Reflection on the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Kings 4:8-16 Romans 6:3-11 Matthew 10:37-42
Good morning. I want first to thank you all for your encouragement and prayers while I and several others in the Infirmary heal from falls and breaks and so forth. I’m here this morning to show you that I’m making progress.
Today’s readings are about welcoming. In the first reading, the prophet rewards a family who welcomed him by offering the gift of new life. This is just one of several stories in the Old Testament in which a prophet of God promised new life to those who offered kindness to him, a stranger.
The Gospel passage from Matthew exhorts early Christians to welcome the messengers of the Gospel — the disciples, the prophets, the good people sent to announce the good news. In the earliest days of Christianity, those who preached of Jesus weren’t always recognized as messengers of the good news but as strangers with odd and dangerous ideas. They were sometimes barred from entering the synagogue, sometimes accused of heresy, perceived as threatening established religion, as troublemakers disturbing civil order.
One of the staff in the Infirmary told me about a church in our neighborhood that recently decided to close and lock its doors during the day. At first, I thought it was a response to vandalism or teenage pranks; but no, it was because several very needy people were coming and going, using the church for their own purposes, to sleep, to bathe, even to preach. The police were called and the individuals removed; padlocks were put on the doors for the first time since the church opened two centuries ago.
It’s a familiar story, isn’t it? It describes how many of us experience the strangers of our times, the lost and wandering from whom we protect ourselves with locked doors and police. Even here at the Motherhouse we now have locks on all our doors. Occasionally we call the police to remove people we find difficult to deal with. We fear they will disturb our routines; demand too much attention and care; threaten our security, peace and property.
Fear and perceived threat create anxiety, leading to self-protective caution. But this reaction, whether warranted or not, need not keep us from life-giving action as well. Rita Brueggenhagan told me of a harrowing day when she was parish secretary. The church and its offices were locked down, secured from strangers. Nevertheless, a threatening stranger got into the building. He was drunk and refused to leave, demanding that Rita give him money. Fortunately, the church, though guarded, was also prepared to offer various kinds of assistance. Rita calmly and respectfully told the man, “There is no money to give you, but I can give you a voucher for food or for gasoline; I can give you the names of shelters.” None of that resolved the problem, but a helpful parishioner arrived just in time to lead the man out and point him in the direction of help.
I’ve heard stories similar to Rita’s from many members of Loretto: stories of welcoming, stories of hospitality, stories of reaching out despite fear; stories of courage and love. Later this morning we’re going to gather with members of Loretto from around the country to talk about our Community vision for the future. Perhaps we will envision ways to strengthen our practice of welcoming the stranger who comes to us in many guises, but always as our brother, our sister in Christ.