Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A
by Fr. Claude Perera, OMI
Hospitality Given to Elisha Rewarded
Hymn of Infinite Praise of the Soul That Experienced God’s Benevolence
At Baptism We Died and Rose with Christ.
The Cost and Rewards of Discipleship
Today’s Gospel is the continuation of last Sunday’s gospel and the conclusion of the instructions and consolations Jesus offered his disciples which we have been listening during the past few weeks. In this passage, Jesus speaks of the cost and rewards of discipleship. Once again, let us be reminded of the life situation of the Matthean community. It was a Christian community facing persecutions. The reality before them was extremely challenging. The harshness of language must be understood against this background. The choices they were called to make were radical and fundamental in the face of the gruesome realities they were experiencing. In the face of the situation of persecution, the Matthean community was called to make a fundamental option, namely, to choose between Christ and the Roman Empire.
This option was the origin of a real and felt division that existed between those who chose Christ and those who did not. That division divided even the family. In the same family, there were those who chose Christ and those who did not. One had to love Christ more than one’s parents. One had to love Christ more than one’s children. Those who opted for Christ, became bearers of Christ or Christophers (in Greek Christos + pherein = ‘bear’) or another Christs (Alter Christus). Others saw Christ in such people.
According to the OT, one had to love one’s neighbour because s/he was they were made in God’s image and likeness (Gn 1:27). The NT says the same thing in different terms, namely, that our neighbour is a representative of Christ. As St. Paul expressed in today’s second reading, we were baptized into Christ and we died and rose with Him in Baptism. We bear His image within us. Thus, when we love our neighbour, we love Christ. That is what Jesus means when he said in today’s gospel that anyone who gives a cup of cold water to any of these little ones in the name of a disciple, which means in His name, s/he will be rewarded. We heard of a similar instance in the first reading of today, where Prophet Elisha became the beneficiary of the hospitality of a childless couple. Their generosity was rewarded with the birth of a child.
Founded on this teaching of Christ, the Church in her history has undertaken many corporal works of mercy like schools, universities, training centres, hospitals, houses for the sick and aged, orphanages, foyers, asylums, working for migrants, development projects, justice and peace work, and many more. A non-Christian may say that the Church has been doing a lot of social work. No. We are not doing social work. This is our Christian ministry. All these are ways to proclaim and bear witness to Christ’s love for the humanity and the creation. Our point of departure is a very spiritual one, and not mere philanthropy. Our philanthropy is founded on God’s philanthropy. These humanitarian commitments of Church are not in view of rewards from human beings. They were done for Christ in His name. Our rewards are not in worldly material terms, but a spiritual one. We are building God’s Reign on earth. What rewards do the missionaries who have left their families and motherlands, and lived in harsh life conditions in mission lands? The cost of their discipleship was far too high. Their lives hardly had any material rewards. They lived shamefully poor lives with minimum comforts. Some even died as martyrs. So, what was their reward? Their reward was nothing material, but the planting the seeds of the faith in those local churches. The upcoming churches in the developing regions of the world, with many booming vocations to priesthood and religious life are a blatant example of the rewards of their labour. They will have their reward because their names are written in heaven.
The world around us is looking for and working for material rewards. Eating drinking, pleasure, leisure, and travel are our delights which we constantly seek. They have become idols. It is not that they are unnecessary. They are legitimate. But then, they are not the first value in life. The first value in life is Christ. He is number one, and then other things follow. Other things have their hierarchical worth. All of them do not have the same importance. For a wise wo/man who has opted for Christ, everything else falls in their hierarchical perspective. A wise wo/man balances her/his life. S/he know her/his priorities. For Jesus has said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Mt 6:33)