Reading I: 2 Kgs 4:8-11, 14-16a
Psalm: 89:2-3, 16-17, 18-19
Reading II: Rom 6:3-4, 8-11
Gospel: Matt 10:37-42
“Whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10:39)
For what or for whom would you be willing to give your life? Many people would answer that they would give their lives for their spouse or their children. Many a mother with a sick child has been heard to say that she would gladly take the illness upon herself rather than see her child suffer. In a community discussion about the choices women religious have made in responding to Vatican II, a sister in her golden years asserted, “I would give my life for who we are and what we have become and who we shall be in the future.” She went on, “I have nothing to lose. When you get to be this age, you have become so in love with God and God’s people, it’s easy to pour out yourself in love.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus sets up a contrast: think of those most precious to you, such as your parents or your children. Just as your love for them has expanded your heart in such a way that you would do anything for them, even more does love for Jesus fill us to overflowing, so that those who follow him could pour out their very lives for Christ’s little ones. To some people, such an other-centered life seems senseless, a loss of one’s own autonomy and ability to pursue one’s own desires. Paradoxically, the gospel message is that those who become schooled in losing their life in love for others, actually find a life so fulfilling that any other way seems a waste.
Choosing this kind of life, however, is not entirely easy or without cost. Just as any love relationship flourishes only when both parties are willing to let their own desires, plans, and dreams be shaped by the other, leading to an ultimate surrender of self, so too does discipleship ask for such relinquishment. In the letting go, however, also comes finding of a new self that leads to joy and delight. Jesus is not asking for obliteration of self, as when people are trapped in systems of domination or poverty, where their sense of self is taken from them. He is speaking to disciples who are empowered persons who have the ability to choose to surrender themselves in love for his sake.
When Jesus speaks of rewards for receiving a prophet, or a righteous person, or for giving a cup of cold water to “one of these little ones . . . because the little one is a disciple,” he is not talking about what his followers get for the sacrifices they make. These words come at the end of Jesus’ address to the twelve as he is sending them out on mission. He is referring to the reception they will get from others, and of the blessings that will come to those who open themselves to the apostles. Jesus describes a kind of domino effect. Anyone who receives his disciples receives Jesus and receives the one who sent him. Both those who are sent on mission and those who receive them are drawn into the circle of divine love.
Those who receive a prophet likewise participate in the prophetic ministry and its rewards. The prophet’s reward is always two-fold. Those who are being lifted up and empowered by the prophet’s denunciations of injustice cheer the prophet’s words and deeds. But those persons whose power, privilege, and status are threatened by the prophet’s articulation of God’s dream for righteousness, will do all in their power to silence him or her. In some instances, as in the case of Jesus, and of the martyrs, this means that their physical life is taken. But, as Oscar Romero said the day before he died, “If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.” Part of the reward of the prophet is arriving at a selflessness in knowing that God’s word will be proclaimed by other prophets who will follow. Those who emulate prophet Jesus know that the prophet’s reward is a transformation of self in the process of serving Christ’s little ones, that culminates in the ultimate transformation into God’s love for all eternity.
Sr. Barbara Reid, OP
President of Catholic Theological Union
This reflection was previously published by Barbara E. Reid, O.P., Abiding Word. Sunday Reflections for Year A. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2013. Pp. 80-81.