13th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A - 07/02/2017
"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 his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me." Matthew 10:37-38
Ole and Lena absolutely loved to go camping on the weekends. For years and years they pulled this same camper into this one particular campground and parked in the same spot. One morning while camping, before she left to go get some groceries, Lena says to Ole, "Dear Ole, ve been camping in the same spot and in the same camper since the kids vere little. Don't ya know it been for about twenty five years? Da camper is veathered and vorn, the plumbing is broken and the stove doesn't vork so well. So, don't ya think it's time ve consider getting an upgrade?" Ole says, "Ya, dats a good thought Lena, let me do some figuring." With that Lena left the campgrounds to get the groceries. Upon her return she discovered that the camper was gone! She excitingly thought that Ole had pulled up stakes and taken the camper in for a trade in. When, all of sudden, she heard Ole's voice from up yonder. "Lena, I moved the camper to higher ground! How's dis for an upgrade?"
During this time of summer vacation we can't help but to think of get-a-way plans, travel times and awaiting destination. When we take to the air, hit the road, climb aboard or sail away, it certainly is nice to go in style. Considering our desired location at an exclusive resort; in a plush cabin; at exciting campground or within a penthouse suite, we are always made aware of the potential for first class amenities and we are always hopeful that we may be, at the very least, considered for an upgrade.
However, and unfortunately, most of those upgrades are not free but come at a price. How many of us are offered upgrades when we approach a ticket counter or at the check in station if we are willing to pay just a little extra? Sometimes a person can get lucky in certain venues and get a room complimentary when they hit a jackpot at a casino or get bumped to first class when they overbook a flight. But, that doesn't happen too often. Usually there is a price to pay. Usually there are no free upgrades.
The same can be said about the message in the scripture readings for this weekend. No matter how much we think that this world has to offer us in sights to see and experiences to behold, we are reminded that our lives are to be directed toward a different and final destination with accommodations that are "out of this world". This world, although it is beautiful and full of fabulous things offered, is not the end all and be all to which we are called. We are sojourners here (temporary inhabitants). We are disciples on a mission journeying to our eternal reward and final destination in heaven.
Today I am standing at this pulpit not only as a preacher of the Word but also as a ticket agent informing you that, even though you have your ticket - baptism - there are certain upgrades available that you should consider. I must also inform you that these upgrades aren't free but come at a price. What kind of price you might ask? It is not an exchange of frequent flyer miles or the cashing in of accumulated points. Rather, the payment comes in the form of fidelity to God and faithfulness to God's commandments. It is keeping the Lord, Jesus Christ as first and foremost in your lives at all times. And, it is about being hospitable to those who are in need, especially those who work to advance the mission of the Church.
In the gospel last week we read the words of Matthew through which Jesus told us, "Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father." We are told that we should be afraid of losing our relationship with God.
In today's gospel we hear the same type of challenging words, "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 his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me."
We are to love Jesus more than our family at all times. This can be shocking to us if we really let it sink in. We go out of the way and spend inordinate amounts of money to take the kids to soccer leagues and take family vacations during the summertime. We do so much to build up our families, and yet, they are not to be our first priority.
Remember that the first three commandments deal with our relationship with God. We are to have no other gods before him, we are to reverence God and his holy name, and we are to set apart time dedicated to God as we keep holy the Sabbath. (Which, by the way, puts the kibosh on those who think that you don't need to go to church while you are on vacation!!)
It is only after these three commandments that we are told to honor our parents and then others through the remaining six commandments. The message is that while family is indeed important it follows our first duty of getting our relationship with God right. In order of priority, God comes first above all other things. Placing other concerns before God is idolatry, That is hard to hear, but it is simply the truth. Without this priority in our lives everything not only falls short, it falls apart.
God also asks us for generosity. Both in the first reading and in the gospel we see acts of generosity reciprocated with great rewards. In the first reading from Second Kings, Elisha, the prophet of God, is welcomed into the home of a generous women who was childless. As a reward, she was given a promise for a son. In the gospel, those who give just a small cup of water to the disciples of Jesus will also be rewarded. In both instances, the reward for generosity to God and God's representatives is an upgrade from this life to eternal life to come.
In general, generosity to God and God's representatives means supporting our local church, which carries on the ministry of prophecy, and serving each other since we are Christ's disciples. We have all heard about tithing and being generous. Yet, when the opportunity comes for us to give we can be pretty stingy with our own excess resources. What Jesus is doing is telling his apostles and us that we need to live out the Greatest Commandments and the Ten Commandments by placing God above all other things and by being generous and hospitable to God's ongoing efforts through the church.
If you look around it is quite obvious that Summer Mass attendance is in steep decline as we freely go our own way and summer collections plummet while we spend freely and generously on ourselves. The message this week is: There's a huge difference between placing Jesus first and placing him second: place him second and you will lose everything; place Jesus first and you will gain all good things. This week, during the 4th of July holiday, we have a day or two for remembrance and relaxation,. Why not set aside the first hour of those days for Jesus - or at least the first twenty minutes? Everything else will go better. And remember Jesus words in the Gospel of John 12:26,"Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me." You really can't beat that type of upgrade.
Questions to ponder: God has been so attentive, generous and hospitable to us. How have you reciprocated that favor or how have you failed in that respect? Have you ever offered hospitality to someone in need and received a reward for your generosity? What was that like for you? Have you made extra effort during the summer time to make sure, wherever you are, to attend Sunday worship at Catholic Mass and continue to support your parish? Why or Why not?