July 2, 2017 — Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
There are many themes and messages found in every reading and all of Holy Scripture. Nevertheless, sometimes it is important for us to focus on a few main ones in order to make everything around it clearer. There are a couple premises found in today’s readings that are worthy of our notice and our reflection. Simply put they are where our lives should be centered and how ongoing conversion is a necessity.
The First Reading is drawn from the Second Book of Kings. The two Books of Kings are basically a history of ancient Israel from the death of King David up to the release of Jehoiachin from imprisonment in Babylon, roughly a 400-year period. Elisha, on whom today’s reading centers, is a person whom we may well recall. With a name which means “My God is salvation” Elisha was called by Elijah to follow him while Elisha was plowing a field with oxen. He became a disciple and a protégé of Elijah, and after Elijah’s departure, Elisha replaced him and was accepted as the leader of the sons of the prophets.
This reading is filled with hope, but it also is a reminder of God and salvation. We often focus on the idea of stewardship and Elisha is an excellent example of a good steward leading his life by serving others and closely following God. Elisha reminds us that as stewards we are called to lead God-centered lives, even when that may seem impossible or difficult.
St. Paul goes to a different level in the Second Reading from his letter to the Romans. He opens by writing, “Are you unaware that we who are baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” This is a different perspective of the importance of Baptism than the one we normally ascribe to it, which views Baptism as a cleansing. Paul continues, “…just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” For us as Christians neither Baptism nor death is final. Both are better described as beginnings. Another important facet of stewardship is rebirth, especially rebirth and conversion spiritually. This all has to do with Resurrection.
Paul’s point might be stated that new life takes place every moment of our lives. We are naturally always being physically renewed, but spiritual renewal is just as vital; however, it is not quite as automatic nor as easy as the ongoing physical renewal we experience by breathing, by the fact that our heart renews constantly by sending blood through our bodies. The difference is that spiritual renewal requires an effort and our willingness to undertake it; it does not occur naturally. Resurrection is about daily rising and daily conversion, and that is the secret to being a good steward also.
What Paul calls us to is dramatic and life changing. You cannot die and rise again without it changing your life. Our death with Christ is real in a spiritual way. Paul closes with “you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.” That is what living God-centered lives entails.
Jesus brings it all to sense in the Gospel Reading from St. Matthew. A Biblical Scholar once posed the question, “If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence among those close to you to convict you of being a disciple of Jesus Christ?” That is more or less the demand that Jesus makes of us in today’s Gospel. Do we live God-centered lives? Do we seek and pursue daily conversion and rebirth? Jesus reminds us “whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” A Cross represents death, and that is the same kind of dying and renewal and conversion to which Paul was referring.
We are called to discipleship and stewardship, but to fulfill that calling seems to be a bit of a dichotomy. We hear in today’s readings that we can only find our lives by losing them, and we can only live by dying. In order to experience the enduring resurrection in our lives we must be willing to take up the Cross of being a Christian and a steward in what we do and how we live. This is how we truly follow Jesus.