By Sr. Anne Norman, SSJD.
Readings: Genesis 18:1-15/ Psalm 100/ Romans 5:1-5/ Matthew 9:35- 10:8
The readings for today have a common theme of ministry. There is the theme of hospitality with Abraham entertaining angels without knowing it, the ministry in which Jesus commissions the 12 disciples to go on their first missionary to the lost sheep of Israel and Paul’s ministry of encouragement in his letter to the Christians at Rome.
Hospitality was highly valued in middle eastern culture. Abraham was taking a break during the hottest part of the day when 3 visitors arrive unexpectedly at his tent. Sensing that these visitors were not ordinary people, he invites them to sit down under a nearby tree and offers them refreshment. Indeed, unknown to Abraham, they bring with them a special message. Abraham springs into action enlisting Sarah’s help to make bread and their servant’s help in preparing a calf to feed these visitors. After the meal is prepared and served, Abraham stands by these visitors not as the host but in a manner of service to them for anything that they would need.
This is an example of the ministry of hospitality which one commentator reflected that this text involves not only human hospitality, but also hospitality towards God. The commentator goes on to say “Hospitality toward God is not simply a spiritual matter, but a response of the whole self in the midst of quite mundane affairs of everyday life.” Furthermore, “God serves as the source of hope in situations where the way into the future is unclear or uncertain. God gives shape to possibilities when all around us seems impossible.”
Hospitality is also emphasized in the New Testament. Jesus will emphasize the importance of hospitality to those in need in his own ministry. Our Gospel reading today begins by summarizing the ministry of Jesus which includes teaching, proclaiming and curing every disease. He will commission his disciples to become his partners in these activities though he will not commission them to teach until after the Resurrection. The ministry of the disciples will grow naturally out from their own experience of the ministry of Jesus. Jesus provides the shape that their ministry will take – first by his example and then by his commission.
Jesus ministry was filled with compassion as he met people along his tours. It came from the deepest part of his being which was truly heart felt. Jesus not only felt compassion but it also led to the cure of the sick, the feeding of the crowds and restoring sight to the blind. The feeling of compassion prompted immediate action on his part. The crowds he met on his tour were “harassed and helpless” due to being neglected spiritually by the religious authorities of the day. They just saw the common people as chaff to be destroyed and burned up. Jesus, however, saw them as a people desperately longing for God.
As there were so many people that needed help, Jesus enlisted the help of his disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into this harvest whose task it would be to carry on with his ministry. The response to the prayer to the Lord of the harvest would be the mission of the disciples who are to represent an expression of divine compassion for the needy people of God. They were to be common labourers as most of the work to be done in the Reign of God was to be done by ordinary, nearly anonymous, behind the scenes disciples.
After the prayer, Jesus chose to call twelve of his disciples to represent the new Israel. They were a diverse group of people and were given authority to exorcise unclean spirits and to heal every disease and illness. In doing this work, they would make clear that God’s reign is expressed in the care of whole persons. They were instructed by Jesus to focus their efforts in Galilee which would be most responsive to the message of Jesus before broadening their reach to less receptive areas of the country. Their mission was to proclaim the reign of God and to heal. Thus, bringing to light that the healing ministry not only helps the sick, but also draws attention to the message “The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand”
The world is waiting for those who would proclaim good news to them. Not everyone can be a missionary but there are some who are called to pray for the strength of God for those working in the field. In the calling of the first disciples, God’s act in involving human workers rather than the angels as God’s agents, is apparent here. The disciples who had received the Gospel from Jesus directly as a gift, are now encouraged to give it freely to others in return.
In the letter to the Christians at Rome, we have a third model of ministry, the ministry of encouragement. In our reading today taken from the fifth chapter of Romans, is such a message of encouragement. In chapters 1-4 Paul points to the fact that we are justified by the grace of God as a gift -a reality that we realize by faith in God. Being justified by faith means that we have been reconciled to God. Faith in turn makes it possible for us to experience grace. And so, says Paul, we have peace with God. We have well-being, prosperity and a spiritual harmony with God. And not only that, there comes into life that intimacy with God not unlike that which Abraham experienced with God in his life. We are granted God’s presence as a reality in our daily life as a result of our faithfulness. We have an experience of calm about our life. That is peace with God.
When suffering is part of our life, Paul says, that suffering produces endurance which can also be named as perseverance or patience. This in turn produces character or experience. Experience or character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us. Those who experience set backs are hopeful people because they have triumphed over adversity in the past and now know it to be so in the future. Those who are hopeful know that whatever happens in the future, God loves them and will not abandon them and will always provide for them.
Three models of ministry are given to us for today – the ministry of hospitality, the ministry of healing and the ministry of encouragement. In this time of the pandemic, we are in a position to review how we minister to God, to ourselves and to others. How we choose to express those ministries is the question. I expect we will be looking at that question in more detail in the coming months. Currently, what is clear to me is we are not unlike the disciples of Jesus who were asked to pray to God, the Lord of the harvest, first, for labourers to work in the field of the Reign of God. Also, what is clear to me is that we are waiting on God, not unlike Abraham, through our day to day prayer by being open and hospitable to God and to one another as we wait for God’s message to be revealed to us. And finally, during this time of suffering, we can be encouraged by the words of St. Paul that ….
“Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us”. Amen