Sunday, July 2, 2017
Renouncing all to follow Jesus
"No one who prefers father or mother to me
is worthy of me!"
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
b) A division of the text to help with the reading:
Matthew 10:37: Love of Jesus must be above love of father and mother and children
Matthew 10:38: The cross is part of the following of Jesus
Matthew 10:39: To know how to lose one’s life so as to keep it
Matthew 10:40-41: Jesus identifies himself with the missionary and the disciple
Matthew 10:42: The least deed done to one of the least is rewarded
b) A key to the reading:
In the 13th Sunday of ordinary time, we meditate on the last section of the Discourse on Mission (Mt 10:1-42). This discourse contains words and counsels of Jesus, teaching us to carry out the mission of proclaiming the Good News of God. Jesus does not deceive, and points out clearly the difficulties that this mission implies. As we read this text, it is good to pay attention to what follows: “What is Jesus’ basic demand of those who go on mission?”
37 'No one who prefers father or mother to me is worthy of me. No one who prefers son or daughter to me is worthy of me. 38 Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me. 39 Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.
40 'Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 'Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will have a prophet's reward; and anyone who welcomes an upright person because he is upright will have the reward of an upright person. 42 'If anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, then in truth I tell you, he will most certainly not go without his reward.'
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What part of the text touched you most? Why?
b) What recommendations does this text hold for us? What is its basic demand?
c) Jesus says: "No one who prefers father or mother to me is worthy of me” – How must we understand this statement?
d) What does the text tell us about the mission we must undertake as disciples of Jesus?
5. For those who wish to go deeper into the topic
a) The context of our text in the Gospel of Matthew:
The Gospel of Matthew organizes the words and actions of Jesus around five great discourses: (i) Matthew 5 to 7: The Discourse of the Mountain describes the gateway to the Kingdom. (ii) Matthew 10: the Discourse on the Mission describes the way those who follow Jesus must proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom and the difficulties involved. (iii) Matthew 13: the Discourse of the Parables, by means of parallels taken from daily life, Jesus reveals the presence of the Kingdom in people’s lives. (iv) Matthew 18: the Discourse on Community describes how Christians ought to live together in such a way that the community becomes a revelation of the Kingdom. (v) Matthew 24 and 25: the Eschatological Discourse describes the future coming of the Kingdom of God. Through this literary device, Matthew imitates the five books of the Pentateuch, and thus presents the Good News of the Kingdom as the New Law of God.
In the Discourse on the Mission (Mt 10:1-42), the Evangelist puts together words and recommendations of Jesus that shed light on the difficult situation of the Judeo-Christians towards the second half of the first century. He wants to encourage them not to lose heart in spite of the many and grave difficulties they have to face in proclaiming the Good News to the brothers and sisters of their race. It is indeed at this time, the 80’s, that the Jews are recovering from the disaster of the destruction of Jerusalem which took place in the 70’s, and are beginning to reorganize themselves in the regions of Syria and Galilee. A tension is growing between the “Synagogue” and the “Ecclesia”. This tension, source of much suffering and persecution, forms the background to the Discourse on the Mission and, thus, to the Gospel of the 13th Sunday of ordinary time.
b) A commentary on the text:
Matthew 10:37: Love of Jesus must be greater than love of parents and children
Jesus says: “No one who prefers father or mother to me is worthy of me; no one who prefers son or daughter to me is worthy of me”. We find this same statement in the Gospel of Luke with even greater force: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26). Does Jesus then want to disintegrate family life? This cannot be so, because elsewhere he insists on the observance of the fourth commandment which binds us to love father and mother (Mk 7:8-13; 10:17-19). He himself obeyed his parents (Lk 2:51). These seem to be contradictory statements. One thing is certain: Jesus does not contradict himself. We shall give an interpretation to show that the two statements are both true and not mutually exclusive.
Matthew 10:38: The cross is part of following Jesus
Jesus says: “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me”. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus says: “If anyone wishes to come after me. let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me!” (Mk 8:34). In those days, the cross was the death sentence imposed by the Roman Empire for thieves and the marginalized. To take up one’s cross and follow Jesus was equivalent to accepting being marginalized by the unjust system of the Empire. Jesus’ cross is the consequence of the free commitment taken on to reveal the Good News that God is Father and that, therefore, all are to be accepted and treated as brothers and sisters. Because of this revolutionary proclamation, Jesus was persecuted and was not afraid to give up his life. Greater love than this no man has, that he lay down his life for his friends.
Matthew 10:39: To know how to lose one’s life so as to keep it
This manner of speaking was quite common among the early Christians because it expressed what they were living through. For instance, for Paul to be faithful to Jesus and obtain life, he had to lose everything he had, career, the respect of his people, and suffer persecution. The same happened to many Christians. Christians were persecuted for being Christian. Paul says: “I am crucified with Christ”. “I wish to experience his cross and his death, so that I may also experience his resurrection.” “I am crucified to the world and the world to me”. This is the paradox of the Gospel: The last is first, the one who loses wins, the one who gives all keeps all, the one who dies lives. The one who has the courage to lose life obtains it. This is a logic that is quite different from the neo-liberal system that rules the world today.
