Gospel reflection for July 2, 2023, Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Father Koch: We carry the Cross, our source of salvation
Throughout the history of the levant, hospitality has been a key part of their culture. A nomadic, desert-dwelling culture knows well the need to care for the needs of travelers and strangers. Although the customs surrounding hospitality were primarily that, customary, they became so essential to the life of the ancient Israelites that they became enshrined in the Mosaic Law code. As a result, hospitality ceased to be a cultural exchange to a religious obligation. Of course, the theological underpinning for such hospitality was rooted in the realization that, like Abraham of old, one never knew if the stranger was truly just a stranger, and perhaps even either a prophet or an angel sent from God.
In the First Reading, a woman of Shunem sets a room for the itinerant prophet, Elisha. His promise to her is reminiscent of the promise of the visitors to Abraham and Sarah: that this woman and her husband, who have no children, will have a son. Unlike other similar scenarios found in the Scriptures, this son has no great destiny in salvation history, and his name is unknown to us. This son is a gift from God for the care shown to the prophet and a sign of God’s presence with them.
In the Gospel, Jesus raises the demands of hospitality to a yet higher level.
Jesus calls us to put aside our own desires, personal goals, and financial aims and, in their place, to take up our cross. As we take up our cross, we become what Jesus himself is: the stranger, the orphan, the outcast.
In an increasingly secularized society the image, language, and the desire to carry a cross, to take on spiritual discipline, and to carry a cross. When once it seemed to be the ordinary experience of life, where we learned the language and practice and walked the way of the cross with our families, friends, coworkers and most of our neighbors, today it seems out of step, countercultural, almost crazy.
Now many of feels as though we need to compartmentalize our faith. We can carry the cross to Mass on Sunday and, perhaps, within our families and amongst some of our friends, but we may feel compelled, indeed be forced at times, to leave that cross at the church door or the front door of our homes as we enter the world; only to take it up again when we return.
If we carry the cross to those people who, in their own lives, view religion and religious values as unimportant, then we run the risk of being rendered irrelevant to them, marginalized in our jobs, and viewed as a bigot, or a hater.
Being baptized into the death of Jesus, as Paul instructs the Romans, means that we live our lives carrying the cross along that path that leads to eternal life.
Taking up this cross is not merely a matter of personal spirituality and sacrifice. While those virtues must be fundamental in leading a Christian life, discipleship demands we carry that cross into and through the marketplace as Jesus did along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.
This means that we carry our faith as we sit in our classrooms, engage in the marketplace, as we transact business; in our offices as we make decisions, as we participate in board meetings and business lunches, and as we cast our votes for political candidates. We cannot be content to carry the cross only when it is convenient or easy. We must be willing to be spit upon and mocked, and to be consigned to the world of the condemned.
This is not easy -- but from the outset discipleship wasn’t easy. The apostles were martyred, as were so many who followed after them. Often, as with Peter, and many others, they were martyred on a cross, which was intended to mock the cross of Jesus that they preached, not realizing that this became the very source of their journey into eternal life.
Let us boldly not only wear that cross but let us carry that cross, so that we might inspire others to follow Jesus.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.