Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Fr. Adam Royal
June 28, 2020 – 11:00 AM
One fact about the liturgy is that the first reading and the Gospel are supposed to be connected. There is supposed to be some common theme that runs through them. Not so much with the second reading. That one is just kind of thrown in there for fun. The theme that the first reading and the Gospel share is intended to guide our interpretation. It highlights the message we should take away. The problem with that is that today the theme is deceiving. The way these texts have been juxtaposed is a bit dishonest.
Jesus says, “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.” Then in the first reading, we witness a woman receive the prophet Elisha into her home. The text describes her as a “woman of influence,” but that is a weak translation. It really says she is a “great woman.” It uses the same word that elsewhere describes God and his victories over his enemies. She is a great woman, great like God himself. In fact, she is the only woman in all of the Old Testament described as great. So we are not surprised when she takes in the prophet Elisha, we are not surprised when God rewards her with a child. But that is the deception. The story does not end there. In three more verses, her child dies. He dies lying in her lap.
I think we naturally object to this situation as being deeply unfair and unjust. This great woman lived correctly. She worshiped God, obeyed the law, and even gave of her possessions to God’s servants to what was in effect his Church. Yet her child died. I think this woman could legitimately cry out to God, “Where is my prophet’s reward? Why have your promises not been fulfilled?” To this plea, I think she would only find one response from Christ, “Take up your cross and follow me.” And this could seem like a callus and uncaring response. It is like the sort of hollow platitude we throw at someone to dismiss them and avoid dealing with their question. But it isn’t. It is so much more. This response touches upon the very mystery of the cross, the mystery of the incarnation, and God’s redemption of humanity.
For the simple fact is, we live in a universe where death and suffering are an inevitability. Despite the fantasies of the billionaires in and the promises of snake oil salesmen, we cannot escape death and suffering. And God knows this. He mourns this fact because he did not intend it. God did not create death, we did by our sins by turning away from him, and God takes no joy in seeing us suffer the consequences. But knowing that we must, he redeemed it. As we will hear in the Eucharistic prayer, God “fashioned for us a remedy out of mortality itself, that the cause of our downfall might become the means of our salvation.” He took death, a thing we created by our choices, and he made it the gate of heaven. In his own flesh, God took upon himself the penalty of death and transformed it into the way to eternal life.
So when Christ says to us, “Take up your cross.” This is not to dismiss our pleas to him; instead, it is a way of saying, “Do not be afraid.” Do not fear that this momentary tribulation will have the last word. Have patience and endure for our sufferings will be transformed by Christ into our good if we have faith. We must believe in his promise that God’s love has triumphed already and will triumph in our lives. If we will pick up our crosses and follow him, just like the great woman from Shunem. After her son died, she did not spend her time bewailing the unfairness of the world. She picked up her cross went to Elisha and said, “I am not leaving until my son is restored.” And he was. Her only son awoke from the dead.
And the same is promised to all of us. Because of God’s great mercy, death and suffering are no longer our end but steps to eternal life.