Graphic by David Chen

Faith: We all have a role in discipleship

  • June 21, 2017

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 2 (Year A) 2 Kings 4:8-12a, 14-16; Psalm 89; Romans 6:3-4, 8-11; Matthew 10:37-42

The Bible is a book of familiar themes that find their way into many different stories.

The story of Elisha and the woman from Shunem illustrates the pattern of the barren woman encountering a messenger of God. As in the case of Sarah, Hannah, the mother of Samson and Elizabeth in the Gospel of Luke, a woman without child is given assurances by a prophet or angel that she will bear a son.

In this story, the identity of the son is of little consequence, as he has no particular role to play in salvation history. His birth was an act of kindness on the part of Elisha, in gratitude for her great kindness towards him. Not only did she feed him, but she built a living space for him so that he would never lack a place to stay. She honoured a prophet of God and was blessed in return. After all, a prophet was a spokesman for God and to honour him was to honour God.

This principle is repeated in the passage from Matthew’s Gospel. This is the part we can all play in God’s work in the world. Even if we cannot take a personal and direct role, we can enable the works of others. Both Elijah and Elisha relied a great deal on the kindness and support of women during their journeys. Jesus was supported by numerous women during His ministry. Paul was extremely grateful for the kindness of Lydia, one of the first converts in Philippi, and in the farewell sections of his letters he thanks many for having aided and supported him.

Today the individual and corporate sponsors of public cultural events are almost always thanked by name, for without their help, nothing would have been possible. Perhaps this practice could be stressed more in the Church — it is not about the clergy, but all the people of God working together.

Many images of baptism are used in the New Testament, but that of a ritual death and rebirth is most prominent. In Paul’s view, one who had undergone baptism died with Christ and rose again to a new life. If this was the case, then the life of the newly baptized represented something completely new and a radical break from the past. Baptism was not just about “getting saved” but also a totally transformed life. It would have been unthinkable to continue living in old attitudes and behaviours.

Since today most are baptized as infants, this image does not have as much force. However, the renewal of baptismal promises at the Easter liturgy is more than just a ritual — it is a public commitment to God and to the Christian community to be a more Christ-like person. We will be with Christ when we die, but it is just as important to be with Him while we live.

The stark and uncompromising language that Jesus used to describe discipleship was meant to be so. But Matthew tones down the wording that is used in the parallel accounts of the other gospels. Believers are not exhorted to “hate” their families, but not to allow love for friends and family to outweigh their love of God and commitment to being a disciple of Jesus. It is all about priorities — God is first, all others and all else second. God is not an addendum to our lives, but the very centre.

It is very human to be overly concerned about leading a safe and relatively comfortable life. It is easy to become obsessed with health, appearance and longevity, and to cling intensely to them. Modern culture encourages people to be very self-focused and intent on defining and controlling their own lives, but this should be with balance and proportion.

Jesus continually challenges us to step out of our comfort zones and to take the spotlight off our own desires and aspirations. Discipleship is not usually comfortable, nor does it conform to many of society’s norms and opinions. Once again, Jesus invites all to take part in God’s grand project by enabling and comforting others as well as engaging in the work ourselves.

Rather than a religion focused only on getting to Heaven, Christianity should be viewed as a school of discipleship in which we learn how to help and accompany others on the journey.

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