“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.” I have often found these word of Jesus challenging and almost troubling. Does there have to be competition between loving God and loving our family? How does loving a parent or a child mean that I am not worthy of being with Jesus?
When we see these words of Jesus, we have a tendency to read them as an extreme statement. They seem to say, “Come, join our faith and suffer.” And in our current world, this “welcome” is not all that great. At the very center of today’s Gospel is Jesus’ startling statement that the only way we have life is to lose it. We love our life by choosing to love Jesus even above family. And then he abruptly changes the tone, saying that we need to serve others by receiving others, receiving a prophet, receiving a righteous man, giving a cup of water to one of the “little ones.” By so doing, we ourselves and the “little ones” are raised up in status as members of the body of Christ. In the “little ones” is disguised their real dignity – Jesus himself.
So serving others is a way of loving Jesus, of carrying our cross. For the biblical mind, one of the easiest ways to sense God’s presence is through hospitality. In the first reading we have a wonderful example of hospitality – a woman of influence is thoughtful and generous. She provides food for the prophet Elisha as well as a comfortable overnight room. She provides this hospitality, it would seem, not to receive favor in return but because she recognizes Elisha as a holy man of God. Jesus takes this hospitality one step further. In a sense this Gospel is really about discipleship. The lesson to learn is it doesn’t make any difference whom we serve – the Master himself, the righteous or not-so-righteous ones, or the little ones.
When someone does something generously for us and makes it clear that no compensation is expected or wanted, we can’t help but feel buoyed and appreciated. Somehow generosity and hospitality lifts our spirits and increases our self-esteem. And then it’s our turn. To be worthy of Jesus and the life that he offers means that we must die to self – be willing to lose a part of our life for the sake of others. One way to do this is by genuine Christian hospitality. This doesn’t mean that we have to put a sign in our front yard that says “Come in. Everyone welcome.” But it does mean that our actions proclaim that “Anyone is welcome.” Hospitality, both to those in need, to strangers and to those whom we call friends, is an easy way to get a glimpse of Christ. No simpler method of practicing the presence of God can be found than to serve others. We do this in little ways: perhaps by giving someone our complete attention when he or she is trying to say something to us; perhaps reaching out to an elderly or sick person in our neighborhood; perhaps having a surprise ready for the tired spouse or partner after a hard day’s work. In all this we find and serve Jesus in the “little ones.”
Receiving and reaching out to another, even a seeming little one, gives us a disciple’s reward – what Jesus himself has to offer. And what Jesus offers is carrying our cross; and in doing so we find new life – the everlasting life of union with him.
If you have a brief faith reflection on today’s reading that you would like to share, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.