13th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle A)

Readings:
2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16a
Psalm 89:2-3, 16-17, 18-19
Romans 6:3-4, 8-11
Matthew 10:37-42

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for mankind.  That is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: God's Emissaries Who Deliver His Word
The First Reading usually introduces the theme of the Gospel.  Today's First Reading and the Gospel Reading are about receiving the "holy men" who serve as God's representatives.   In Scripture, a "holy man" refers to someone who has the mission and responsibility as the bearer of God's word.  In today's New Covenant Church, the men of our ministerial priesthood fulfill that role.  Those of us who make up the faithful of the priesthood of believers expect God's representatives to be trained in Biblical exegesis and the Church's interpretation of Sacred Scripture so they will declare God's authoritative word from the pulpit and not just their opinions, thoughts, or prejudices.

In the First Reading, a woman generously receives God's prophet Elisha into her home because she tells her husband, "I know that he is a holy man of God."  Not only does Elisha's presence in her home enrich her life, but Elisha rewards her generosity by his petition to the Lord bless his barren benefactress with a child.

In the Responsorial Psalm, the psalmist proclaims God's steadfast love for His people and His faithfulness to His promises to them.  He describes God's protection of His people and their king who is God's chosen representative to the covenant people.  Chief among the kings of Israel was David, the divinely anointed shepherd-king with whom God made an eternal covenant.  It is Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God and Son of David, in whom God fulfills the promises of the Davidic covenant.  The resurrected Jesus Christ is the eternal King of God's New Covenant people. 

In the Second Reading, Christ's representative, St. Paul, tells us how Christians receive an infusion of divine grace through the Sacrament of Baptism.  Baptism not only frees us from slavery to sin but allows us to begin a "new life."  This "new life" is not merely symbolic.  In Christian Baptism, Paul writes that our old self is crucified with Christ, and in the believer's new life, he/she is called to live not only in freedom from "sin" but freedom from "self."  The regenerative waters of baptism yield a supernatural transformation and rebirth.  The sinner is immersed in water and is thus "buried" with Christ with whom the Christian is also raised up through the water to resurrection as a "new creation," infused with "divine life" as a member of God's holy covenant family. 

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus gives a teaching on the conditions of discipleship.  Jesus, the Living Word of God to mankind, warns that the decision to follow Him may cause a break in the bonds of our friendships and families.   Alluding to His future crucifixion, Jesus invites His disciples to follow Him in announcing the Kingdom in His healing ministry, in His suffering, and ultimately in His glory.  Jesus also speaks of the reward for receiving one of His emissaries and the Gospel message he carries.  It is Jesus' promise that someone who does even a small act of kindness for one of His disciples will not lose his reward of eternal life. 

In Jesus' Kingdom of the Church, the congregation and the priest both have responsibilities.  The congregation has the responsibility to listen intently to the message of Christ's representative, and the priest has the responsibility to proclaim the word of God to the congregation so they can apply his message to their lives.  As St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy concerning his ministerial responsibility to his congregation: I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by the appearing of his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient, convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching (2 Tim 4:1-2).  We should expect to respond positively to both our priest's encouragements and to his reprimands that are intended to keep us on the narrow path to eternal salvation.

The First Reading 2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16a ~ The Shunammite Woman and Elisha's Blessing
8 One day Elisha came to Shunem, where there was a woman of influence, who urged him to dine with her.  Afterward, whenever he passed by, he used to stop there to dine. 9 So she said to her husband, "I know that Elisha is a holy man of God.  Since he visits us often, 10 let us arrange a little room on the roof and furnish it for him with a bed, table, chair, and lamp, so that when he comes to us he can stay there."  11 Sometime later Elisha arrived and stayed in the room overnight.  [...]   14 Later Elisha asked, "Can something be done for her?"  His servant Gehazi answered, "Yes!  She has no son, and her husband is getting on in years." Elisha said, 15 "Call her." When the woman had been called and stood at the door, 16a Elisha promised, "This time next year you will be fondling a baby son."

