Today’s gospel is brief, didactic and relentless, a litany of demanding moral instructions that challenge us to renew our commitment and to deepen our welcoming charity. The only context we are given is the opening phrase “Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows”, added for purposes of liturgical proclamation. We don’t know in fact the where or the when; there is no dialogue and there are no gestures.
This teaching of Jesus, recounted in a mere six verses, is systematic and rhetorical in its tone, making it easier, therefore, to commit to memory. There is an unflagging series of anyone who …, ten in all, with little variation. The rsv version has the less inclusive phrase he who …
We should remember that Matthew has been called “the didactic Gospel”, and today’s text shows us why. What Jesus teaches here is divided into two sections: the first emphasises the cost of worthily following him, “a condition of complete simplicity (costing not less than everything)”, to use a phrase from T S Eliot’s “Four Quartets”. Could you reject your fundamental social context, your most intimate relationships, even to the extent of losing your life? This radical detachment culminates in mystical identification with the Lord: we too are required to embrace whatever tribulation, whatever suffering life may bring, seeing in it a manifestation of the paschal mystery of life through death.
The second section of the teaching revolves around the central virtue of welcome as an expression of fraternal charity. The rsv text uses the verb “receive” six times, in the sense of hospitality. The repetition adds force and insistence to the teaching and poses the uncomfortable question, am I always welcoming to others, even if I don’t like their message, or (in the secret of my heart) am I envious of their good qualities? Here, at least, Jesus encourages us with the promise of reward (the word is repeated several times in the last three verses).
The first reading offers us a vivid and delightful example of welcome and its reward: a childless woman and her husband receive the prophet Elisha, setting up an attic-room for him, with walls, … a bed, a table, a chair and a lamp. And her reward is new life: when the time comes around, you shall embrace a son.
By Fr Edmund Power osb