2 KGS 4: 8-11, 14-16; ROM 6: 3-4, 8-11; MT. 10: 37-42
Anecdote: Catholic Worker Houses of Hospitality. The eighth of November marks the 111th anniversary of the birth of Dorothy Day (November 8, 1897 – November 29, 1980), the uncanonized saint of the homeless, the American journalist turned social activist and devout member of the Catholic Church. She was also an outspoken advocate for the poor. For most of her life she agitated for better treatment of the disadvantaged. The Catholic Worker Movement, which she started in May 1933, was a further extension of her interest in the poor. With the help of her friend Peter Maurin she revived the idea of hospitality once fostered by monasteries. All were welcome: the poor, the downtrodden and losers. She also started the first House of Hospitality where she could care for the poor. Dorothy and Peter suggested that every Catholic parish should have such a place of hospitably. Today there are nearly 175 of these Catholic Worker Houses of Hospitality. “Those who cannot see the face of Christ in the poor,” she used to say, “are atheists indeed.” "If I have achieved anything in my life," she once remarked, "it is because I have not been embarrassed to talk about God." In today’s gospel Jesus instructs Christians about how they should be hospitable and generous.
Introduction: The common theme of today’s readings is the work God gives us to do as the followers of Jesus: work of hospitality, generosity, commitment and charity.
Scripture lessons: In our first reading, we see a radical illustration. It tells how the prophet Elisha was welcomed by a childless woman who lived in Shunem. She recognized the holiness of Elisha. She showed him reverence and hospitality by inviting him to dine with her and her husband and by allowing the prophet to occupy an upper room of her house. Elisha promised her, "This time next year you will be fondling a baby son." The promise was fulfilled by God.
The second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans explains why those who care for the followers of Jesus are caring for Jesus himself, and those who show hospitality to any one of them are eligible for reward. By our baptism, we have been baptized into his death and buried with him and we look forward to resurrection with him (Rom 6: 5). Since baptism is our entrée into this new life, it makes us part of the body of Christ and Christ is truly present in us. That is why the one who welcomes us welcomes Christ and becomes eligible for reward.
Today's gospel lesson concludes Jesus' great “missionary discourse” in which he instructs his twelve disciples on the cost and the reward of the commitment required of a disciple. The first half of these sayings of Jesus is about the behavior expected from his disciples and the second half is about the behavior of others towards the disciples. Even the shameful death on the cross is not too high a price to pay if one is to be a true disciple because the reward is great. Jesus assures his disciples that whoever shows them hospitality will be blessed. Those who receive Jesus receive the One who sent him. So, too, those who help the "little ones" (messengers) will be amply rewarded.
Exegesis: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…." These words may sound a bit extreme, since family comes first to most of us. 1) What Jesus means is that all loyalties must give place to loyalty to God. The wants of any person or any group of people (e.g. a family) cannot be met by trampling on or denying the rights and needs of others. If members of your family act unjustly, you must, in conscience, separate yourself from them. In other words, you cannot condone immoral practices even by members of your family.
2) These words of Jesus can have another meaning. All those who become followers of Jesus belong to a new family. It is a family where every single person, including relatives, friends and even strangers are truly my brothers and sisters. We become part of a larger family to whom we also have responsibilities. Jesus means that there will be times when we will have to give more love and compassion to the hungry, the sick, those in prison, the social outcasts, the unemployed or the unemployable, the handicapped, the lonely than to members of our own family. In other words, Jesus is not speaking against the family, but rather reminding us that we are part of a larger family of our fellow Christians.