The Biblical account reveals that Elisha traveled a great deal between Mt. Carmel, the capital of Samaria, and the communities of the prophets in Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho.  He had a servant who traveled with him named Gehazi.  Shunem was a town in the tribal lands of Issachar in the Jezreel Valley (Josh 19:18).  The Shunammite woman was wealthy; her husband was a landowner with servants.  Like the poor Gentile woman of Zarephath who shared her food and her home with the prophet Elijah, this woman generously offered Elisha her hospitality and then decided to offer him a room of his own in her house.  These women are only two of many women in salvation history who opened their homes and gave their hospitality to God's representatives and the people of His faith community.

Elisha wanted to do something for the woman to show his appreciation.  It is his servant, Gehazi, who points out to Elisha that the woman has no son, and her elderly husband is unlikely to father a child.  Elisha approves of his servant's suggestion, and he promises his benefactress that she will bear a child at this season in the next year. 

This passage is one of seven stories of miraculous births in the Bible in addition to the birth of Jesus (the eighth miraculous birth):

  1. In the story of Abraham and Sarah, they were both elderly, and Sarah was barren, yet God made Sarah fertile, and she bore a son in their old age.  God told them to name the child Isaac (Gen 18:9-11; 21:1-3).
  2. Rebekah was barren until Isaac prayed for her and God gave them twin sons who they named Esau and Jacob (Gen 25:20-24).
  3. Rachel was barren until God gave her a son, and she named him Joseph (Gen 30:22-24).
  4. Manoah's wife was barren, but God answered her prayer and gave her a child who became the mighty warrior Samson (Judg 13:2-7, 24). 
  5. Hannah was barren, but God heard her prayer and gave her a child who became the prophet Samuel (1 Sam 1:1-2, 10-11, 20).
  6. The birth of a son for the barren Shunammite woman (2 Kng 4:14-17).
  7. Zechariah and Elizabeth were elderly when God made Elizabeth fertile, and she gave birth to John the Baptist (Lk 1:1-25, 57-58).

There are only five annunciation stories in the Bible in which a woman received a direct message of a future birth by an agent of God:

  1. Sarah the mother of Isaac
  2. Manoah's wife who became the mother of the prophet Samuel
  3. The Shunammite woman
  4. The Virgin Mary the mother of Jesus
  5. Elisabeth the mother of John the Baptist

There are three differences between Elisha's annunciation story and the gift of a child to the other barren women or the other annunciation stories in the Bible:

  1. All the other stories of the gift of children to barren women originate from the word of God, but this one is from the prophet's own initiative as recompense for the woman's kindness to him. 
  2. The son from the birth is named in the other stories but not in this story.
  3. All the other stories lead to the birth of someone destined to play a significant role in salvation history, while it is not recorded that this unnamed child played any significant role in the Biblical narrative.

God is gracious to those who help, even in the smallest ways, to move forward His divine plan or render aid to His emissaries.  St. Paul warns us to be kind and generous to those in need because we may be unaware that we are entertaining angels (Heb 13:2).

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 89:2-3, 16-17, 18-19 ~ The Faithfulness of God's Promises

Response: "Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord."

2 The promises of the LORD I will sing forever, through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness.  3 For you have said, "My kindness is established forever; in heaven you have confirmed your faithfulness."
Response:
16 Blessed the people who know the joyful shout; in the light of your countenance, O LORD, they walk.  17 At your name they rejoice all the day, and through your justice they are exalted.
Response:
18 You are the splendor of their strength, and by your favor our horn is exalted.  19 For to the LORD belongs our shield, and the Holy One of Israel, our king.
Response:

The psalmist proclaims God's steadfast love for His people and His faithfulness to His promises to them.  He describes God's protection of His people and Israel's king who is God's chosen representative for the covenant people.  Chief among the kings of Israel was David, the divinely anointed shepherd-king with whom God made an eternal covenant (1 Sam 12-13; 2 Sam 7:11b-16, 29; 23:5; 1 Kng 2:4; 2 Chr 13:5; Sir 45:25).  It is Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God and Son of David, in whom God fulfills the promises of the Davidic covenant.  The resurrected Jesus Christ is the eternal King of God's New Covenant people. 

