought of what it means to be a Christian? Like in the first century becoming a Christian, was so to say, the least, a life and death decision. The individual who freely makes this decision consciously accepts a frontal and head-on collision with death. He/she accepts to turns his/her back on all that gives meaning to life. The call to discipleship has its beginning in a personal call to follow Christ and makes a claim upon the faithful obedience of those called to carry on the work of evangelization in the face of direct endangerments.
The challenge of the gospel today lies in the answer to these questions: Are we still conscious of the fact that entry into the Christian community implies making an existential roundabout turn decision? Do we still realize that becoming a Christian implies more than merely professing some known and defined doctrines of the faith? We, who live in societies that are either majority Christian or tolerantly post-Christian, do not face the challenge of the Gospel so starkly. The problem for us is to hear the challenge – or at least to hear it and not simply dismiss it as extremist and impossible of application in the world in which we live.
Dear friends, on this thirteenth Sunday, the Church exhorts us to welcome Christ in others. This is especially, through the messengers of God among us. She equally encourages us to be sensitive to the needs of one another in order to make a positive difference in their lives. It is important to ask ourselves these important questions. Do we still value the presence of others? Are we sensitive to their needs? Is our presence a source of blessing to the people we meet or that meet us? Does it really make any difference, or is it an added burden to their life? What good do I bring to the life of others?
Peace be with you!
Wish you a grace-filled week
Fr Dumlesi N. Tor