Lectionary 97; Gospel: Matthew 10: 37-42
We are challenged today to leave behind all in order to new life in Christ: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10:39). While the words of the Gospel sound harsh they actually teach us that we find the fullness of joy with all of our loved ones—father or mother, son or daughter, and with life itself—only by entering into our relationships with these people and respecting these gifts in light of our greater love for God in Christ.
In contrast to this approach, we often tend to be dearest to the ones to whom we are closely related, and to give God the difference that is left over of our time and energy. I think this is sometimes what is at work when folks leave the Church on account of a child not being able to marry in the Church, or a slight to their family, or some other human circumstance. We understandably are loyal to our own, yet at times in showing such loyalty we keep ourselves and “our own” from attaining true fulfillment in terms of life and love.
This does not mean that we ought to demonstrate some sort of quid pro quo attitude toward God, expecting deeper satisfaction if we show reverence and follow “the rules”. Caricatures of Catholicism have long been made out of such cynical “devotion”. In reality this is not how God works; God is generous to us infinitely beyond our ability to understand: we do not earn our blessings, they are freely given.
The story in today’s first reading provides a beautiful illustration of God’s goodness and the way it leads to ever deeper and more genuine devotion. The Shunamite woman shows hospitality to Elisha out of heartfelt zeal and in return is greatly blessed by him later. Though her child dies (in a later part of this passage) he is revived by the prophet Elisha: in God’s own good time he makes redemption come from our tragedies.
When it comes to loving Christ ahead of others then, we are not slighting them but rather placing our love for them in the proper perspective, which enables us to go ever deeper into an authentic stance of love toward them—offering more than if our love for them was un-informed by our knowing Christ. Paul tells us that if “we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him;” he then concludes: “As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:8, 10-11).
What this means is that Christ endured all that which is tinged by death in order to put these things to death once and for all; in consequence the life we live once we come to know Christ is the truest and most hope-filled life one could conceive, since it is entirely “lived for God”.
This possibility of living completely for God in Christ—and therefore enjoying the fullness of grace in all of our relationships and hopes—comes through our union with Christ in death, as Paul also teaches in Romans: “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4). Setting aside the temptation to put God in second place, may we focus on living in newness of life with Christ, and through him enjoy the fullness of life and love with all our sisters and brothers in the Lord.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.