It is because of the references to the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant that the Church uses this psalm on the Feast of St. Joseph to show that God kept His promise by sending God the Son to be born into the house of David to which both Joseph and Mary belonged (Mt 1:1, 20; Lk 1:32-33).

The Second Reading Romans 6:3-4, 8-11 ~ The Regeneration of Baptism
3 You cannot have forgotten that all of us, when we were baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptized into his death.  4 So by our baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father's glorious power, we too should begin living a new life.  [...]  8 But we believe that, if we died with Christ, then we shall live with him too.  9 We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and will never die again.  Death has no power over him any more.  10  For by dying, he is dead to sin once and for all, and now the life that he lives is life with God.  11  In the same way, you must see yourselves as being dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.

Paul tells us how God's abundant grace reaches us and the effect of God's infusion of divine grace in verses 3-4.  Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we receive God's grace which frees us from slavery to sin.  The entomological meaning of the word "baptize" is "dip" or "immerse."  Immersion was a common practice in the Old Covenant for ritual purification and for conversion (i.e. John the Baptizer's immersion for repentance).  However, our immersion in the Baptism of Christ goes far beyond ritual symbolism.  When one receives the Sacrament of Baptism a supernatural sequence of events take place which images the life of Christ (see Colossians 2:9-14 and John 3:3-8; CCC# 628; 977-978):

  1. The believer dies to sin, and therefore blameworthiness dies—we die to sin by renouncing sin and its power over us and are free of its hold on our lives.  We image Christ in our Baptismal death to sin just as He died to free us from sin on the Cross.
  2. We are born "again" or "from above"; the Hebrew word onothan can mean either "again" or "from above" (see John 3:3, 5).  Our hearts are supernaturally "circumcised," and we are resurrection out of the waters of Baptism to a new life.  We are no longer a child in the family of Adam, we become children in the family of God, imaging Christ's Resurrection from the tomb and fulfilling God's promise to make all things new through the New Covenant in Christ: Revelation 21:5-7, "Then the One sitting on the throne spoke.  'Look, I am making the whole of creation new.  Write this, 'What I am saying is trustworthy and will come true.'  Then he said to me, 'It has already happened.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  I will give water from the well of life free to anybody who is thirsty' and I will be his God and he will be my son."
  3. Baptism imparts the life of Christ's grace and, therefore, original sin and all personal sins are forgiven through the cleansing waters of Baptism in the regeneration and infusion of divine life by the power of God the Holy Spirit.

However, concupiscence, the tendency to sin, unfortunately, remains as a test of holiness see CCC# 978.

St. Ambrose, in his instruction to the newly baptized on the Sacrament of Baptism, taught, "The Lord who wanted his benefactions to endure, the serpent's plans to be turned to naught, and the harm done to be put right, delivered a sentence on mankind: 'You are dust, and to dust you shall return' (Genesis 3:19), and made man subject to death."  Then, as St. Ambrose continues, God in His mercy provided a remedy: "The remedy was given him: man would die and rise again.... You ask me how? Answering his own question St. Ambrose informed the newly Baptized, "Pay attention!  So that in this world too the devil's snare would be broken, a rite was instituted whereby man would die, being alive, and rise again, being alive...Through immersion in water the sentence is blotted out: 'You are dust and to dust you shall return'" (St. Ambrose, De Sacramentis, II,6).

In his letters, Paul teaches that Baptism is not merely a symbolic death and rebirth; it is a genuine participation in Christ's saving mission—death, burial, and Resurrection as figured in water immersion (death and burial), and coming "up" out of the water (Resurrection). The old Law served as a tutor or a guardian (CCC# 1963) to prepare God's covenant people for rebirth into the family of God as the true spiritual heirs of Abraham and members of the One Body in Christ, the New Covenant Church (see Gal 3:25-28; Col 2:9-14;1 Cor 12:12-13; Eph 4:4-6).

