Father Donald Senior, CP

June 28: Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Our God-given selves

2 Kgs 4:8-11, 14-16; Ps 89:2-3, 16-17,18-19; Rom 6:3-4, 8-11; Mt 10:37-42.

At a time when each day we hear the terrible mounting number of deaths due to the coronavirus, our family has been counting the days of little Oscar’s new life. My nephew and his wife had been longing for a child and had suffered one miscarriage. But along came Oscar, born at the very moment the pandemic was breaking out into the world.  

“Sheltering in place” became a joyful respite for my nephew and his wife. She was on maternity leave from her job as a nurse and my nephew’s business shutdown because of the virus. But, unlike most of us who may chafe under the constraints of having to stay at home, they were thrilled every day to be able to spend all their time with their newborn son.

I share this bit of family business not only as a proud granduncle of Oscar (of course, the most beautiful baby in the universe), but as a lead into the readings for this Sunday. The Bible has wonderful stories about the great prophets Elijah and his disciple and successor, Elisha.

In today’s first reading, this passage from the Second Book of Kings, we have the charming story of Elisha wanting to offer some sign of gratitude to his benefactor, a woman of Shunem, which was a village in the Jezreel Valley in Galilee. She provided a guest room for the famous prophet in her home. 

Elisha checks with his assistant Gehazi and learns that the woman and her husband are elderly and have no children. What is his gift? A promise that “This time next year you will be fondling a baby son.” That’s quite a gift.

This enticing story picks up the focus on the gift of life that runs through the other readings for this Sunday. For several Sundays, the second reading has been drawn from Paul’s Letter to the Romans and here we have a key passage. 

For Paul, the deepest meaning of baptism is that we are drawn into the very death and resurrection of Jesus. We are buried with him — in the sense that the power of sin in our life is defeated — and we rise with Christ so that “we too might live in newness of life.” “Death,” Paul declares, “no longer has power over Christ.” We share in that abundant life: “Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus’ instructions to his disciples in the Gospel selection from Matthew also affirms this focus on life in a paradoxical saying. He says, “Whoever finds their life, will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” 

What does he mean that we find our life in losing it? In his wonderful exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis captures the meaning of Jesus’ words this way: “Love grows by being given away. It weakens in the midst of comfort and isolation.” 

How true this is. By its very nature, love means opening our arms and our hearts to others, reverencing them and being attentive to their needs. This, in effect, is losing our lives.

We know from experience, that generously loving another person is the key to authentic human life. Those who lavish their attention only on themselves and their own needs and pleasures usually turn out to be stunted human beings. 

I think it is salutary that this motif of new life found in the readings for today comes to us at such an unusual time. In many places, there is a cautious transition going on from “social distancing” and “sheltering in place” to our “new normal.” 

As one columnist I read pointed out, perhaps the phrase should be “physical” distancing rather than “social” distancing. That seems to be the spirit of our Christian faith. Jesus embodied God’s generous, life-giving love for us, and we are called to do the same. Even in difficult circumstances we are still called to reach out beyond ourselves in a spirit of generous love. In so doing we discover our true God-given selves.


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