2 Kings 4: 8-11, 14-16; Romans 6: 3-4, 8-11; Matt 10: 37-42
The connection the Church tries to make with our readings today, particularly the first and gospel, is that of hospitality. The woman in the first reading is hospitable to Elisha as he passes to and from their town and then link it with the same message in today’s gospel from Jesus. And certainly hospitality is important and learning to be hospitable to one another could do great wonders for all of us.
However, I think we miss the point of the story if we stick to simply what we see and the obvious in these readings. I don’t need to tell anyone here that in most of these stories the role of being hospitable was that of the woman of the home. If we stick to that theme all we really do is enforce what is expected of her and in many ways make her small, confining her to a role and some social construct that she is a part of.
Notice in the story that she’s is not referred by any name but is called a woman of influence. Of course when we hear that word certain things come to mind with people of influence, wealth, power, some kind of authority or whatever the case may be. But that’s not true in this case. That would be her husband in that time. Her influence is something different, a worthy or holy influence. There’s something different about her connection with Elisha that goes beyond simply being hospitable.
Elisha has struggled with his own call of being a prophet even though she keeps referring to him as a holy person. As the story continues, she will receive what Elisha promises, a son. However, the son dies rather quickly, leaving her as it would any mother, simply beside herself trying to make sense out of all of it. She will then proceed, with her holy influence, to make her way to Elisha, breaking every social barrier and construct in the way because of this deeper connection. As much as she affirms his own prophetic call, he in turn, on a deeper level, affirms her own prophetic call, as if the divine is speaking to the divine with the two. It doesn’t stop her from being hospitable and living the role that is expected of her, but it also doesn’t get in the way of being something more, something bigger.
That’s also the message that Jesus conveys to the apostles today as Matthew continues this understanding of the conditions of discipleship. Please understand, Jesus is not telling them to somehow hate or not love their parents, their siblings, or anyone for that matter. This message is about roles, identities, and expectations that they, and us for that matter, grow up with, that often stand in conflict of us going to that deeper place within ourselves. We all grow up in some type of familial structure and social structure that has helped to define us and our place, just as it was for the disciples, maybe even more so at that time. The message of Jesus is always about trust and letting go and to begin to identify ourselves through a different lens, through that of the Christ. That is where we will find our truest identity and where the other relationships them flow. As the learn to trust this deeper reality and calling, they will do as the woman does in today’s first reading in finding a worthy influence on the world.
That is the message of Paul as well today in the second reading to the Romans. He reminds them that the Christ dies no more, the eternal, which Paul himself had to seek and find in his own life. It is no longer about living for his own purpose and what the world calls him to be, in a defined role of sorts, but he now lives for God. That’s what makes all these characters different and iconic figures for us in our own spiritual lives. Sure she was hospitable and that alone is a good thing, but she is much more than that as well, just like myself and each of you.
None of it is easy and it is a lifelong process for each of us as we grow into this deeper identity where we learn to speak the divine to the divine. It’s how we begin to see each other as equal because we are no longer limited by what we see with our eyes, what’s expected of society, or even what we have grown up with in our lives. At some point all of it makes not only us small but everyone else we limit in the same way. She was hospitable not because it was her role, but because she did everything in and through the divine, in and through the Christ. We all have roles but the roles don’t define us as people, as much as we sometimes think they do and make us feel worthy or of influence. In a worldly way, possibly, but not a worthy or holy influence as exhibited in the readings today. Our greatest influence we can have on the world will never come with power and money and certainly not our pride. Rather, it comes when we find that divine within and proceed to live our lives in the same we. It’s how we find that equality and it’s how we see each other as brother and sister, no longer bound by our eyes and no longer bound by the world but rather a life lived in and through the Christ. That’s the worthy influence we can and are called to in this world.