13TH SUNDAY YEAR A 2023 ESSENDON
THE CHALLENGES OF DISCIPLESHIP AS THE MISSION DISCOURSE CONCLUDES
Mt 10.37-42 2K 4.8-11,13-16 Rom 6.3-4,8-11
At first impression, Jesus’ words sound extreme and harsh, in terms of family conflict, implying it will be inevitable, when it comes to issues of faith and discipleship. And yet, it’s obvious elsewhere that Jesus does not encourage conflict and division, but rather mutual understanding, respect, reconciliation and peace. Nevertheless, it could be argued Matthew is remembering Jesus warning that the path of the faithful believer is not an easy one without obstacles, even starting at home.
The Jerome Biblical Commentary suggests that the reference to family division could well be a challenge to too much inward-looking and being tied to one’s family at the cost of all else, describing the extreme example of ‘amoral familism’, whereby extreme family loyalty can lead to an unwillingness to engage with or care for others outside one’s own family. The early Christian communities presumably welcomed families as a group, which is one explanation for the origins of infant baptism, although some Christian traditions developed different practices, as with the Baptists, where a personal commitment is required before Baptism.
Then there’s Matthew’s use of the word ‘prefer’ or ‘loves more’, whereas Luke’s language is even more direct, using the word ‘hate’, which is seen as Semitic language to emphasize a point, but not to be taken literally. What’s more, doesn’t Jesus elsewhere tell us to even love our enemies?! We can just presume the emphasis is on being a faithful disciple first and foremost, even at the cost of family fallouts, which we know can happen at times, particularly when partners from outside, with different backgrounds or beliefs, come into our scene, and we need to adapt and broaden our scope and understanding.
We well know that Jesus encourages the peacemakers, calling for forgiveness and conflict resolution in an a co-operative and amicable way, so today’s Gospel can seem contradictory, or at least confusing and somewhat troubling, until put into context. Enduring hostility is just not part of the deal at all.
The change of tone, from last week’s images of hairs on our heads being counted, to human superiority to sparrows, reflecting God’s love and care for each individual, is stark, but then again, Jesus is reminding his hearers that the road ahead is tough, and that crosses are going to come our way throughout life, so let’s be prepared to face up to them.
Then there is the move to the simple example of offering a cup of water to a person in need, as reflective of responding to Jesus’ teaching of what is done to others, is done to him, that is, to see his presence in each other. And so we see the law of love in action in very ordinary ways.
Scripture scholar Raymond Brown concludes here: “Matthew’s ending of the sermon… extends to those whom Jesus sends out: Receiving them is receiving him, and receiving him is receiving the God who sent him. Thus the mission of the disciples involves extending God’s salvation to all.” Says Brendan Byrne SJ: “The theological dimensions of this statement are profound: the stranger who stands before us comes not simply as an emissary and representative of Christ, but of the Father who sent Christ into the world. In dealing with this person, we are dealing with our God.”
And the JBC comments here: “It has been observed that if God will reward one who gives a cup of cold water, how much more will he reward one who installs an entire city water system?” We need to remember back then that the source of water was the town well, which makes the example even stronger, not taking water ‘on tap’ for granted, as we do, without even thinking!
Thus, the call for hospitality and inclusion is clear, when Jesus speaks of welcoming others and responding to their needs, physical, emotional and spiritual. This was one of Paul’s issues with the Corinthian community where class consciousness seemed to linger on.
I like Claude Mostowik’s take on today’s Gospel too: “Taking up one’s cross has been used to encourage the oppressed to endure passively and patiently and prioritized oppressors over survivors. It could prove convenient for people in power who want to preserve the status quo… This is contrary to Jesus’ call to creative and non-violent forms of disruption, protest and resistance, where those being dehumanised could reclaim and affirm themselves. Jesus was not promoting passive endurance, but standing up against injustice despite the cost; to protest even if threatened by the status quo. The cross is not a symbol of passivity but of the consequences of resistance.” And he quotes (Sister) Joan Chittister OSB on the hospitality issue, as do I: “Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step towards dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn a prejudiced world around, one heart at a time.”
So let us be people of hospitality, generosity and welcome, as we respond in faith to the Gospel here and now.
john hannon 9th July 2023