“He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37-38).
Last Sunday, Jesus while encouraging us not to be afraid of people assures us that we are important to God who knows even the number of hairs on our head. Like Jeremiah, we may encounter resistance from people, but this should not stop us from proclaiming God by our words and deeds. Otherwise, if we are ashamed of God here on earth, God would be ashamed of us in heaven.
Our Gospel passage today is somehow a continuation of that of last Sunday. Jesus is still instructing the twelve apostles as He sends them out to preach the Gospel. Indeed, Jesus is repeating the same message but this time with very compelling graphic illustrations. What is this message? How relevant is it for us today? What other lessons do our readings today present to us?
1 Seek First God’s Kingdom.
The summary of both last Sunday and this Sunday’s Gospel passages and the one message Jesus want us to grasp is: SEEK FIRST GOD’S KINGDOM. We must place God above all our desires and goals; we must fear God more than we fear any human being, we must love God more than our father or mother and more than our own children; we must love God even more than our own very lives; we must be ready to make whatever sacrifice or let go of whatever is demanded of us for the sake of God.
Seeking first God’s kingdom can be understood as working for God, taking care of the things of God, ensuring that the church (the house of God), is kept clean and sparkling all the time). It also entails providing for the needs of those who have dedicated themselves to the work of God and by so doing have made themselves poor. This is what we see in our first reading today. The woman of Shunem provided food for Elijah on his journeys and with the help of her husband built him a small house so he could rest whenever he came around. This woman did this not just for Elijah as a person but for God.
2 Seeking God First Always Requires Sacrifice.
Seeking first God’s kingdom also entails dying to sin and walking in righteousness. This is what St. Paul teaches us in our second reading today. “So you must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11). Whenever we are faced with temptation, we are made to choose between doing what God desires and doing what the devil desires; a choice between obeying God and satisfying our bodily craving for pleasure. Of course, this is never an easy choice to make.
For instance, Jesus was very hungry but when asked to change stones to bread, Jesus said: “man shall not live by bread only but every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Are you addicted to the sin of the flesh? Know this: no matter how many times you have fallen before, your will is yours and no force on earth and none in hell can take away your will. You still have what it takes to choose what comes out of the mouth of God, to do what is right, to let go of that ungodly desire.
In all His temptations, Jesus always sought God first. This is why He refused to put God to the test by jumping down from the pinnacle of the temple. Again, Jesus placed God above the craving for wealth and prosperity by refusing to bow to Satan in exchange for all the riches in the world. (Cf. Matthew 4:1-11). In building a house for Elijah, this woman sacrificed a lot; that money would have been used for something else but she felt God’s own is more important. Seeking first God’s kingdom always requires a sacrifice. It is never the most convenient option for us – it is a cross we carry as we attempt to follow God.
Jesus says unless we are willing to carry this cross, unless we are ready to pay the price, to deny ourselves of pleasures and our cravings and even material comforts we are not worthy of following Him. If the only reason we are serving God is just to take from God, if there is nothing we are sacrificing on our part, we would soon fall away when these goodies we seek are not forthcoming.
3 There is Always a Reward for Seeking God First.
As much as seeking God first comes at a cost, as much as there are sacrifices we are to make, the truth is that the reward we get at the end of the day is always bigger. As the Psalmist puts it: “He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:6). Whatever good you do for the sake of God, even if it is as little as giving someone a cup of water to drink, there is a greater reward awaiting you.
Making a sacrifice to die to a particularly bad habit (addiction) would at first seem like suicide (you think you would die if you stop it), but in the long run, you realize that you have freed yourself from bondage; that your life is now happier and healthier. This is what Jesus means when He says: “He who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39). The devil might be telling you that if you stop watching pornography, you will die or that if you end a particular relationship, you would lose money or even your job or no one will take care of you anymore and so on. Don’t listen to the devil. Trust Jesus. There is a greater life awaiting you. Don’t be afraid.
