2 July 2017
2 Kings 4:8-11. 14-16
Psalm 88:2-3. 16-19
Matthew 10: 37-42
Some months after his ordination in 1963 an SMA priest was about to leave for his first missionary appointment in Africa. His mother said to him then, ‘this is the day I was always dreading, when you would leave home for your missionary work with the fear that I might never see you again.’ He too also felt it very hard to say goodbye to his parents and family. It was as if part of him died the day he left for the first time. He returned from Africa many times over the following years, seeing his parents and family. But each time he left home he said it was more difficult since his parents were getting older and he never knew if he would see them again.
That story reminded me of the gospel today when Jesus says to his disciples, ‘Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me’. It is the concluding part of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples who are to be sent on mission. Although their master gives the disciples a body of teachings, first and foremost they receive a mission for their lives. This is why this mission must take precedence over all other relationships, which are given their proper place and not denied. The missionary must be prepared for rejection, suffering, even death. This is not a kind of masochistic or self-inflicted suffering but it helps the person to commit himself to God more fully. The result is that he will enjoy a great peace and joy
We might think then that the gospel today applies only to missionaries and not to the rest of us. This is to interpret the gospel in too narrow a way. It is for all of us. We are commanded to give God the first place in our lives. We are told not to prefer any other person or thing to him. This, in fact, is the first commandment. So if I am married then my commitment is to my wife and family but not in such a way that God fades from my life. My relationship with God is not just one among others. It has to be given first place. Besides Jesus is not only talking about relationships. He is saying that any thing or obsession may get in the way. Spending a lot of time on video games or working with a computer might take up so such of my time that I have no time for prayer or to go to Mass. Equally money, status, drink, drugs or workaholism could remove God from the centre of our lives or indeed altogether.
The reason why Jesus is warning us not to put any of these in the first spot in our lives in place of God is for our own good. He knows and we know if we reflect on our past experiences that none of these gives lasting happiness. We may have a lot of pleasure or wellbeing for a short while but it just doesn’t last. So in his great love for us he is warning us against giving them more value than is good for us.
Jesus also says that ‘anyone who finds his life will lose it and anyone who loses his life for his sake will find it’. What does he mean? He is saying that there is no place for a policy of safety first in the Christian life. The person who first of all seeks ease, comfort, security and the fulfilment of personal ambition may well get all these things – but he will not be a happy person for he was sent into the world to serve God and his fellow men and women. This is the one who sets out to find his life but in the end loses it. The opposite is that we fulfill God’s purpose for us by spending ourselves selflessly for others, be it our families, friends and especially in real service for the poor and those deprived. This is the way to true happiness and friendship with God both now and in the life to come. This person loses his life but in reality has found it.
The last part of his discourse today is about welcome. Someone has said that welcome and hospitality were the very basis of the ministry of Jesus. He was constantly welcoming people, whether they were Jews or Gentiles, virtuous or sinners. Little wonder people flocked to him because they knew they were fully welcome. Hospitality constitutes a major theme in both the first reading and the gospel. Jesus identifies what is done to others as done to himself even in those people in whom it is difficult to see any identification with him. If we want a simple concrete proof of whether we love God or not then the way we love and welcome others is the direct proof. And if our prayer does not lead to this then our prayer is surely suspect. The basis of all hospitality is that we all belong to one family and that every person is a brother or sister in a very real (and not just a ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ sense). It can, in the words of the Gospel, be something as simple as offering a cup of cold water. Unfortunately, in our affluent urban societies, the protection of our material goods now usually takes priority over welcoming the stranger. The open door has been replaced by iron bars, alarms and surveillance cameras. It is again a sign of the serious distortion of our values and a breakdown in human relationships. But at least the Eucharist surely ought to be the place where at least everyone might feel welcome especially newcomers to the area. The ‘kiss of peace’ is a symbol of our desire to welcome whomever we might meet after the celebration.
“Lord Jesus, help us not to prefer any other person or thing to you. Help us to lose our lives in order to find them and give us the great gift of hospitality and welcome. Amen”.
Fr.Jim Kirstein, SMA [RIP]