One day Elisha came to Shunem,
where there was a woman of influence, who urged him to dine with her.
Afterward, whenever he passed by, he used to stop there to dine.
So she said to her husband, "I know that Elisha is a holy man of God.
Since he visits us often, let us arrange a little room on the roof
and furnish it for him with a bed, table, chair, and lamp,
so that when he comes to us he can stay there."
Sometime later Elisha arrived and stayed in the room overnight.
Later Elisha asked, "Can something be done for her?"
His servant Gehazi answered, "Yes!
She has no son, and her husband is getting on in years."
Elisha said, "Call her."
When the woman had been called and stood at the door,
Elisha promised, "This time next year
you will be fondling a baby son."
Brothers and sisters:
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death?
We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might live in newness of life.
If, then, we have died with Christ,
we believe that we shall also live with him.
We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more;
death no longer has power over him.
As to his death, he died to sin once and for all;
as to his life, he lives for God.
Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin
and living for God in Christ Jesus.
Jesus said to his apostles:
"Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,
and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
and whoever does not take up his cross
and follow after me is not worthy of me.
Whoever finds his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
"Whoever receives you receives me,
and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.
Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet
will receive a prophet's reward,
and whoever receives a righteous man
because he is a righteous man
will receive a righteous man's reward.
And whoever gives only a cup of cold water
to one of these little ones to drink
because the little one is a disciple—
amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward."
As a kid, I often daydreamed about dying a heroic death. Especially with the rise of atheistic Communism in the late 40s and early 50s, I imagined being martyred for my faith. That kind of death best imitated the deaths of the saints I frequently heard about in my catechism classes and the pastor’s Sunday sermons. And, more than anything, it mirrored the unjust death Jesus endured for all of us.
But the older I got, the more I began to understand there are deaths, and then there are deaths. Though, as Paul reminds the Romans in today’s second reading, all of us are expected to “die with Christ,” few of us will actually be martyred because of our faith. The vast majority will live rather humdrum lives and our obituaries won’t contain any “front page” material. That’s why today’s first and third readings are so important. They were written for us “humdrumers.”
According to both the author of II Kings and Matthew, one way to die is to help those people of faith who aren’t experiencing such a colorless life – especially prophets. Since, by nature, individuals who minister as the conscience of the people aren’t normally received with open arms by the majority of the “faithful,” one risks a lot by helping them. Yet that’s exactly what the unnamed Shunemite woman does for Elisha and also what Matthew’s Jesus encourages us to do for the prophets in our midst. Of course, according to both authors, we can anticipate some sort of compensation for identifying with such community outcasts. Elisha, for instance, promises the childless woman a son, and the gospel Jesus assures us, “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.”
Lest we’re limited only to surfacing and helping prophets, that same gospel pericope also mentions other ways to die. “Whoever receives a righteous person because she or he is righteous will receive a righteous person’s reward.” And on an even broader level, “Those who give only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because that little one is a disciple – amen, I say to you, they will surely not lose their reward.”
But perhaps the broadest way to die is contained in the classic biblical contradiction, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my (Jesus’) sake will find it.”
Almost 50 years ago the well-known theologian Fr. David Tracy delivered a lecture at St. Louis University’s Divinity School which still “haunts” me. Entitled The Limitations of Theological Language, it explored the impossibility of referring to God and our relationship with such an infinite person in language we finite humans can actually understand. Tracy’s conclusion: it’s pretty nigh impossible to do that. We’re often relegated to speaking about such life-changing experiences in contradictions. He employed the above quote about losing and finding one’s life as an example.
Maybe that’s the one way each of us can experience a daily martyrdom for our faith. We die to our own logic and agree to suffer the death of stepping into God’s contradictions. By doing so, we’re actually imitating Jesus’ martyrdom for us.
During his earthly ministry he constantly gave himself for others, convinced it was the only way for anyone to experience God working effectively in their daily lives. Of course, as we all know, his selfless giving eventually led to the biggest faith contradiction of all: his crucifixion and resurrection.
At the last meal Jesus ate with his disciples before his Good Friday death, he pleaded with them to carry on his ministry. I presume only those who can live within contradictions are able to successfully pull that off.