The result is that we should live in "newness of life," and the "self" that belonged to sin is destroyed since we are freed from the power of sin over us.  The Baptized believer is a new creation in Christ, as Paul writes in Colossians 3:10, You have stripped off  your old behavior with your old self, and you have put on a new self which will progress towards true knowledge the more it is renewed in the image of its Creator.  God created the human race in His image and their destiny was to live in His likeness of holiness (Gen 1:26-27).  But the family of Adam became lost in trying to see knowledge and wisdom apart from the will of God (Gen 2:17) and became slaves of sin.  This is the "old self" (Rom 6:6) that must die.  The "new self" is reborn through the waters of baptism into Christ who is the true image of God and who has come to restore fallen humanity to the splendor of that image that had been stained and distorted by sin.

In Romans 6:5-10, Paul focuses on Christian conformity to the life of Christ.  He makes an argument in two steps, beginning each step with a conditional statement in verse 5 and again in verse 8.  Verse 5 is not in our reading but is necessary for understanding Paul's point.  Each statement expresses a hope that we believe will become a reality through the promises of Jesus Christ.  The argument centers on the Christian's conformity to the ethical pattern of Christ's death, burial, and Resurrection which brought about a release from slavery to sin and God's wrath and His glorious Resurrection to new life: 

According to Paul, in Christian Baptism, our old self is crucified with Christ.  In the believer's new life, he/she is called to live not only in freedom from "sin" but freedom from "self."  Our new life is not merely symbolic, and this is why Jesus commands, and the Church teaches, that Baptism as necessary for salvation (Mk 16:16; Acts 2:38, CCC 1257).  The regenerative waters of baptism yield a transformation and rebirth.  In Scripture, a "sign" points beyond the event to a more significant event.  Baptism is a sign or symbol only in the sense that it is symbolic of the greater supernatural reality of the sacrament which shows in a visible form God's action to perform what the physical event signifies and that is resurrection to new life in Christ.  The sinner is immersed in water and is thus "buried" with Christ (Col 2:12).  The Christian then is raised up through the water to resurrection (Rom 8:11) as a "new creation—infused with "divine life" (2 Pt 1:3-4; 2 Cor 5:17).  The Christian becomes a member of God's family and at one with the Body of Christ animated by the one Spirit (1 Cor 12:13; Eph 4:4ff).  However, the Christian's resurrection will not be complete or final until the end of time (1 Cor 15:12).  Paul assures us that Christians having been freed from sin are freed from the power of sin over their lives because God's grace is more powerful that the power of sin.

The Regenerative Power of Christian Baptism which images Christ:
Christ's crucifixion and death ==> Christ's Resurrection ==> Christ's glorified new life
Our crucifixion with Christ and our death to sin & self into the waters of baptism ==> Our resurrection to new life through the power of the Holy Spirit = "born again" or "born from above" in the image of Christ raised up through the water of baptism ==> Our final Resurrection and glorification

10  For by dying, he is dead to sin once and for all, and now the life that he lives is life with God.  11  In the same way, you must see yourselves as being dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus."
In his commentary on this passage, St. John Chrysostom writes about what it means to be dead to sin in baptism: "Being dead to sin means not obeying it any more.  Baptism has made us dead to sin once and for all, but we must strive to maintain this state of affairs, so that however many commands sins may give us, we no longer obey it but remain unmoved by it, as a corpse does.  Elsewhere, Paul even says that sin itself is dead...in order to show that virtue is easy.  But here, since he is trying to rouse his hearers to action, he says that they are the ones who are dead."

There is no question that the early Church Fathers regarded baptism by water and the Spirit as more than a symbolic event.  They recognized the sacramental character of baptism in which the believer by the power of the Holy Spirit dies to sin and resurrects to new life.  This teaching has come down to us unchanged after 2000 years and is expressed in the Oral teaching found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "This sacrament is called Baptism, after the central rite by which it is carried out: to baptize (Greek baptizein) means to 'plunge' or 'immerse'; the 'plunge' into the water symbolizes the catechumen's burial into Christ's death, from which he rises up by resurrection with him, as a 'new creature'" (CCC# 1214).  "This sacrament is also called 'the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit,' for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one 'can enter the kingdom of God" (CCC# 1215).  Also see Tertullian's 2nd century AD treatise On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 47.

