“Whoever receives a righteous man…will receive a righteous man’s reward.” Matthew 10:37-42.
Recently, I gave a brief memorial to honor a former teacher of mine. I began with a passage from the Book of Proverbs, “The memory of the righteous is a blessing.”
I told my audience that these lines were from the “Old Testament.” Afterward, a gentleman who is Jewish came up and reminded me that there is nothing “old” about the Hebrew scripture.
Of course, he was correct; and I acknowledged his comment by saying that the very reason we read these books of the Bible (and at this liturgy) is that their stories, prophecy, and poetry reveal God’s living word.
Today, we listen to a story about hospitality and the reward to a “woman of great influence” found in the Second Book of Kings.
Unfortunately, there are parts of the Bible that we rarely read or listen to. In fact, we would not know why this was a “woman of great influence” if we did not understand the entire story.
So some background may help. The Book of Kings took form six hundred years before Christ. Jesus knew these stories himself.
Elisha and his mentor Elijah were crucial figures in the Kingdom of Israel, they advised their kings; both prophets were wonderworkers with great powers. It was at a time of continuing warfare between Israel and Syria.
Elisha was the lesser Prophet; we read that he healed leprosy, multiplied loaves of bread, and was a crucial figure in a series of Bible stories. We’re told in Kings that Elisha freely traveled between Jerusalem and Damascus, giving him an extraordinary status that of a high ranking diplomat.
Moreover, Elisha believed “there was no God in all the earth but in Israel.”
In this particular story, Elisha rewarded the unnamed “woman of influence” and her husband for having given him accommodation and hospitality; this was a grand gesture in their Semitic culture. With this encounter, the Prophet saw a deep sadness within her — something was missing in her life and home.
His servant Gehazi comes up with the idea: “She has no son, and her husband is getting on in years.” The Prophet predicts: “This time next year you will be fondling a baby son.” For people in these times, a son was a form of social and economic security.
That’s where our Bible passage ends for today’s liturgy. However, there is much more to this story.
The infant son grows into a boy, and one day he is helping his father in the field, but collapses with a head injury, and dies his mother’s arms.
Back in the house, the boy is placed on the Prophet’s bed. Then, the mother and her servants make a quick getaway to Mount Carmel to find Elisha.
From a distance, the Prophet immediately recognizes her.
She reminds the Prophet that the idea of giving birth to this son was his idea: “My Lord, did I ask for a son? Did I not beg you not to raise my hopes and then dash them?”
Elisha directs the servant Gehazi to go back to the house equipped with the Prophet’s powerful and healing staff to be placed on the boy’s body.
But the women did not stop there, she insisted: “As the Lord lives, your life upon it, I shall not leave you.”
Consequently, the Prophet got up and followed her to the women’s house.
Once Elisha arrived on the scene, he went into the room and prayed to the Lord.
The narrative continued: “Getting on the bed, he crouched upon the boy’s body and breathed into him seven times, and the boy opened his eyes.”
The Prophet summoned the women: “Take up your child.”
Here the story ends: “She came in and prostrated herself before him. Then she took up her son and went out.”
This act of hospitality is really the story of one woman’s determination, for the healing of a son, and the inherent goodness that comes from a prophet’s listening and responding to the genuine needs of people.
As we listen to the Lord Jesus, in today’s Gospel, we, too, are asked to listen and respond to the real needs of people.
Jesus, too is asking plenty of his disciples that we lose our lives in the task of the Gospel.
In receiving people into our lives, the great act of hospitality is to carefully listen to the needs and address the hopes and aspirations of those in need. More so at a time when the immigration status of family members, friends, or refugees from foreign shores is worthy of a just hearing.
So the miracle can be that of giving a cup of water to one of these “little ones,” and in this, we will not lose our reward in his coming Kingdom.
San Carlos Cathedral, Monterey, CA.