July 2, 2017
Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
The liturgy today presents the last part of Jesus’ missionary discourse, a long address in which Jesus gives instructions of behavior to His disciples as they go among the people to proclaim the Gospel. We also heard part of this discourse last Sunday.
Jesus instructed His disciples about the style necessary for those who are sent to announce the kingdom in His name; they need to be humble so that the Lord’s power may shine in them; they need to love freely, to be a reflection of His love; and they must go without fear, trusting, because this trust will be the most convincing advertisement of their relationship with the One who gives them life.
Today’s passage surprises us. It is far from our refined ways and probably seems harsh. In this conclusion Jesus recalls some of the issues He has already spoken of in His address, most of all He insists that to remain with Him, to choose Jesus, has immediate consequences in life. Being with the Lord, one need not be afraid, and one needs to trust Him, but at the same time He warns that being with Him can create divisions and misunderstandings in different contexts of life and even within the same family (“Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” Mt 10:21-22.)
In today’s conclusion, Jesus gives no other instructions, but He seems to concentrate the entire address on the essentials of missionary life, and indeed Christian life. He says there is a hierarchy of priority, and that He is in the first place. He is the priority. Which is why everything else has to be related to this decision. Because it is a decision. You have to decide for Christ. And it is sometimes a difficult decision, not of immediate understanding. Fathers, mothers, children, brothers, work, all must fall into a single life project, where He is in the first place. He does not ask us to give up the love of a family, but wants it to be illuminated by a greater love that comprises it and gives it meaning. The relationship with Jesus must have the flavor of the absolute, of something absolutely paramount, to which nothing else is preferred. The Lord enters into the life of the missionary as something fundamental, unique, which cannot in any way can be renounced: do not renounce what He causes to live.
All the rest can even fail, but not the relationship with Him and the preferential love that the relationship with Him demands. It’s not a relationship like all others, and cannot be on a par with any other; it is the source of all.
The Lord knows that only in this relationship do we daily learn the wisdom that freely loves others, ourselves and life; a love that has conquered all selfishness and every need to possess and to act dishonestly: by loving Him we learn to really love others too. Loving Christ, in short, opens us to a love for others that will be faithful, welcoming, able to forgive. It is a love that will also give us the energy to cope with the misunderstandings and loneliness caused by the rejection and the loneliness that can accompany us when we really decide for Him. Every disciple experiences it.
This is the cross to be taken up to follow Him (Mt 10:38), namely, a way to remain in life that has the consistency of love: the missionary is above all a disciple who chooses the same way of giving to his Lord. In fact, the cross is not only the sign of Jesus’ passion and death, but even before that it is a sign and measure of God’s unconditional love for us. Up to that point He has loved us, giving all His life. And the disciple who is not greater than his master (Mt 10,24) must walk along the same way. “Whoever will keep his life for himself, will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my cause, will find it” (Mt 10.39).
The conclusion of the discourse is unusual: it is not so much about the missionaries as it is about those who will welcome them, because they are also required to be radical and courageous and not indifferent.
They are asked to recognize in these simple and imperfect persons the very presence of the Lord.
They will not even have to do great things to welcome the missionaries: it will suffice to give a glass of water (Mt 10:42). But what will make a difference will be the intention with which they will welcome: if one will have accepted the disciple as a disciple of Christ then he/she will have the same reward as the disciple, that is, the very life of the Lord who, in spite of everything, continues to flow into the Church of these imperfect disciples.