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Friday, 30 June 2017

13th Sunday Year A 2017

Thirteenth Sunday, Year A
          (2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16; Romans 6: 3-4, 8-11; Matthew 10: 37-42)

Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?

Those words of St. Paul, which you heard in the second reading, might have seemed strange to some of you, but, in fact, they are a simple statement of the essential nature of Christian baptism.  Paul is not saying that baptism symbolises the death of Jesus, but rather, that the one who believes in Jesus is, on receiving  baptism, washed by waters initially made holy by Christ’s own baptism, but most  importantly of all, bathed in the water that flowed, for His Church, from His pierced side on the Cross; and that having thus been washed Christ clean by the Spirit of Holiness in anticipation of the Spirit of Life to be given by the Risen Lord, the disciple becomes a new creation, no longer earthly and sinful but cleansed, refreshed,  and renewed, one destined for good works on earth and eternal life in heaven as a child of God, as St. Paul concluded (6:11):

Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin, and living for God in Christ Jesus.

In the new spiritual world brought about by the death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Spirit hovers over the waters, just as He did in God’s first creation, but now He is ready and prepared to bring forth life of transcendent promise and beauty in Jesus for the Father. As you think on that, People of God, surely you can glimpse how wrong, hypocritical, and sinful, it is for some (far too many) parents to want their child to be baptised, but have no intention themselves of sincerely bringing up that child to be a practising Catholic, a true child of God. 
This proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour offering us a radically new life -- dead to sin and alive to God the Father through the gift of His Spirit -- was to be preached by the Apostles to all mankind.   This was indeed a daunting task for such ordinary men as Peter, James, and John, fishermen from Galilee, and all the others who, apart from Paul, were mainly quite ordinary citizens of one of the smallest provinces in the mighty, world-wide, empire of Rome.  Jesus, therefore, Who never asks the impossible, had to give them power for the accomplishment of their mission, and in this empowering of His disciples we can see how different Jesus was from the Messiah of Jewish expectations.  He did not send out His apostles with an army behind them as the Roman Emperor would do on sending a general to subdue an enemy; no, Jesus gave them a power based on consent and persuasion, as you heard in the Gospel reading:
Whoever receives you receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives the One Who sent Me.
That might sound to be very little rather than much help to worldly ears, but in that case careful attention should be given to what Jesus went on to say:
Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward.
Now, in the first reading we were given the example of a woman from a little place called Shunem who received a prophet, in the manner recommended by Jesus, and who also -- as a consequence -- received a prophet’s reward:
One day that Elisha went to Shunem, where there was a woman of influence, who urged him to dine with her.  Afterwards, whenever he passed by, he would stop there to eat some food.   And she said to her husband, "I know that Elisha is a holy man of God; since he visits us often, let us arrange a little room on the roof and furnish it for him with a bed, table, chair, and lamp; so that whenever he comes to us, he can stay there."   Sometime later Elisha arrived, and stayed in the room overnight.
That woman recognized and received a prophet, ‘a holy man of God’ as she described him, and she was given a child, such as she and her husband had sought for in vain over many long years until that moment when Elisha’s promise in the name of God proved to be true.  Such a wonderful reward for their humble willingness to appreciate and honour the prophet of God apparently hidden in the figure of an unprepossessing man!
Think now: that was a prophet’s reward; what reward, therefore, will those receive who recognize not a prophet but Christ Himself in His messenger?  What reward will those receive who recognize, treasure, and revere Christ in His Church?  Not the slightest response to Christ present in even the most insignificant of His disciples will go unrewarded, Our Lord Himself tells us:
Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple, amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.

But what of those who, today, hear but do not welcome those commissioned by Mother Church in the name of Jesus for the proclamation of Jesus’ gospel of Good News, those who today do indeed hear that Good News but have other priorities, aspirations and hopes, ruling their minds to the exclusion of Jesus’ Gospel, or closing their hearts to His Person?

Jesus spoke very openly in our Gospel reading today about such people, and His words still cause outrage to contemporary hearers but non-listeners.

            Whoever prefers father or mother to Me is not worthy of Me.
            Whoever prefers son or daughter to Me is not worthy of Me.
Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.

Jesus does not indulge Himself in cant, nor does He repeat popular clich├ęs; He knows that generally people love themselves excessively; indeed, it is a basic fact of human selfishness despite widespread hypocrisy then and now, and Jesus shows this by the rising scale of preferences He depicts: love for parents, for one’s own children, for one’s own person, one’s own life and life-style.
There is another meaningful sequence in Jesus’ words also, this time one that is   descending: welcome an apostle, welcome a prophet or holy man, or even give a glass of water to a fellow Christian for love of shared faith, and you will not be forgotten or overlooked.   There we are comfortingly reminded that God … the God who notices even one sparrow falling … notices also the little kindnesses that His children show to others for love of Him.  Not all truly holy persons are easily recognized, few of us will ever come across a prophet, and even fewer  encounter an apostle of Christ in their experience of ordinary living, but all can and do -- at one time or another -- come across a fellow disciple of Christ in some sort of need, and all can offer a cup of cold water (something very welcome in a hot dry climate) to assist them in that need.

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

People of God, how little we listen to Jesus!  We hear continually today of people who are in difficulties as a result of their life-style or life-experience: they have marital problems such as divorce, abortion(s), co-habiting; they have daughters, who ‘find themselves (!) pregnant’, sons addicted to drugs; they find the society in which they have to live so dreadful: so many and so heavy are the pressures weighing upon them that they are too great even to bear, let alone to deal with.   On the other hand, and in response, we hear so much of popular self-promoters, usually moralists or pseudo-theologians, who probably no longer believe themselves, but who do specialise in ‘shoe-horn’ fitting-in-procedures that would change this or that in our traditional Faith -- so long-loved by saints known and unknown, so long-suffered-and-died-for by martyrs again both known and unknown -- in order to make things easier for those they are championing or whom they are using as weapons against the Faith they themselves no longer embrace.

People of God, such matters as those I have just mentioned are matters calling perhaps for social reform, but most certainly not for religious change!

Jesus is here so clear, so simple, for even the simplest to understand, so long as they are sincere in wanting truth that is both holy and life-giving:

            Whoever prefers father or mother to Me is not worthy of Me.
            Whoever prefers son or daughter to Me is not worthy of Me.
Whoever does not take up his (personal to him) cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.

We, dear People of God, are Catholic Christians by vocation, called to live by faith in Jesus and in the power of His Spirit; earthly circumstances cannot determine, and must not be allowed to weaken, our Christian courage, peace, unshakeable hope, and enduring gratitude.  Even slavery itself was not allowed to be such a determining circumstance by Mother Church when she was so very, very near, and so very, very close to Jesus.

Let us, once again listen to Our Lord Who speaks incontrovertible truth with a divine compassion that no human ‘explanations’ or ‘shoe-horn adjustments’ can be allowed to adulterate:

The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed, the Father seeks such people to worship Him.   God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth.”   (John 4:23–24)