Elisha and the Shunammite Woman (1649) by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout. Image from Wikipedia

God's Word on Sunday: Kindness sets the world on better path

  • June 21, 2020

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 28 (Year A) 2 Kings 4:8-12a, 14-16; Psalm 89; Romans 6:3-4, 8-11; Matthew 10:37-42

We should not underestimate the importance and impact of our individual acts of kindness.

A wealthy woman from Shunem — in a common biblical style, we are not even given her name — went out of her way to be kind to Elisha the prophet. She not only fed him but built an addition to her house so he would have a place to stay when he passed through. She recognized him as a man of God and enabled his mission from her own resources.

In doing this, she followed a pattern that runs throughout the Bible: It was often women that supported the missions of prophets and teachers. Jesus, Paul and the apostles were all recipients of such kindness and support. Women provided for Jesus out of their own means (Mark 14:40-41; Matthew 27:55-56), and Lydia (Acts 16:11-15) — one of Paul’s first converts — invited him and his companions into her home.

The childless woman from Shunem received a blessing from Elisha — he returned her kindness by granting her a son. Although an act of kindness should not be done in hopes of a reward or compensation, it usually rebounds on us in some way, even if not immediately. Whatever we give — positive or negative — eventually returns to us. But the greater reward is the knowledge that we have lightened the burden of another and made their life a bit easier and bearable.

Our kind word or deed can often give another the hope and encouragement necessary to make it through another day. Our words and deeds — both positive and negative — ripple through time to infinity, affecting countless individuals.

The world is a negative and frightening place, and this can leave us feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. What can we do in the face of such monumental challenges? Kindness and generosity are always important, but never more so than now. We are given many opportunities each day and nothing that we do with love is ever wasted.

Whether it be racism, economic inequality, personal brokenness or environmental degradation, we live with the consequences of the actions and choices of our forebearers. We alone can create a better and more just future and it begins and ends with kindness.

All of this requires pushing beyond ingrained selfishness, ignorance and sin. This would be extremely difficult if we relied solely on our own power.

Paul viewed the life of Christ-followers in a different light. Baptism was a participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The old self died; the new individual rose from the dead and lived in Christ.

Faith in Jesus was not primarily a ticket for Heaven but the doorway to a new life even this side of eternity. The key to a rich and challenging spiritual life lies in reflecting on this new life in Christ and following where it leads us.

Some of the words that Jesus used were designed to be shocking and disturbing, and they did the job well. In a culture and tradition that revered the bonds of family, we can imagine how His insistence on relegating familial love to second place must have been received.

Looking at the words carefully, He insisted that those who love parents or children more than Him were not worthy to be His followers. Discipleship demands that the Lord Jesus be of primary importance, not second or third.

Our fundamental relationship with Christ governs all of our other relationships and activities. The expectations of culture, custom and tradition must not determine our faith commitment.

Picking up again on the theme of unremitting kindness, Matthew promised that whoever receives another in Christ’s name receives Jesus and God the Father. Many incidents from the history of the saints come to mind, such as St. Martin of Tours dividing his cloak with a beggar, only to discover that the beggar was Christ. Mother Teresa found Christ in the poor.

When we receive others as we would receive Jesus, we honour the image of God within them. Prophets, righteous people and disciples — we can be all of those things, so let us assume that those we meet will fit into one of those categories, even if loosely.

The golden cord that unites us with God also binds us to one another.