The tenth chapter of Matthew, from which today’s Gospel is taken, can also be referred to as Jesus’ Discourse or Sermon on Mission. Here he teaches the Apostles about their upcoming mission and trains them in the right disposition towards it. Today’s passage contains two paragraphs, which seem to neatly present to us two of Jesus’ main ideas about mission.
In the first paragraph, he speaks about the hierarchy of values that his missionary disciples should adopt. He presents three categories. The first is about love. A missionary disciple must love Christ more than anyone else. The Lord certainly does not recommend that we disrespect our parents, for that would violate the Fourth Commandment; nor does he teach that we should sever our ties with our siblings. What he demands is that we value our relationship with him more than all our other relationships.
The second is about the Cross. Jesus reveals that the most valuable possession that we should “take up” for our journey is the Cross. Since he has not been crucified yet, we can begin by taking his words here to refer to any of life’s burdens that purify and strengthen us. After his Death and Resurrection, this statement becomes even more meaningful: it is by bearing the Cross that we are conformed to Jesus Christ himself. For a missionary disciple, this is what is worthy of him.
The third is on life. In instructing us to lose our life in order to find it, Jesus shows us the real secret of life, which is self-emptying love. To love him is to entrust our life to him. This is connected to the earlier verses where Jesus told us not to take any gold, silver or copper, no bag or sandals, etc. (cf. Mt 10:9-10). At his Death, this surrendering of life takes on an even deeper meaning: we are called to be conformed to Christ’s Death, which is his total obedience to the will of the Father, in order to be conformed to his Resurrection and glory.
In the second paragraph, Jesus continues his instructions on mission. But this time he talks about the would-be reaction of the people to whom the Apostles will be sent. Like in the first paragraph, Jesus presents three categories, three ways they may be received: they may be received as prophets, or as righteous men, or as worthy recipients of the charity of others. Jesus adds that those who receive them positively will also receive their reward.
Taken together, these paragraphs on mission point us to two dimensions of Christian discipleship, which we may refer to as the vertical and the horizontal dimensions. The instruction on the hierarchy of values shows the vertical dimension, while the description of how missionaries may be received shows the horizontal dimension. The vertical and horizontal aspects of discipleship paint a picture of the two beams of the Cross. The Gospel reminds us that it is in taking up our cross and following Christ that we become worthy disciples.
Elisha in today’s first reading is an example of a disciple of God. He does his best to fulfill the mission God gave him. His diligence and persistence in prophesying for the Lord are reflected in the words “visits… often.” A woman of influence receives Elisha as a prophet. She even makes arrangements with her husband for a semi-permanent space for him in their house. Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel apply to her: because she received Elisha as a prophet, she received a prophet’s reward – a prophecy that she will bear a son. The reading similarly reflects the two dimensions of the Cross: vertically, Elisha’s faithfulness to God and the mission that he received; horizontally, the woman’s welcome of him and the blessing that she received through his prayers, the gift of a son.
In today’s reading from the Letter to the Romans, we can find the two dimensions of the Cross once again, in St. Paul’s reflections on the meaning of Baptism. The vertical dimension is clearer: being submerged in the water unites us with Christ’s death and being lifted up from the water unites us with his Resurrection. But this vertical movement, Paul explains, makes it possible for us to “live in newness of life,” including the horizontal movement of a renewed love of neighbor. The Cross, simply, is the icon of discipleship.
As Catholics, we normally venerate the Cross in the form of a Crucifix, which shows the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Person of Christ unites the vertical and horizontal beams. We are called to become disciples of the very Person who has called us out of darkness into his wonderful light (vertical). This is what we announce to others (horizontal). Throughout all generations our mouths shall proclaim his faithfulness as we sing forever the goodness of the Lord.
Do I find Jesus’ demand to value my relationship with him more than all my other relationships difficult? Have I experienced the joy and peace in bearing the Cross which conforms me to Jesus himself? When I lose my life in order to find it, have I discovered the real secret of life which is self-emptying love?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.