Jesus never said it would be easy
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
The Good News for the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sunday, June 20
Jeremiah 20: 10-13
Psalms 69: 8-10, 14, 17, 33-35
The Good News for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary time Sunday, June 27
2 Kings 4: 8-11, 14-16a
Psalms 89: 2-3, 16-19
Romans 6:3-4, 8-11
Getting a job is one thing — we have to convince people we have the necessary skills. To keep a job, though, is something else. We have to grow into it, even in the face of adversity. In time, the job starts to affect us. We begin to identify with the work. In some cases the employee so represents the company that it is hard to separate one from the other.
The pep talk employer Jesus delivers to his new recruits foresees these developments. They will face persecution, but they will become completely identified with the master.
The Gospel passages for the next two Sundays are drawn from the 10th chapter of Matthew (26-33 and 37-42). Having returned to ordinary time, we will hear from Matthew every Sunday untill the end of the Church year in November. We pick him up in the second of the five main divisions of his work, a section devoted to discipleship. The theme was more evident in the Gospel we hear today (9:36-10:8), in which Jesus selected his 12 followers by name and sent them on mission. The next two Sundays offer variations on this theme — one concerning adversity and the other representation.
Adversity would surely befall the Twelve. In next Sunday’s Gospel Jesus tells them three times, “Do not be afraid,” and gives them three reasons: The truth will become known; Their enemy is ultimately powerless; God will protect them. Jesus did not eliminate adversity, but he did emasculate it.
Representation is part of discipleship. The Twelve would not simply obey Jesus’ commands, they would embody the message and the messenger as well. Prerequisite was their complete love. They had to love Jesus even more than family members. They also had to be willing to take up a cross. (This is the first reference to the cross in Matthew’s Gospel.) If they accomplished that kind of love and devotion, whoever welcomed them welcomed Jesus.
The Lectionary illuminates these sayings of Jesus with carefully selected passages about prophets (Jeremiah 20:7, 10-13 and 2 Kings 4:8-12a, 14-17). Each passage shows how the subject of Jesus’ speech to his disciples was already being lived out by prophetic heroes of old.
Jeremiah, the reluctant prophet, complained that God duped him into service. As soon as he spoke the prophetic word, his enemies denounced him. Yet he had to acknowledge that because the Lord was with him his enemies would stumble. Before we hear Jesus’ encouraging words to the Twelve next Sunday, we hear about Jeremiah, the great example of tenacious prophecy amidst adversity.
The passage from 2 Kings recounts a story of Elisha, the successor and disciple of Elijah. On his travels, Elisha regularly visited a wealthy woman who offered him food and lodging. He, of small means, had little to offer in return for her kindness, but he learned through his servant that she had no son and no promise of one given the advanced age of her husband. Elisha, the prophet who spoke the word of God, promised she would embrace a son within a year. And so she did.
The story explains not just hospitality, but representation. The woman who welcomed Elisha was actually welcoming the one whom Elisha represented, the Lord God. When Elisha promised her a son, he spoke with the words of God. This passage will prepare us to hear Jesus explain to the Twelve how they would represent him in their work.
To follow Christ means to welcome adversity and glory. If these passages teach anything it is that the disciple follows the way of the master in all its manifestations. As Jesus had enemies, so would the Twelve. As Jesus accepted a cross, so would they. Yet as he reflected the divine glory, they would as well.
As followers of Christ we are all “employees,” if you will, who come to be identified with the company name. We embrace the Christian message with the basic skill of love. We face the adversities of doubt, temptation, and scorn. Yet even in those moments we are one with Christ who has suffered first and who urged us to join him on the way of truth and righteousness.
Father Paul Turner is pastor of St. John Francis Regis Parish, Kansas City.