From the earliest years of the Church, the sacramental graces of baptism were considered so important that even infants were not to be denied this special grace.  The Church argued that in the Old Covenant Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day of His life and entered into the life of the community in the Sinai Covenant, and therefore, children should be baptized (see St. Peter's command to baptize adults and children in Acts 2:38-39).  Origen, theologian and director of the School of Theology in Alexandria, wrote in circa the first quarter of the 200s the necessity of baptism for infants to remove the stain of original sin: "The Church received from the Apostles the tradition of giving Baptism even to infants.  For the Apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of divine mysteries, knew that there is in everyone the innate stains of sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit" (Origen, Commentary on Romans, 5.8).

The Gospel Reading Matthew 10:37-42 ~ The Conditions of Discipleship
Jesus said: 37 "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.  39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  40 "Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.  41 Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is righteous will receive a righteous man's reward.  42 And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.

The phrase "is not worthy of me" in 10:37 is more accurately translated "does not deserve to belong to me."  The Greek adjective axios has the sense of "belonging" rather than "worth" (Fr. Harrington, Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Matthew, page 151).  Jesus' warning in Matthew 10:34-37 is that the decision to follow Him and become a member of His covenant family may cause a break in the bonds within our human families.

38 and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.  39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Jesus is alluding to His future crucifixion.  He invites His disciples to follow Him in the announcing of the Kingdom, in His healing ministry, in His suffering and ultimately in His glory.
Crucifixion was a well-known form of capital punishment in Jesus time.  It was invented by the Persians, adopted by the Greeks, and practiced by the Romans for executions of non-Roman citizens.  Jews and Israelites found crucifixion abhorrent.  Although the disciples could not have understood it, Jesus statement becomes a prophecy of His future crucifixion.

In verses 38-39, Jesus gives a warning and makes a contrast between temporal and eternal life.  A disciple must be willing to embrace suffering for the sake of the kingdom, even if the price of faithfulness is martyrdom.  Anyone who tries to preserve his life by denying Jesus is condemned to eternal destruction, but anyone who is willing to lose his earthly life for Jesus' sake is promised the reward of everlasting life in the Kingdom of Heaven.

In verses 40-42, Jesus speaks of the promised rewards for welcoming Jesus' emissaries.  The words "who sent me" in verse 40, referring to God the Father, may also be linked to the ones Jesus sent; the word "Apostle" in Greek means "the one sent."  It was a rabbinic principle that "the representative of a person is like himself" (Mishnah: Ber., 5.5), and this is the principle that underlies verse 40.  Jesus' point is that He is God the Father's representative and the disciples are His representatives.  Therefore, whoever receives the disciples is in effect receiving Jesus, and since Jesus' is the Father's representative, those who receive the disciples are also receiving the Father and will be rewarded by Him.

41 Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is righteous will receive a righteous man's reward.
The focus of this verse is the reward for receiving God's prophet and his message.  In the Bible, a prophet is one who speaks the words of God, and a righteous person is one who is completely obedient to the Law.  Jesus defined "righteousness" in the New Covenant in the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount.

42 And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.
"Little ones" refers to Jesus' disciples, the "children" who serve the Father by announcing the coming of the Kingdom.  It is Jesus' promise that someone who does even a small act of kindness for one of His disciples will not lose his reward of eternal life.  Think of the implication of that promise and put it into action in your life today!

Catechism references in this lesson (*indicates Scripture is quoted in the citation):
Psalm 89 (CCC 709)
Romans 6:4 (CCC 537, 628, 648*, 654, 658*, 730, 977, 1697); 6:8-11 (CCC 1987); 6:10 (CCC 1085); 6:11 (CCC1694)
Matthew 10:37 (CCC 2232); 10:38 (CCC 1506*), 10:40 (CCC 858)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2017 www.AgapeBibleStudy.com