Our first reading from 2nd Kings is an interesting story about the prophet Elisha and a Shunammite woman who showed him hospitality. On the surface, it would appear that the golden thread this week is hospitality, but it goes deeper than that.
Let’s start with Elisha; who is he? If we go back to 1st Kings Chapter 20, we see that Elisha was the successor to the prophet Elijah. When Elijah chose Elisha as his successor, Elisha was plowing a field behind a yoke of twelve oxen. Elijah threw his mantle over Elisha’s shoulders, indicating that Elisha was called to a prophetic mission. Initially, Elisha asked for time to say goodbye to his parents (whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me but quickly realized the divine mission he was called to and he slaughtered the oxen, gave the meat to the people to eat and followed Elijah without returning home.
In our first reading, the prophet Elisha was shown hospitality by the Shunammite woman (whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward). Elisha promised her that she would have a son in return for the hospitality. If we read further into chapter 4, we see that the woman did not believe the prophecy and begged Elisha not to deceive her. But the promise came true, and the woman bore a son. Later, the son died, and the woman, in anguish at her loss, told Elisha that she did not ask for the son; and now the son she loved was gone (whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me) and she believed that Elisha had deceived her. However, Elisha went to the dead son, brought him back to life, and gave him to his mother; (and she did not lose her reward).
Therefore, our first reading references hospitality, birth, death, and resurrection (or, maybe more specifically, resuscitation).
Our second reading from the Letter to the Romans reminds us that we are to constantly remind ourselves that, through baptism, we have been incorporated into the death and resurrection of Christ, giving us the opportunity to share in Christ’s resurrection in that wonderful state of existence we call heaven. It is up to us to take advantage of the opportunity by living according to the teachings of Christ passed on to us through the church. Salvation is not guaranteed simply because we call ourselves Christian. We must live our Christian values and receive the sacraments with pure and contrite hearts that prepare us for that happy state of existence. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven”(Mt 7:21).
Our gospel passage seems very harsh on the surface; we must not love our parents or our children more than we love Christ. Hopefully, our parents and our children share the same Christian values we have, so we never have to choose between our family and our beliefs.
The gospel this week also carries on the theme of hospitality (whoever receives…) but also reminds us that our lives are to be totally centered on Christ. If we are unfortunate enough to have parents or siblings, friends or relatives, who do not believe in the way of life Christ teaches and may even persecute or ridicule us for our beliefs, then we are to put those people behind us and move forward. If we succumb to the persecution to keep peace with family or friends, then we will hear Jesus say to us: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” We, like Elisha, should recognize what we are called to and respond accordingly. If we love this life more than the promise of eternal life, we will certainly lose this life and forgo eternal bliss. But if we center our lives on Christ, then something far greater awaits us.
Reference: Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass ©2001, 1998, 1970 CCD
Author: Ric Cross