This morning’s Gospel reading is Matthew 10:37–42:
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.”
I’ve been gone the last three weekends on vacation, which is why this series took an almost month-long hiatus. Initially, we planned a relaxing and multi-stage trip, but a death in the family shifted things around quite a bit, and we ended up with a much different itinerary. We spent a lot of time staying with family and enjoying their hospitality, and discussing family history and anecdotes.
Hospitality is certainly one theme in today’s readings, especially in the first reading from 2 Kings. Elisha travels repeatedly to Shunem, and a “a woman of influence” takes special care to keep inviting the prophet to dine with her family when he passes through the town. Eventually, the Shunammite woman opens her home to Elisha, setting aside a room that gives him the comfort of feeling as though he lives there, complete with furnishings. The scriptures describe no motive for this other than the woman’s recognition of Elisha as a prophet of God and the desire to welcome him into her home.
In fact, we get a clear indication that the woman has no other motive than just that simple desire to welcome and support the prophet. Elisha tries to elicit what he can do for the woman, but she demurs, never asking Elisha for anything in exchange. Instead, the prophet ends up asking his servant what needs she has. When Elisha finds that the woman has no son and that her husband is growing perhaps too old for a family, he tells her out of the blue that the Lord would bless her with a son within a year. Many years later, Elisha will return to restore the son’s life after the woman finds him struck down by some sort of injury in a field.
Did Elisha do all this just because of the woman’s hospitality? Jesus speaks to this in today’s Gospel reading: “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.” This becomes even more significant when one remembers how most prophets were received in Israel, which is to say … not terribly well. The prophets usually delivered rebukes to the people and to the leaders of Israel and Judah, in uncompromising terms, and they did not enjoy much popularity in their own lifetimes as a result. The last of the prophets, John the Baptist, had already been killed by Herod Antipas at this point, and so the point would have been clear enough to Jesus’ audience.
The Shunammite woman did exactly what Jesus describes. She took in Elisha because he was a man of God, and not for any other purpose. Receiving a prophet just because he is a prophet — and not on the basis of whether one likes the prophesying being delivered — would have been an unusual act, one that demonstrated a trust in the Lord which went beyond what most had done in Israel.
This passage about Elisha and the Shunammite woman goes beyond a lesson about hospitality, as does the Gospel reading. The woman welcoming Elisha into her home demonstrates how we are to welcome the Lord in our hearts — fully, without compromise, and with full trust in His Word. At first, the woman invites Elisha to dine with her family, which is certainly hospitable enough, but then goes much farther. She creates a room for him as one might expect for a venerated member of the family, a call to have Elisha remain with them for as long as possible, all while asking nothing in return. And what happens as a result? The Lord not only provides her a son, but then returns him to life after he dies.
Jesus speaks to the need to put the Lord first in our lives in today’s Gospel reading as well. “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,” He says. A casual embrace of the Lord is not enough, although it certainly might be the start, as it was for the Shunammite woman. We are called to open our hearts to the Lord as the woman opened her home to Elisha, with room for the Holy Spirit to remain. We are to love God first, and through that love all other relationships will come into proper alignment.
When we truly prepare a room for the Lord in our hearts, we will, as Paul writes to the Romans in today’s second reading, die to sin in order to live in Christ. “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father,” he writes, “we too might live in newness of life.” To reach that newness of life, we must trust in God and allow Him to live in our hearts and to become instruments of His will, so that He can bring us to eternal life. When we do that, He will know what we truly desire — unending love and happiness — without us having to ask for it.
The front page image is “Elisha and the Shunammite Woman,” by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, 1649, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.