Be ready to take up your cross and lose your life for Christ: In ancient Palestine, the cross had a terrible meaning. It was a vicious way of executing people, and it was reserved only for those who were not Roman citizens. Only the worst criminals were crucified. The people there who heard Jesus' call for taking up ones cross in order to follow him must have been horrified. Yet that is what Christ wants from his disciples. The main paradox of the Christian life is that we lose in order to find it and we die in order to rise again. ("Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."). We live in a world where "finding their lives" is the paramount ambition of the majority of people. But Jesus tells us very clearly that this should not be our main concern. What he asks of us is that we should “lose this life" which means that we must stop living for ourselves alone. We must forget our own security and work toward the security of others. We must forget to take our own health a bit less seriously in order to care for those who are sick and hungry. We must stop polluting the environment so that the rest of the world will have clean air to breathe. All these things fall into place when we lose ourselves in caring for others.
Hospitality to strangers in Jesus’ name. (“offering a cup of cold water..”): For the people there, receiving a person's representative or messenger was the same as receiving the person himself. Hence receiving a man of God who teaches God’s truth was considered equivalent to receiving God himself. The four main links in the chain of salvation are i) God who sent Jesus with His message, ii) Jesus who preached the ‘good news’, iii) the human messenger who preaches Jesus’ message through words and life, and iv) the believer who welcomes the message and the messengers. Giving hospitality to a preacher or a believer is the same as welcoming Jesus Himself. This is why welcoming others is given such high priority in the New Testament and is a tradition which still lives on in many parts of the Church today. The basis of all hospitality is that we all belong to God’s family, and that every person is our brother or sister. In the game of life, while we would prefer to be the quarterback -- the hero -- Jesus' heart leans toward the water-boy or water-girl. Hence providing a cup of water is a valid vocation.
Materialism and consumerism dominate our lives and turn our homes into isolated fortresses with iron gates, intruder alarms and surveillance cameras. Society believes in competition, power, influence and success. Jesus’ argument is that when we work hard to ensure that everyone has enough, there will be enough for us too. Hence the question we should ask is: Am I living my life at the expense of others? Am I trying to live in solidarity with others? Am I aware of people in my area who are in real need? In the words of Mother Teresa, "The gospel is written on your fingers." Holding up her fingers, one at a time, she accented each word: "You-Did-It-To-Me." Mother Teresa then added: "At the end of your life, your five fingers will either excuse you or accuse you of doing it unto the least of these.”
The reward promised to preachers and helpers: “Today’s Gospel lesson implies that there might be differing rewards for prophets, righteous persons, and little ones -- and differing rewards for those who receive prophets, righteous persons, and little ones. The good news is that the modesty of our circumstances does not limit our potential rewards. We don't have to be a prophet to receive a prophet's reward--we have only to receive a prophet. We don't have to be a great saint to receive a great saint's reward--we have only to show hospitality to such a saint. The smallest gift to the littlest disciple brings a certain reward. Just as God knows and cares about every hair of our heads, so also He knows about our generous acts in behalf of the faithful. Such gifts are counted as gifts to Jesus -- and gifts to Jesus are counted as gifts to the Father. Another bit of good news is that, as we are engaged in the Lord's work, those who help us are also promised a reward. That is true whether we are clergy or lay people, preachers or janitors. We may not be comfortable being on the receiving end rather than the giving end, but the Lord has ordained that our receiving becomes a means of blessing to the giver.
Life message: Be hospitable and generous: Hospitality means encountering the presence of God in others, usually in those whom we least expect. The virtue of hospitality is the virtue of recognizing the presence of God in others and nourishing this presence. We as a community are to look for the opportunities to be hospitable--and, of course, there are plenty of occasions for hospitality. Maybe it is simply a kind word to a stranger - or even a smile. When we live in such a busy and hectic world, we tend to brush off people who need help. A kind smile or a “hello" to someone waiting with us in a grocery line may be the only kindness that person encounters all day.
We become fully alive as Christians through the generous giving of ourselves. What is more important than sending checks for charitable causes is giving of ourselves to people: in the way we speak to them and about them, in the way we forgive their failings, in the way we encourage them, console them and help them, and even in the way we think about them. These types of generosity reflect warmth radiating from the very love of God. (prepared by Fr. Anthony Kadavil).