Thirteenth Sunday of the Year
The Word of God today challenges us to broaden our minds, widen our horizons, enlarge our hearts, and stretch our capacity to love. We need to be alert and open to God’s presence even in the most unlikely places and people. Jesus today wants to shake the disciples into asking themselves if they are ready for what he is asking. Jesus clearly stated, "You must take up your cross and follow me" and watching him would have indicated what he meant. His approach was to see with the eyes of a prophet, to see from God’s perspective. He saw the gaps between the reality of the present moment and what could be despite the cost.
“Taking up one’s cross” has been used to encourage the oppressed to endure passively and patiently and prioritised oppressors over survivors. It could prove convenient for people in power who want to preserve the status quo. How often have people, usually women, been told to “bear their cross,” be “like Jesus,” and “turn the other cheek” when suffering physical or psychological violence? This is contrary to Jesus’ call to creative and nonviolent forms of disruption, protest, and resistance where those being dehumanised could reclaim and affirm themselves. Jesus was not promoting passive endurance but standing up against injustice despite the cost; to protest even if threatened by the status quo. The cross is not a symbol of passivity but of the consequences of resistance. The point is not how much one is willing to suffer, but how much one wants to live; to refuse to let go of life. It is like protesting which may or may not result in arrest as the consequence of standing up to or resisting injustice.
Jesus’ new social vision, his way living as a community, was a threat to those who benefit from systems of domination and exploitation. His nonviolence was rooted in resistance and connects with hospitality which is based on sharing resources, wealth redistribution, and making it possible for all people to be welcomed so and their voices valued and heard. Today’s gospel is about holding on to life. Jesus was enhancing relationships, not destroying them. He wants us to break the cycle of individualism. He was commissioning a community, not individuals, which was called to create the physical, emotional, and spiritual spaces to heal the wounds and divisions. In God’s Reign, solidarity with all, even at the cost of one's own life, cannot co-exist with the ‘normal’ way of doing business today. This can be crucifiable language. The seemingly benign ‘option for the poor’ questions the basic way we negotiate and order the world. Hospitality was a matter of life and death. It was one of the chief responsibilities of a caring and God-like people. It can take many forms. It may mean standing with people who are discriminated against. It may mean opposing people who claiming to speak in God’s name but contradict the love of Jesus. It may mean grieving with people who suffer loss or are abandoned. It may mean refusing to listen to so-called prophets who pander to our comforts and self-centredness to avoid the tough realities we must face for justice and peace to come. It may mean refusing to stereotype, pre-judge and reject others in our words and attitudes. It may mean refusing to harbour beliefs about exceptionalism or superiority. We can listen, understand, and welcome the stranger. We can counter those who proclaim that all is well with the world and that nothing needs to change or need to take responsibility for the privileges that result from past injustices such as colonisation and slavery.
We know what happens when the gospel is taken seriously. In today’s gospel, Jesus appears as a disciple: ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.’ He is speaking to each of us. It is our privilege and our responsibility to make Christ visible. Jesus cannot be welcomed if we stay at home and never encounter strangers. We are to bring God with us when crossing the thresholds of division and the unfamiliar. This happened during this pandemic as complete strangers found connection. Hospitality reminds us to live our Christian call to turn outwards, to reach out, to love our neighbour whoever that might be. It reminds us to encounter and receive Jesus in our lives through the other, known or unknown, alike or different, in a new way. Joan Chittister says, ‘Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step toward dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn a prejudiced world around, one heart at a time.’