The costs (and rewards) of Christian discipleship

Elisha Declining Naaman's Presents" by Abraham van Dijck (1635-1680) (Wikimedia Commons)

Today’s readings highlight the benefits of having faith in God. The readings also reveal the risks and requirements that come with discipleship.

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Elisha came to Shunem, where there was a woman of influence, who urged him to dine with her. (2 Kgs 4:8)

Liturgical day
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Readings
2 Kgs 4:8-16; Ps 89; Rom 6:3-11; Mt 10:37-42
Prayer

In what ways can you show hospitality in your community? 

What actions show your love of God and others? 

How do you actively live out your faith?

In the first reading, a “woman of influence” shows hospitality to the prophet Elisha. She recognizes him as a man of God, offers him food and even provides him a furnished room for when he visits. In verses that the Lectionary omits, Elisha, moved by her generosity, offers to intercede to obtain political and military support for her, but she declines, stating that she lives among people who are familiar with her. Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, reports that this woman has an aging husband and no son, which could suggest that she has been unable to conceive. Elisha promises that she will embrace a son, and as the narrative continues beyond today’s reading, she gives birth to this miraculous child. The child grows up but then dies suddenly. The woman seeks help from the prophet, who ultimately revives her son.

There is much to learn from this narrative. Notably, it teaches us about hospitality, tenacity and gratitude. The woman was kind to Elisha, seeking nothing from him. In return, Elisha shows gratitude and enables her to conceive. Yet she experiences the loss of her child, and she persistently implores Elisha to restore her son to her. The Gospel reading echoes these themes of hospitality and prophetic power.

As on the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, today’s Gospel is an excerpt from the missionary discourse (Mt 10:1-11:1) in which Jesus forecasts the experiences of his followers as they spread the good news. Jesus proclaims, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward” (Mt 10:40-41). This message anticipates that some people will in fact reject the apostles and the message of the Gospel. Jesus highlights the value of accepting the good news. Open reception of Jesus’ followers will enable people to receive Christ, and through him the Father in heaven. Moreover, Jesus connects prophetic actions, like his miraculous deeds that recall those of Elisha and Elijah, with receiving rewards.

In addition to these benefits, Jesus expounds on the demands and difficult decisions his followers will face. Jesus requires them to love him more than their own parents and children. Likewise, they must “take up their cross,” which involves acts of self-sacrifice. Jesus even alludes to martyrdom by affirming that people who lose their lives on account of their belief in him will have eternal life, an idea that also appears in the second reading from Romans.

The rewards for accepting the Gospel are awesome, but the demands are hefty. Jesus wants his followers to recognize fully the implications of their decision to believe. Belief is not passive or easy. It is an active engagement with God and community. Devoting oneself to God will result in a life of sacrifice for the sake of others. Jesus previews the work of true discipleship and invites his followers to imitate him, while recognizing the benefits and challenges they might encounter.

 

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