|Words from Fr. Frank Cordaro|
June 30, 2002
Thirteenth Sunday Ordinary Time
2 KGS 4: 8-11, Rom 6: 3-4, 8-11, Mt 10: 37-42 Matt 10:37-42
More on Discipleship: This week’s Gospel continues Matthew’s directives on discipleship from last week’s Gospel. Only regrettably it skips over verses 10:34-36. These three verses help to set the tone temperament for this week’s Gospel. Jesus asks his disciples a rhetorical question, "Do you think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth"? He immediately answers, "Not peace but the sword"! The use of the word sword is not meant literally, but figuratively. Then Jesus quotes Micah 7:6 which describes the breakdown of the family unit with family members turning on each other. This is not a pretty picture and says something of the times and societal upheaval in which our faith was birth. It also helps set up today’s Gospel text. Whoever loves family members more than the Jesus way is not worth to be a follower (Matt 10:37): This directive is connected with the previous three verses. The Jesus movement struck directly at the core unit of society, the family. It called into question "bottom line" issues of allegiance.
My little Webster’s Pocket Dictionary defines allegiance as "loyalty to one’s nation, cause, or sovereign; faithfulness and commitment to an ideology; obligations of a vassal to an overlord". Human beings are made to serve. Everyone gives their allegiance to someone or something, either consciously or unconsciously, willingly or unwillingly. Most people have multiple allegiances yet there is always a pecking order, a hierarchy of allegiances in which all other claims take their cue. This was true in Jesus’ day. It is true today.
In Jesus’ day the dominant allegiance, the one all others took a secondary position was the allegiance to the Roman Empire and to the Emperor Caesar whom they called the Christ. Even though this allegiance to Rome superseded all other allegiances the Romans made some exceptions to the Jews in regard to their religious sensitivities, giving the Temple Cult in Jerusalem special status. Still, when it came to Roman’s exploitation of Jewish wealth, of collecting its taxes, of insuring Roman Law & Order and meeting Roman security concerns, Roman interest ruled supreme. Once this primary allegiance was set, all other allegiances of faith, nationality, tribe, clan and family were worked out. As long as Rome was paid its due the Romans cared little about other competing allegiances.
Once the claims of Rome were established and put into place systematically and structurally the everyday life of the vast majority of people in the empire were taken up with their local obligations and allegiances of family, clans, local religions and customs. The vast majority of people in the empire were either peasants, slaves or servants. Most rarely, if ever had contact with an official representative of the Roman Empire yet all paid their dues one way or the other.
Even though Rome had first claim on peoples allegiances, the most consuming day to day allegiances were those lived out locally and immediately within the family unit. Within this social context there were clear lines of identity of the "in" crowd and the "out" crowd, a world view of us vs them. You might only be a slave but you were somebody’s slave and your whole identity, purpose in life and allegiances were set.
This hierarchy of allegiance is also true today. As citizens and residence of the U.S.A. our first and primary allegiance is to our nation. Even though our national leaders make no claims of being kings with divine mandates there is a social contract that works just the same. As citizens of the worlds ruling super power we have many freedoms, privileges and opportunities that the vast majority of people do not have. As long as we do not interfere with our nation’s means of acquiring wealth or threaten our legal system and national security concerns, pay our taxes and obey our laws we are pretty much free to attend to our personal and family lives. We can say and believe whatever we wish. It’s very similar to the privileged position of Roman citizens in Jesus’ day.
As for the rest of humanity, the vast majority of people whom we share the planet, they are very much life the peasants, slaves and servants in the Roman Empire. Their nation, states of residence function, within the sphere of USA influence. And like in days of the Roman Empire, our national self interest supercedes all others. As long as our global means of wealth exploitation and national security concerns are met, other nation states are pretty much free to rule their own peoples as they see fit.
For most people in the world, their bottom line allegiance to the U.S.A. is hidden and abstract but nonetheless real and oppressive. It is played out in the systemic political, social & economic systems and institutions that perpetrate poverty and injustice. And while this "mostly" hidden hand of oppression does its thing people live their lives taken up with their immediate obligations and allegiances of family, clan, religion and customs. And like their first century counterparts they live their lives with clear de-lin-e-ations of who’s "in" and who’s "out," who’s the "us" and who’s the "them". One more point of note, though it should be obvious. All these hierarchies of allegiances are maintained by brut force, shear power, violence and the threat of violence. That’s the way they did in the days of Pax-Romano. This is the way we do it today in the era of the New World Order.
When Jesus called into question the immediate bonds and allegiances of family tie, he called into question every and any allegiance a person might have from the most intimate and personal to the most powerful and global. The Jesus way directly threatened and subverted the Roman Empire in three ways:
1) In the family of Jesus followers there is no longer an "in" crowd or an "out" crowd, an "us" vs "them" dynamic. Blood family, class, race, religion, ideology, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic identity or nationality no longer determines a person’s allegiance. All are brothers and sisters in Christ. The followers of Jesus do unto others as they would have others do unto them.
