In the Eucharist we welcome Christ and are also welcomed by him, strengthened for our journey. With his grace, we try to extend the same welcome to others whose lives touch our own.
One day Elisha was passing through Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to have a meal. So whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for a meal. 9 She said to her husband, "Look, I am sure that this man who regularly passes our way is a holy man of God. 10 Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that he can stay there whenever he comes to us."
One day when he came there, he went up to the chamber and lay down there. He said, "What then may be done for her?" Gehazi answered, "Well, she has no son, and her husband is old." He said, "Call her." When he had called her, she stood at the door. He said, "At this season, in due time, you shall embrace a son." She replied, "No, my lord, O man of God; do not deceive your servant."
My brethren, Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Jesus said to his disciples, "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; and whoever does not take up he cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
"Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple-truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward."
It is a wonderful thing to meet a man or woman of God. There is about such people a peace of such a fullness as communicates God to us. We, no less than the people of biblical times, are looking for someone to "give us a word:" a word which engenders faith and hope, a word which can ignite the smouldering embers of our heart unto a fire of a love which is beyond us.
To welcome such people in the sense of really accepting the word of the Gospel which they speak, more often through their being and actions rather than their words, is to welcome Christ and his Father. Jesus often speaks in the Gospel of his Father and himself coming to abide in the hearts of those who "keep his words" while the "sweet guest of the soul" is a beautiful title used if the Holy Spirit if the tradition.
Meeting someone good can also threaten us. It faces us with the necessity of change in our own life. Unfortunately this does not just mean the struggle to rid ourselves of obvious moral evil but even of things which are in themselves good and valuable in order to make way for newness. When we come face to face with Jesus the Way, the Truth and the Life the choice is even more radical the most valuable things in life such as family and even the quest for our own self-fulfilment must take second place and the following of Jesus which inevitably involves the cross of self-giving and change must be embraced.
When we choose Christ in baptism we choose immersion ('baptism') into his death. We are buried with him, we are grafted on to his death and our "old self" is crucified with him. These images used by Paul in Romans 6:3-11 leave us in no doubt as to the radically of what welcoming Jesus and his word into our lives means. However, just as the woman of Shunem is rewarded with new life for receiving the "man of God" SO the reward from welcoming Jesus is infinitely greater. We be-come the dwelling places of God himself and we become a "new creation" in the image of the Son.
Openness to life! Hospitality of heart - These are some of the themes that suggest themselves through the readings of this Sunday. The woman in the first reading was open to life; she welcomed the prophet into her home, was aware that he was a holy man of God, and set about facilitating his mission. In the gospel we, as disciples of Jesus, listen to his words addressed directly to us telling us how we are to open our lives to him, give him pride of place over family and friends even to the point of bearing his cross. Our welcome is to be whole-hearted, and if I am in any doubt as to where I am to exercise this total acceptance of Christ in my life I have only to turn to my neighbour. "He who welcomes you, welcomes me" Nothing could be clearer. Christ is all around me. He is present in my home, at work, in those who pass me in the street.. He is present in myself! In today's second reading St Paul adds his voice to the celebration of Christian life! Through baptism we have entered into the great life of the reurrection. No wonder we cry out with the psalmist in joy; "I will sing forever of your love, 0 Lord." The beautiful story of the Shunemite woman illustrates the fact that God's word finds acceptance in people's lives through the instrumentality of human agents. Elisha may seem to be an itinerant preacher. It is the woman who detects his mission and makes room for him in her house. Likewise, many a parent makes space for God in their family life by helping a child learn the words of a prayer and by showing respect for the things of God. When I reflect on how God found a space in my life, I will inevitably return to the influence of a human agent. The gospel's emphasis on hospitality is presented in the form of a strange equation: "He who welcomes you, welcomes me."
We may expect, then, that Christ will come to our doors in many disguises and almost always at the wrong time! He may not even be wearing clerical garb! Rather, I may find him hidden in the stranger, the outcast of society, the neighbour, the child needing attention, the sick person.. There are many delightful fairytales of princesses hidden in rags and of princes imprisoned in toads. Every child's eyes light up in wonder at the moment when the disguise is dropped and the truth is revealed. Openness to wonder, to the mystery of Christ hidden in the other: these qualities are often sadly missing in my life. The "cup of cold water" is proverbially quoted as a somewhat dubious sign of Christian charity. Perhaps this is because it does not cost much in rain-drenched climates! In a hot, dusty climate, however, a drink of cold water can be a life-saver. The attitude of thoughtfulness, the lack of self-absorption; these would seem to underline the Christian attitude towards others. It is not what is given that counts but the heart with which it is given.
A legalistic, mathematical mind tends to measure the bare requirement due to the other. This does not make for a happy environment. No wonder that a sub-theme of today's liturgy is joy: "Happy the people.. who find their joy every day in your name" we read in the psalm. The open-hearted person is always happy; there is much joy in giving. Cups of cold water may be translated into a letter, a phone-call, a smile, a word of appreciation. They cost little but how the world today is crying out for cups of cold water! Christ is often wounded and struggling in my neighbour. The image that could be explored by the homilist pertaining to the theme of hospitality is that of making a space for God in our lives. The woman of Shunem had a room built on the roof of her house for the prophet so that he might be rested and refreshed for his mission throughout Israel. She made physical space for the holy man of God. Christianity calls on us to make space for Christ and his message in our lives. Where do I find this space? Is it my time? A small part of my earnings to support the preaching of God's word? Or is it a quiet space in my life where I can turn to welcome the indwelling of Christ in my heart? Mary is the model of Christian hospitality: she made a space in her heart for the Word just as she made a space in her womb for his body. She pondered his words in her heart so that gradually her whole life was filled with his presence.