Readings: 2 Kings 4:8‑11,14‑16a Romans 6:3‑4,8‑11 Matthew 10:37‑42
In this Sunday's Gospel Jesus identifies himself with his disciples whom he sends on mission. They are called to heroic sacrifice but are assured that those who welcome them also welcome Jesus and the Father who sent him. Later in Matthew, we learn that those who welcome Jesus' lowly disciples will be invited into the Father's kingdom (see Matt 25:31‑46).
The story of Elisha's visit to the Shunanmite woman in 2 Kings is paired with the gospel reading. Both emphasize hospitality to God's messengers and God's gracious reward for such kindness. This story is very similar to the tale of Abraham and Sarah's hospitality to their three mysterious visitors (Genesis 18). Not only does the woman urge the prophet “to dine with her,” but she also provides “a little room on the roof” furnished “with a bed, table, chair, and lamp” for whenever he visits. The reward for such gracious hospitality to a "holy man of God" is the same as in the Abraham‑Sarah story: the barren old couple will be given a child by God. Elisha promises the woman: “This time next year you will be fondling a baby son.”
The second reading is taken from Romans 6 in which Paul, in a diatribe fashion, raises and answers a possible objection to the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ. The objection is: does Paul's gospel encourage converts to continue in sin "that grace may abound" (Rom 6:1)? Paul's answer is a definitive "No!" He substantiates this by a reflection on the effects of the baptism which Christian converts received. Paul explains Christian baptism as an entrance into the death and resurrection of Christ which leads to walking in a newness of life (6:1‑4). Christian baptism involves an ethical conversion: a "death" with Christ to enslavement to sin and a "resurrection" into a life in which Christians "have become slaves of righteousness" (6:18).
The Gospel reading is the conclusion of Matthew's second great discourse in which Jesus sends his twelve apostles on mission “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 10). This section reflects two of the characteristics of Matthew's Christology. First, Jesus‑‑ as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, and the Son of Man‑‑ is bringing about the war and division expected in the Messianic Age. His apostles will also experience the sufferings predicted for that age (see 10:16‑25). In the midst of persecution, however, they are assured of the Father's loving protection (10:26‑33). But radical choices are demanded of them; they must choose between family loyalties and fidelity to Jesus' message. They must be willing to take up the cross and lose their lives in order to find them. Second, the disciples represent Jesus and the Father who sent him (10:40‑42; see 18:5; 28:16‑20). This principle is similar to a rabbinical tradition that "the representative of a person is like himself" (m. Ber 5:5). Just as those who welcome prophets and holy men receive their rewards (see the first reading from 2 Kings 4), so those who welcome Jesus' disciples, even with something as ordinary as "a cup of cold water," will not want for a reward.
Another important feature of this text is the way Jesus describes his disciples. He refers to as "one of these little ones" (hena ton mikron). Children and "little ones" is a favorite Matthean designation for the disciples (see 18:1‑9; 19:13‑15; 25:31‑46). In fact, in Matthew's famous last judgment scene, the nations are judged and rewarded with entrance into the Father's kingdom on the basis of the way they have treated Jesus' brethren: "the least ones" who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, ill and imprisoned (see Matt 25:31‑46). For Matthew, the authentic disciple is the one who becomes "least" in following the master even to the cross.