Saturday, June 25, 2011

Paint Yourself Into The Picture

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A

2 Kings 4:8-11. 14-16
Romans 6:3-4. 8-11
Matthew 10:37-42

The passage from 2nd Kings for today says that the wealthy Shunemite woman and her husband received Elisha into their home with all of the regard due to a holy man of God and, without expecting it, were rewarded with the one thing missing in their lives, the one thing money and rank could not buy for them, offspring, a baby boy! In Matthew’s Gospel today Jesus promises a reward to all those who welcome apostles, prophets, holy men, disciples, even God’s little ones. He demands only (to use a very colloquial form of expression) that we not be clingy or self-absorbed. That’s one way to explain what Jesus was trying to teach the Twelve:
“Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me. Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Jesus demands first place in our lives: before closest kin, before our own selves. He demands that we follow in His footsteps all the way to Calvary. How many spiritual authors have filled volumes trying to explain to you and to me just what that is supposed to mean given our specific station in life! And yet, there’s something very attractive, yes, profound about explaining it with the simple command: don’t be either clingy in your relationships or self-absorbed with regard to yourself.

Why did the Shunemite woman and her husband gain the unexpected prize of a baby boy from God? Who else could have given such a reward? They won, if you will, because they went beyond themselves and their daily affairs (beyond their self-absorption?) to recognize God in their world in the person of a holy man, Elisha. Holy: that is, touched by God, belonging to God, caught up to God’s realm and communicating something of God to others for the sake of the life of the world.

I used to think that a big part of the reason for the increased violence in our world was middle class prosperity, the increased material wealth of a larger cross section of society which made them or us targets for the envy of materially obsessed but less fortunate types disposed to resort to violence in order to increase their share of the pie, if you will. Actually, I am beginning to see that the problem of violence and greed is more than a problem in and of itself. The greater tragedy, if you will, comes with the reverse side of the same coin, namely that our inordinate attachments or obsessions whether for persons or for things render us unworthy of the company of Christ. They hold us earthbound and far from the fullness of life offered to us by our living Lord.
“Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me. Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”
I’m not sure which comes first in a two-year-old’s language acquisitions: Mine! Or No!... Though our vocabulary may grow and our manners become more polished, some of us ultimately don’t get much beyond staking out our own territory, asserting ourselves or fending off others including God and His will for us.  Indeed, the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbor are one, two sides of the same coin. My self-absorption or possessiveness effectively leave me out of life’s running both in this life and for eternity. I cannot set myself up in life to win; I need to lose myself in order to find life and enjoy life with the other in God.

So much church art of the Middle Ages and other periods as well, particularly paintings, include portraits of the wealthy benefactors who paid for the artwork. Sometimes they are clearly part of the scene; sometimes they are painted smaller and kneeling in the foreground. In a sense, they could be showing off, but in another sense, they are going beyond their daily affairs to welcome the holy and put themselves in the picture so to speak with the saints at the foot of the Cross. You don’t give out big money for a painting like that without recognizing the holy in life.

You and I need to do something similar, without painting ourselves into a painting on the wall of a church, really without letting our right hand know what the left one is doing. We need to welcome all into our lives as if they were Christ. The breadth and height and depth of our charity, focused on Christ, will be the measure with which we are measured back.

I am sure at this point if I nudged people on a whole series of inordinate attachments and obsessions, I’d get back either the bloodshot stare of rage or the pallid face of desperation concerning a whole series of moral imperatives which people today won’t face in their lives; those crosses they ignore or refuse to take up with Christ. The problem, in good part at least, is self-absorption; it’s clinging to someone or something and missing the visit of the holy man Elisha, who just might leave that gift of God behind, which not only bends stubborn hearts and wills, melts the frozen and warms the chill, but leaves in its train, perhaps not a baby boy, but what he signifies in terms of life and hope far beyond the gusto or you name it which I can grasp for myself on my one time go around.

Ask the Lord this Sunday to open your grasp or grabbing hands and help you to extend your arms in welcome to whomever, be it an apostle, a prophet, a holy man, a true disciple of the Lord or even just one of God’s little ones. For not expecting the gift in return, we can be ever so much more blessed.

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