28 June 2020 Homily by Bishop Noel Treanor for 13th Sunday (Ord Time)
I “Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows” (Mt. 10.37)
I’m sure you noticed how the gospel reading opened.
The opening phrase read : “Jesus instructed his disciples”. So we are in teaching and listening mode in this text which is taken from chapter 10 of the gospel. It is a collection of sayings, attributed to Jesus, which the authors of the gospels of Mark, Luke and Matthew drew from the oral traditions about Jesus and from a written source that gathered some sayings of Jesus.
In this part of his gospel, referred to as the missionary discourse, St Matthew incorporated these sayings, with the use of literary techniques, to instruct and catechise. His aim, within the unfolding text of his gospel, is to confront the listener and reader with the mystery of faith in Christ. His purpose is to unveil the expansive personal adventure involved in following Christ.
So these sayings, replete with Semitic or Middle Eastern nuances, contrasts and paradoxes, serve a catechetical purpose. In short, St Matthew wants to drive home an insight into the meaning and the significance of faith in Christ.
What might that insight be, one might ask! For those opening lines are extreme, if not somewhat menacing, statements: “Anyone who prefers father of mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me”. (Mt10. 37-38). And there follows that well known paradoxical saying : “anyone who finds his life will lose it ; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it”.
II Baptised “to walk in newness of life” (Rom 6.4)
Keys to unravelling these sayings are offered by the Old Testament reading from the Elisha cycle in the second book of the Kings and the extract from St Paul’s letter to the Romans which we have heard in this liturgy of the Word.
In the light of that saying in the gospel text about finding and losing life, notice St Paul’s assertion : “when we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, so also we should walk in newness of life” . Through baptism, St Paul reminds us, we Christians “are alive for God in Christ Jesus”.
This means : we are alive for God in Christ Jesus in the here and now. We forget so easily and so often that this means that we are alive for God even in the most turbulent, self-doubting, self-questioning, God-questioning, isolated times and episodes in our personal, family and societal lives and existences.
Baptism, Christian initiation, links us primarily to the person and the saving mystery of the life, suffering and death of the Risen Christ.
In all phases, conditions and seasons of our lives, through our baptism we are grafted into the dynamic of the outlook, the faith and hope of Jesus of Nazareth as glimpsed on the pages of the New Testament. As we seek to model – indeed sometimes struggle to model – our attitudes, outlook and value system on Christ, we begin to understand the dynamics of these sayings in St Matthew’s gospel about welcoming a prophet, about offering cup of cold water and welcoming a disciple. The import of these sayings is : openness to God and the things of God. These sayings express a recognition that all of life has its fulfilment in God and that the fulfilment of life is to be seen, achieved and ordered in the light of what Jesus has revealed to us of the ways of God.
You will have noticed that this theme of giving a place to God and the ways of God is played out in the lines from the Elisha cycle in the first reading. The couple got to know and offered hospitality to Elisha as he travelled the road past their home. The lady of the house discerns that he is “a holy man of God”. She and her husband decide to create a small room on the roof of their house to accommodate him as he travels the road for his work. The story ends with a promise of new life, the birth of a son, a total surprise. The lady was attuned to God and godliness in the commerce of day to day events and activities. Because her mind and heart were open to, curious about, the ultimate dimension of life and existence, she is depicted as gaining a new, surprising, extraordinary and totally unexpected dimension to her life.
III. “alive for God in Christ Jesus, our Lord (Ro 6.11)
So, reading St Matthew’s versions of these sayings of Jesus in the light of these two readings, we may like to think over a few considerations which arise :
Just as the lady of house and her husband made a place for the “man of God” on their roof, the first saying in St Matthew’s text invites us to see, perceive and value all of the ordinary relations of life in the perspective of God and the things of God. The familial, the everyday efforts, preoccupations, trial and activities of life are part of God’s creation and creative process. They will reach their fulfilment in eternal life with God.
We keep in mind the saying about carrying one’s cross : this includes carrying the cross of tragedy, being conflicted, being puzzled and concerned about how best to implement gospel values, the law of divine love in the maelstrom of life. This is the cross carried by so many as they keep the doors of heart, home and house open God as we struggle to embrace the disturbing, the unexpected and to endure, forebear and forgive.
In line with the text from St Paul’s letter to the Romans, let’s refresh our appreciation of the significance and meaning of our baptisms. Baptism grafts us into the life of Christ. Baptism opens our lives and existence unto a horizon of potential personal and spiritual growth, as evoked by St Paul’s words describing us as being “alive for God in Christ Jesus”. This means that in all of life, on the roadway of our lives, with its successes, anomalies, moments of self-alienation, times of profound self-questioning, its trials and errors, we are and remain always “alive for God” – an insight worth a few minutes thought!
In the end, with an open heart and the slightest opening to the divine, to that ultimate dimension of life, we shall be surprised, like the lady of the house on the road to Shunem, by the boundless goodness of God which surpasses human understanding.