Jesus also speaks of a prophet’s reward, a righteous man’s reward and a little child’s reward. This takes us again to our first reading. In appreciation for the house she built, Elijah thought of how to say “thank you” and when Gehazi told him she had no child, Elijah assured the woman of Shunem she would embrace a son. Dear friends, the reward we get for serving God is always greater than whatever sacrifice we make. In fact, when we really look at it, we realize we never lost anything at all.
Nevertheless, we must bear one thing in mind, the woman of Shunem did not build the house for Elijah with the hope that by so doing, she would have a child. She never expected anything in return. She built the house because like Peter who wanted to build three tents during the Transfiguration, she felt a sense of God’s presence whenever Elijah came by. Giving to God always comes with a reward but it is never an investment. God is not a money doubler neither does He withhold His blessings to punish us for not giving. Give when you see a real need not just because you want something back. Don’t just give money or gifts, accompany your giving with a righteous life. God can never be bribed.
Conclusion: Give Thanks to God Always.
Our calling is to seek first God’s kingdom, to give priority to the things of God over and above our own desires and especially above our sinful inclinations. There is a great reward for seeking first God’s kingdom but our motivation must go beyond this reward. Our worship of God must come from a pure heart, not from a business-oriented mindset.
Above all, as our Psalmist today sings, we must sing forever of God’s mercies. That is, we must never stop singing praises to God. The more we sing to God, the more we realize He has done so much for us already and that our troubles are very light for Him. Even our constant singing reminds us to seek God first in all we are doing. In fact, in moments of temptation, the best thing to do is to start singing praises to God and the devil will run. Is it possible to be singing worship songs while engaging in sin? Of course not. If anything, your singing would become the voice of your conscience at that moment. So never stop singing praises. “Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Matthew 6:33). Carry God on your head and He will carry your problems for you.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, into your hands I surrender my whole being. Amen. Bible Study: 2 Kings 4:8-11.14-16, Psalm 89, Romans 6:3-4.8-11 Matthew 10:37-42).
Believing is Seeing
_“Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith…. Go; let it be done for you according to your faith. And the servant was healed in that hour.” (Matthew 8:10-13)..
Our first reading today, taken from the book of Lamentations expresses the pain, sorrow and frustration of a people taken from their homeland and made to live like slaves in a strange place. By displacing the Israelites, the Babylonians sought to make them forget their history but more importantly to make them forget the living God. Many Israelites actually lost faith in God.
Years before the Babylonian deportation, God had sent so many prophets to warn the people to repent of their sinfulness but they persecuted and killed these prophets. Even their kings gave themselves over to the worship of foreign gods. As the saying goes, the grass always looks greener on your neighbour’s lawn. It is a fact of history that people do not value what belongs to them until it is taken away from them. Just as the Israelites fancied foreign gods made of wood, iron and stone, many of us Christians believe more in charms, occultic powers and forces of darkness. Some of us even try to combine our worship of God with active participation in such circles. We are neither here nor there. Dear friends, where exactly do you belong?
The irony of life is that while we look down on what is ours, others value it more. While many were struggling to believe in Jesus, a Centurion; that is, a Roman Soldier in charge of a hundred soldiers had enough faith to see that Jesus is God; that He only needs to speak the word and the whole world would obey. Even Jesus was amazed at his great faith: “in no one in Israel have I found such faith.” Can Jesus say this of you too? Do you believe there is power in prayer?
The lesson we learn today comes from the statement of Jesus to the Centurion: “Let it be done for you according to your faith.” If my faith was money, how much would it worth? Before you start asking God for anything, ask sincerely: “Am I expecting it to happen?” Just as He touched the leper, Jesus touched Peter’s mother-in-law and she was cured instantly of her fever. We have an opportunity to touch Jesus today when we receive Holy Communion, but the question is: “Do I believe that Jesus will heal me when I touch him?”
Dear friends, we cannot deceive God, we cannot pretend when it comes to faith. As one great man said: Faith is the assurance of things not seen but the reward of faith is to see those things we hoped for. Do I believe in the power of God?
Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, deepen my faith in you that I may never disappoint you by going after false gods. Amen. Bible Study: Lamentations 2:2-19, Psalm 74:1-7, 20-21, Matthew 8:5-17).