Deacon Cornell's Homily


2 Kings 4:8-11,14-16a
Romans 6:3-4,8-11
Matthew 10:37-42


June 29-30, 2002, Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I have to admit that the opening verses of today’s Gospel passage were never among my favorites. They always seemed to say that religion is more important than family.  In the previous verses, Jesus tells his apostles that he had come to bring, not peace, but the sword, to set son against father, daughter against mother, and ones enemies will be those of his household. Sounds like a perfect description of what happens when your children become teenagers, doesn’t it?

But like many Gospel passages, we need to understand a little better what the original meanings were in order to understand what this Word of God says to us. We have to sort through the different levels of speaker and audience. The author of the Gospel of Matthew, scripture scholars tell us, was most likely a teacher in a Christian community that was primarily Jewish, but that had been recently banned from the synagogue by the local leaders in the struggles after the fall of Jerusalem. And so this passage about division was not some theoretical saying. It was the very real experience of the author’s community. Sons who were part of this Christian community were cut off from attending their father’s synagogue; brother was most likely pitted against sister. To strengthen his community’s resolve to continue to follow Jesus, the author reminds them of whom it is they follow.

When we move beyond the local division the author’s community was experiencing, we hear Jesus expressing the awesomeness of the gift that Jesus is for us. Not even the closest of family relationships is more important than our relationship with Jesus.

At the base of my dislike for this passage was an implicit black and white view of the world. At some level, I thought they were saying it was either love Jesus or love your parents or children or spouse. As I read it now, especially in the context of those readings about the prophet Elisha and Paul’s letter to the Romans, it takes on quite a different meaning. As a matter of fact I think there are two main meanings when we look at it in this context.

Today’s Gospel is the end of Jesus’ commissioning of his 12 Apostles that we have been hearing over the past few Sundays. But today’s verses make it clear that this commissioning is not just for the apostles but extends down to the little ones among the disciples, so what Jesus is saying applies to all of us. The first meaning that I suggest we need to hear from today’s readings is discipleship has a cost, sometimes a significant cost. Paul uses the metaphor of death to describe the cost of discipleship – certainly the highest cost we can imagine paying for anything. In baptism we must die to ourselves that we might rise to new life in Christ. Last Sunday at the 10:30 Mass we baptized 3 beautiful babies. All three of them cried or fussed a little as they were dunked in the baptismal font. Very often when I am talking to parents about baptism, one of the things that they worry about is that their baby might cry or fuss, as if that would somehow be inappropriate. But if we understand Paul, then crying is a very appropriate liturgical response, since the one being baptized is dying, always a difficult thing.

I also think I was hearing Jesus description of the cost of discipleship as if it were an artificial bar that Jesus was putting in front of us. But, again in reading these words in context it becomes clear that Jesus is simply describing the nature of discipleship. If discipleship is living with Christ living in us, then we must empty ourselves to make room for Christ. We must die to those self centered, selfish parts of our self that keep Christ out.

The second meaning that I suggest we must hear from today’s readings is that God has so infused this world with himself, and he has given us such an awesome gift in Jesus Christ that we must treasure our relationships with even the littlest ones, the ones who seem most insignificant because even the most insignificant encounter we have with someone is an encounter with Jesus.

So rather than being an either/or situation, today’s Gospel reminds me that, as always, God is both/and. Our realization of the importance of our love for Jesus does not turn us away from parent or child or spouse or friend or even enemy. It is like the flight attendant telling those who are traveling with children that if the oxygen masks drop, the adult is to put their own mask on first. This is not because the children are not as important, but it is for the very safety of the children that the adult must look to his or her own mask first.

By dying to Christ so that we might live with him in us, we become aware of how much he fills everyone who follows him. Living with Christ, we look at our relationships with family and friend and, even enemy, as extensions of our relationship with Jesus. Our other relationships take on even more significance as we add the divine aspect to an already important human relationship. What seems like such a high price to pay for discipleship becomes instead a steady flow of rewards, as we encounter Jesus in others.

I would suggest that in these times of scandal and unrest in the Church that these meanings are critical. They remind us of that the cost of discipleship is high. It is something that requires effort and perseverance in the face of adversity. But most importantly, they remind us that we need to be focused on our relationship with Christ, more than any other relationship, more than that with our parish, our local Church of Boston, or even the universal Church.

That does not mean that we have to pit one against the other. By emptying ourselves so that Christ might fill us, we will start to see past the politics, and the agendas that are poised to divide our Church, and so see the awesome gift of Christ in even the little ones. And filled with Christ, we will not lose our zeal to make sure that these little ones have the cup of cold water they so desperately need.

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