2) Within the context of the Jesus way’s radical equalitarian ethic there is a hierarchy of claim based on need. What the Catholic Church calls the preferential option for the poor. In the Jesus movement there rae those who rightly claim privilege and deference on our time and talents, our gifts and resources. They are the poor and the oppressed. In fact, these, the least in our midst are actually Jesus, no other! (Matt 25:31-46) The Jesus movement makes its claims for allegiance through non violent persuasion. No use of violence or the threat of violence is allowed. The dynamic is one of invitation, not coercion. Loving ones enemies allows no room for killing. The weapons in the army* of God are unconditional love and unlimited forgiveness. A soldier* for Christ ain’t no passive weak-kneed pansy; a soldier for Christ is an in-your-face active nonviolent resister to injustice (Army and soldier not used literally but figuratively). Following Jesus is about bearing crosses and losing your life to find it (Matt 10:38-39): No worldly empire, whether it be the Roman Empire of Jesus day or our own U.S. Empire of today’s new world order, could survive long following the directives that Jesus gave his disciples. Nor could any worldly empire tolerate a significant number of its citizens or subjects embracing the Jesus way. So empires either buy out the movement or eradicate it. In the early years of Christianity the Roman Empire chose to eradicate the movement. After Constantine and the unholy alliance between the Church and the Roman Empire the relationship between empires and the Jesus movement has been a combination of both buying out and eradicating. Regrettably the history of the post-Constantine era has mostly been a buyout experience.
Jesus and the Gospel writers understood that if the followers of the Jesus way were not going to sell out to the worldly Empires, then the worldly empires would move to eradicate them. In Matthew 10:38-39, Matthew is simply letting the disciples know that the radical realignment of their allegiance to the ways of Jesus was going to take them right up to Rome’s ultimate deterrent to any non conformist subversive movement, death by crucifixion.
Though theologically speaking, Jesus’ death on the cross was a one time event that forgave all sins for all time, politically speaking Jesus’ crucifixion was the first of countless deathly run-ins with worldly empires that faithful followers of Jesus will experience throughout history. Any serious disciple of Jesus needs to know this and realize in faith that it is only through such deadly confrontations with the forces of evil that eternal life comes. This is precisely what Paul meant in this week’s second reading from Romans when he wrote, ÒIf, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. (Rm 6:8) "Whoever receives you, a prophet, a righteous person, gives only a cup of cold water". (Matt 10:40-42: In the early years of the Church, giving to Jesus often meant separation, from your birth family and clan, as the previous verses indicate. That is why Matthew added the last three verses to the end of his discipleship discourse in Chapter 10. Becoming a member of the Jesus movement was becoming a member of a replacement family, a wholly other personal safety net network. And the act of hospitality became the gateway experience to this new Christian communal reality. Seeing hospitality as the basic par-a-dime for Christian communal life, community members can be divided into two groups. Those in need of hospitality - the guest. And those who offer hospitality - the host. In the dynamics of the first generations of Christianity believers were always in need of hospitality. Apostles and the preachers who followed them were always on the road preaching the word from one town to the next in need of hospitality. If we take Matthew’s words at face value there were constant persecutions and social dislocations for the followers of the Jesus way. And there had to be a great need for basic hospitality and works of mercy, providing food, clothing and shelter.
Matthew 10:40-42 speaks to those who offer hospitality - the host, the Martha and the Mary’s. And this is where this O.T. reading from 2 Kings and the story of Elisha and the Shunammite women connect. As the story goes the Shunammite women, a foreigner offers Elisha, the prophet hospitality in her home. Elisha wishing to repay the debt intercedes on her behalf. The women had no son. Elisha informs her within a year she will give birth to a son. Hospitality brings rewards.
In today’s Gospel Jesus says that those who give hospitality to his followers; to prophets and preachers, to the righteous and the martyrs are their equals in the eyes of God. Even the merest gesture like giving a cup of water to a follower will not go unrewarded. Connecting Points:
1) Gospel Love and Globalization: The universal all inclusive ethic of love; the love of brothers and sisters, of neighbors of the stranger, of the poor, of enemies, of everyone and everybody that Jesus touched is more possible and necessary today than at any other time in human history. Why? Because of globalization. Unlike in the time of Jesus where 90% of peoples’ basic needs were met in socio-economic political spheres that operated within a 50-mile radius; today, especially for developed nations, peoples basic needs have global connections. Today through the stuff we consume, we are literally in relationships and connected with millions of people in thousands of places throughout the globe. One of the biggest human challenges facing us in the 21st century is figuring out how to make our existing global relationships just and right. Jesus’ ethic of universal love puts the burden of making this happen on all believers.
2) Gospel Family Values: It’s popular these days for conservative Christians to jump on the Family Values band wagon. The problem with the whole back to Family Values movement is their understanding of Family begins and ends with the nuclear Family. When it comes to identifying their true allegiances this Family First crowd often are in complete support and acceptance of the U.s. Empire. Worst yet, they see their pro-U.S.A. Empire allegiance as biblically based. This brand of Christianity is clearly with the "bought-out" branch of believers. One way to measure commitment to gospel Family Values is to start seeing all children, especially children who are poor and disadvantaged, victims of war and injustice as having the same claim on you as your own birth children. How would such a shift in values change your life style? Your consumer patterns? Your personal use of time and talents?
In recent years more and more families are joining C. War and resistance communities. This is an encouraging trend. Signs of modern age Christians of privilege breaking down barriers of class, connecting with the poor and oppressed not as individuals but in family units - making it real. Liz McAlister is right when she says, "It ain’t community if there are no children in it".
3) Hospitality - the gateway experience to Christian living: When the Gospels were written the priority placed on hospitality was based on communal self-interest. The directive to do hospitality is no less important today. Nothing keeps a person more real and authentic in the faith than living in a community doing hospitality and the works of mercy to those in need. It’s still the gateway ministry that positions a person to read the scriptures and gives them a communal platform to engage the world in justice seeking and right relationships.