St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans: “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.”
He goes on to write that since we have died with Christ we will live with him. Eternal life is shared by all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus for the life we live is his. Many times, we focus on the “eternal” part which is usually associated with our own deaths — life in heaven before the Father. Yet another important aspect of this passage is the “living” part by which he concludes: “Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”
“Living for God in Christ Jesus” is the focus of our lives now. Every moment of every day we “live” in Christ Jesus. His life is in us and gives us life. What we do with it becomes the question.
The past few months of having our regular routines turned upside down have created a moment of pause. Many people I have spoken with say that they have begun to look at things in a new light. They are looking at work, family, relationships and “free time.” Some have said it’s the first time, in a long time, that they have actually had the time to think about these things. Such is the busy-ness of our society. The time for reflection may actually be a good that comes out of a bad situation. Several areas that people have mentioned might find some resonance with today’s readings.
At the heart of this is Paul’s emphasis on “living” — “living for God in Christ Jesus.” For some this might be readily grasped. For others it might seem a lofty ideal. For others it may seem new or something beyond their experience. The “living” of which Paul speaks is rooted in Jesus and his Way. Life in the Kingdom or living a life as God directs — a life that gives him honor. Throughout the Gospels Jesus teaches us how to do that in so many different aspects of life. Perhaps we should say in all aspects of life — for nothing of us is separated from God’s grace and goodness.
In the Gospel passage for today’s liturgy, Jesus speaks of welcome and acceptance. First of himself. In unambiguous yet humble terms he presents himself as the way to life. Taking his words out of the context of the gospel might make them seem egocentric and distant. Some of these words will seem harsh or frightful. Heard in the full breadth of our experience of him we see an invitation to be a disciple and to share in the life he has won, the life St. Paul speaks of in Romans.
Jesus is on a mission from the Father and invites us to follow him to the Father. In the second part of the passage he speaks of the bond that is established between him and his disciples and the Father: “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me, receives the one who sent me.”
Building on this acceptance of him into one’s life, his disciples are called to welcome the “prophet because he is a prophet,” and “the righteous man because he is a righteous man.” The reward for someone receiving such a person is the “prophet’s reward” or the “righteous man’s reward,” which is life. Jesus is the prophet and the righteous man. He is the one who is to be received. Taking him into our minds and hearts will have its rewards.
At the same time, he continues to come into our lives through prophets and righteous persons who live among us now. Opening our hearts and minds to them requires both wisdom and humility. He finally says: “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.”
Here Jesus clearly speaks of someone other than himself as he says “these little ones.” They are those in need and they are always among us. Jesus wants us to do for them what he has done for us — love. Love takes on many forms such as mercy, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, care and kindness. However, he speaks in very down to earth and practical terms today – giving drink. He uses these examples elsewhere: food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, clothing for the naked, shelter for the homeless, visits for the imprisoned and so forth. Following him and “taking up the cross,” means caring for those in need.
Pennsylvania’s governor has moved us into the “green phase” of the pandemic response. Things will slowly start to get back to “normal.” The “down time” during the pandemic for many people has afforded them the opportunity to reflect on some of the big questions in life. One of these is “what do we do with the time that has been given us?” Perhaps the Scriptures for today’s liturgy may point us to the answer.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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