Matthew 10:40-41: Jesus identifies himself with the missionary and the disciple
For the missionary and the disciple, it is very important to know that he/she will never be alone. If she/he remains faithful to her/his mission, she/he will have the certainty that Jesus identifies himself with her/him, and through Jesus the Father will reveal himself to those to whom the missionary and disciple proclaim the Good News. And so, just as Jesus reflected the face of the Father, so also the disciple must or should be a mirror where people can glimpse something of the love of Jesus.
Matthew 10:42: The least deed done for the little ones, reveals the presence of the Father
In order to change the world and human relationships, the political decisions of powerful persons are not enough, nor are the decrees of Councils and of bishops. What is needed is a change in the lives of people, in interpersonal and community relationships otherwise nothing will change. That is why Jesus puts so much importance on small acts of sharing: a glass of water given to a poor person!
c) A deepening: To love father and mother, to hate father and mother!
One of the things that Jesus insists on for those who wish to follow him is that of leaving behind father, mother, wife, children, sisters, house, land, to leave everything for love of Him and his Gospel (Lk 18: 29; Mt 19:29; Mk 10:29). He even commands us “to hate father, mother, wife, children, sisters, brothers. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciples” (cf Lk 14:28). These demands are not just for some but for all those who wish to follow him (Lk 14:25-26.33). How can we understand these statements that seem to dismantle and break up all family ties? We cannot imagine Jesus demanding of all men and women in Galilee to leave their families, lands, villages to follow him. In fact, this did not happen except for a small group of followers. So what is the meaning of these demands?
If we place the demand to leave one’s family within the social context of the period, we can see another meaning, much more fundamental and practical. The invasion of Palestine in 64 B.C. and the imposition of the tribute by Herod (35 to 3 B.C.) and his son Herod Antipas (3 B.C. to 37 A.D.), a policy in favor of the Roman government, brought progressive impoverishment and growing unemployment. Through Herod’s policy, supported by the Roman Empire, the Hellenic ideology permeated daily life, thus bringing with it growing individualism. All this caused the larger family, the clan and the community to disintegrate. Thus the small family began to feel bound to turn in on itself and not able to practice the law. Besides, the practice of ritual purity caused people to despise and exclude those persons and families that lived in legal impurity. The economic, social, political and religious context made it possible for families to turn in on themselves and weaken the clan. Preoccupation with family problems stopped people from uniting in community. It stopped the clan from realizing the aim for which it was created, that is, to offer real and adequate protection for families and persons, to preserve identity, to defend land, to prevent exclusion and to welcome the excluded and the poor, and thus to reveal the face of God. Now, for the Kingdom to reveal itself again in the sharing, it was necessary to break the vicious circle. People had to overcome the strict limits of the small family to open themselves to the larger family and the Community. This is the context that forms the background to the words proclaimed by Jesus.
Jesus himself gives an example. When his family tries to claim him, he reacts and says, “Who are my mother and my brethren?” And looking around he says: “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whoever does the will God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mk 3:33-35). He stretched the family. He created community. The people he attracted and called were the poor and the excluded (Lk 4:18; Mt 11:25). He asked the same thing of those who wished to follow him. The excluded and marginalized must be welcomed again into the sharing and thus feel welcomed by God (cf Lk 14:12-14). This was the way to achieve the end of the Law that said: “There should be no one of you in need” (Dt 15:4).
Jesus tries to change the process of disintegration of the clan, of the community. Like the great prophets of the past, he seeks to consolidate community life in the villages of Galilee. He takes up again the deep meaning of the clan, of the family, of the community as an expression of the incarnation of the love of God in the love of neighbour. That is why he asks of those who wish to be his disciples to leave father, mother, wife, brother, sister, house, all! They have to lose their life in order to possess it! He is the guarantor of this: “Amen I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the Gospel’s sake, who shall not receive now in the present time a hundredfold as much, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands – along with persecutions, and in the age to come life everlasting” (MK 10:29-30). Truly, those who have the courage to break the closed circle of their family, will find again, in the clan, in the community, a hundredfold whatever they have left: brother, sister, mother, child, land! Jesus does that which people expected in messianic times: to lead back the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of children to their parents, to rebuild the clan, reweave the social pattern.
6. Psalm 19,7-14
The Law of Yahweh is perfect
The Law of Yahweh is perfect,
refreshment to the soul;
the decree of Yahweh is trustworthy,
wisdom for the simple.
The precepts of Yahweh are honest,
joy for the heart;
the commandment of Yahweh is pure,
light for the eyes.
The fear of Yahweh is pure,
lasting for ever;
the judgements of Yahweh are true,
upright, every one,
more desirable than gold,
even than the finest gold;
his words are sweeter than honey,
that drips from the comb.
Thus your servant is formed by them;
observing them brings great reward.
But who can detect his own failings?
Wash away my hidden faults.
And from pride preserve your servant,
never let it be my master.
So shall I be above reproach,
free from grave sin.
May the words of my mouth always find favour,
and the whispering of my heart, in your presence,
Yahweh, my rock, my redeemer.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.