September 21, 2017, 8:18 pm
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Not outdone in generosity

JESUS said to his apostles: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

“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, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And 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.”

***

In the barrio where I grew up and in a time far removed from today, the parish priest always donned white cassocks as he walked on the streets. He seemed to know everyone by name. As we were growing up, most kids of my age ran up to him to kiss his hands as we received his fatherly blessings. We saw how our elders welcomed him to our homes, spoke kindly of him, and cared for him like a member of the family.

Elisha in today’s First Reading is a man of God who walked on the streets of Shunem, a thriving community built on the side of a beautiful mountain. In that locality lived a woman of influence together with her husband, both old and childless. They welcomed Elisha to their home every time the prophet dropped by, until the couple decided to provide him a room of his own with a bed, a table, a chair and a lamp. To return the big favor extended to him, Elisha prayed to God and made a pledge to the woman, “This time next year you will be fondling a baby son.”

God cannot be outdone in generosity, especially if the help being offered is for the propagation of God’s ministry. Jesus demands radical discipleship from his apostles, expecting them to consider our closest relations–parents and children–second only to God’s work. He guarantees that those who collaborate in God’s mission by supporting the apostles even in the simplest way (like a glass of water) will be rewarded accordingly by God himself.

The challenge that Jesus presented to the apostles did not only surprise them but must have thrown them off guard. For one, every Jew considered parental devotion a supreme and sacred duty. It is even enshrined in the Ten Commandments! Now Jesus is telling his apostles that such devotion should become secondary and that their primary duty should now be taking up one’s cross and follow Jesus. 

At the time that Jesus presented this challenge to his apostles, he had not yet ascended Calvary. The persecution on the Cross did not yet happen but the apostles had witnessed crucifixions previously so they already knew that the Cross was the symbol of capital punishment, an instrument of shame and death. Any right-thinking person will be led to ask why in heaven’s name should he carry something as contemptible and despicable as the cross.

Jesus’ teaching about carrying one’s cross and following him would make more sense to the apostles after the death and resurrection of their Master. Eventually they realized how their Rabbi is not only their Master but is truly their Lord! By his resurrection, the risen Lord takes away the sting of death and removes the opprobrium attached to the Cross. The Lord Jesus transforms the Cross into an instrument of redemption and salvation.

When the Roman authorities turned ruthless and persecuted the Christians in horrible proportions, Jesus’ words made the Christians stand apart with an emboldened faith. They saw the saving power of Jesus’ resurrection in every Cross they had to carry, and salvation in every Christian whose life is snuffed out by the enemies of the Cross and the Resurrection.

The early Christians bravely walked through the doors of death and received the glory of new life in heaven. In our time we too are called to carry our Cross and follow Jesus. Nobody–and nothing–should keep us apart from our Master and Lord who invites us to walk on our streets and be God’s instruments in bringing his redemption and salvation to people we meet today.

***

– Fr. Paul J. Marquez, SSP
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