We are continuing to experience times of uncertainty, upheaval, and unrest in our country right now. Our readings give us some guideposts for hope.
In our first reading from the Second Book of Kings, we are introduced to the Shunammite woman and the prophet Elisha. Upon their first meeting, the Shunammite woman invites Elisha to have dinner with her. There is no evidence that they knew each other at that point. She recognized his need after traveling and offered him hospitality. Their time together must have been positive because Elisha continued to visit with this woman and her husband each time he came through the area. Their friendship grew to such a point that she was even willing to have a room built for him to stay. Their relationship began with a simple gesture of empathy and hospitality.
We do not necessarily need to invite a stranger to live with us in our homes, but we can start with some smaller acts of reaching out to one another. When our kids would come home from California to visit, my wife, JoAnn, would take them to Publix to stock up on food for their stay. They were constantly amazed at how many of the workers there knew their mom. The reason for this was that JoAnn took small moments during each visit to interact with them. Initially, she would say hello and ask how they were doing, then slowly get to know a little more about their families and their lives. Instead of rushing through the store and taking the presence of the workers for granted, JoAnn saw real people with real lives and built relationships through small gestures of empathy.
In our Gospel reading, Matthew records Jesus saying 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” (Mt 10:37). At first reading these words may seem to lead more to an ending his relationship with his apostles rather than strengthening it. Jesus is making two key points. One, he is restating the Ten Commandments in that our most important relationship, even more than our family, is to be with God. We are to put God first before all things and all people, even family. Second, Jesus is equating himself with God. As we deepen our relationship with Jesus we will grow closer to God and to each other.
To enter the diaconate program, the wife of the applicant must sign that she is in agreement with the process and that goes right up until ordination. Initially, JoAnn was not 100% on board when I was thinking about studying to be a deacon. With the challenges to my time already high because of the demands of my teaching schedule, formation would add more challenges. Yet, we both trusted that this was God’s will and we followed through with formation, to ordination and beyond. There were indeed challenging times, but we continued to keep God first in our lives and worked together, growing not only closer to God and each other but grew in our relationships here at St Peter and Cardinal Newman as well.
And finally, in our second reading, St Paul helps us to understand that our relationships even transcend death. For those of us who have been “baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” (Romans 6:3). Jesus has conquered death and he has risen and will die no more. This he promises to us as well. Those who have died with Christ shall rise with him. Death does not have the final say, Jesus does.
This Thursday will be 10 months since JoAnn died. We shared twenty-three wonderful years together. She taught me how to be less selfish, less contemptuous and judgmental, she taught me how to come out of myself and how to love. In the first few months after her passing, I was having trouble recalling memories of our time together and began to fear that I would forget her. Over the last month I realized that the sorrow and grief of loss was strong and I had been holding on too tightly to who I lost. As I have been healing and beginning to let go of my grip, I have started not only to experience some spontaneous memories like her laugh while doing the dishes one night, but feeling brief moments of her being close.
JoAnn had often tried to think of a business idea that we could all do as a family. Our youngest daughter, Christy, has been pursuing a creative, business idea over the past month and when I was thinking about that the other day while mowing the lawn, I felt this deep feeling of joy and warmth in my chest, and tears welled up in my eyes. I knew it was JoAnn’s joy that Christy was carrying on with her dream and adopting JoAnn’s entrepreneurial spirit.
So yes, we are continuing to experience times of uncertainty, upheaval, and unrest. Yet, we do not have to be defined by our external circumstances no matter how dire. What was true during the time of our biblical readings is still true for us today. God calls us to be in a relationship with him and each other, and the more we attend to both, the better we will weather the storms and the more joyful we will be even as we go through these trials together.
We can’t change the country and the world, but we can change ourselves. We can reach out to others in our realm of influence. Wherever and whenever we interact with people, we can make an extra effort to be understanding, kind, respectful, and hospitable. We can resist taking each other for granted and be more present and listen to one another and our stories. We can choose to see each other as God sees us as one human family.
Then as we begin to change, and those around us change that can begin to ripple out to begin to bring healing and reconciliation to the many who need to experience it. Life is short, even in the best of circumstances. God loves us more than we can ever imagine with a love that even transcends death. Let us make a deeper commitment today to love God and one another as God loves us.