The Gospel today continues last week’s theme of the cost of discipleship, with the added motif of hospitality to the prophet (first reading). Following Jesus is a commitment to companionship and mission that can surpass the most precious things in life, relations with loved ones, and can bring about suffering and even loss of life. In rewriting an earlier saying, in which Jesus says the disciple must hate parents and relatives (Lk. 14:26-27), Matthew writes that the one who loves family more than me cannot be a true disciple. Family love is not abandoned but enhanced. Matthew also alters the harshness of the tradition by adding the sayings on hospitality, promising that everyone who gives one of the little ones even a glass of water will be rewarded.
Today, when the average life span is twice what it was in Jesus’ time, the love of Jesus, which transcends even natural affection, can paradoxically be expressed in care for those disciples of Jesus, parents and friends, who are aged and infirm, now the little ones who have received Jesus. Such love can be a daily taking of the cross and losing one’s life in care for those very people who literally gave life and lived in service of their children.
These demands of Jesus would seem harsh and unrealistic were it not for the insight Paul offers. Two weeks ago Paul proclaimed that God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8), and today he unfolds the implications of this giftthe Christian is one who through baptism has already lost his or her life by dying with Christ, but now can walk in the newness of life. The daily cost of discipleship and the ultimate surrender of ourselves to God are not simply ethical demands, but an expression of gratitude for gifts received.