HOMILY FOR THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A.
HOMILY THEME: ELISHA AND THE SHUNAMMITE LADY
BY: Fr. Gerald M. Musa
Many years ago, when we were in St. Joseph’s Seminary, Zaria, our teenage choirmaster, Joachim Makama (now Rev. Fr. Joachim Makama) had one of his favourite songs featuring so often in the weekday Masses. The Song, composed by Fanny Crosby is entitled, “Jesus is Passing this Way” We sang this song ad nauseam and we could sing it by rote because it became part of us. I now recall a heart touching stanza in this song, which says: Is there a heart that is broken? Weary and sighing for rest? Come to the arms of the Savior, Pillow thy head on His breast.
This song, “Jesus is Passing this way” reminds me of several stories in scriptures where people received their blessing from prophets and priests passing by. The story of Elisha and the Lady at Shunem is a good example from the Old Testament. In the New Testament other people experienced the miracle of Jesus while he was passing by: the blind beggar who shouted for help when Jesus was passing by (Luke 18:35-43); the two blind men sitting by the road, hearing that Jesus was passing by, cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David” (Matthew 20:30); Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a fig tree to see Jesus, who was passing by (Luke 19:4). It was in this same way that the Shunammite Lady grabbed her blessing from the prophet Elisha who passed by her house often. Even though she was a broken woman who had no child, she was very hospitable.
The Lady of Shunem hosted the prophet Elisha and together with her husband. She arranged for a room for him where the prophet could lay his head whenever he was on his way between Carmel, where he lived, and Jezreel, the capital city. The childless couple received the blessing of a child from God through the prophet. The Shunammite lady is one of the nameless women in scriptures who played significant roles. In these nameless people we see how God crowns even simple folks and anonymous people with greatness. These people, like the widow who gave generously in the temple, did not make a name, like we all want our names written in gold in the hall of fame, but they made their mark in the sight of God.
The Shunammite Lady received blessings from God because she hosted a prophet. We can understand why Jesus says a special reward awaits those who receive his envoys. “Whoever receives you, receives me…Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet, will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward” (Matthew 10:40-41). This instruction of Jesus regarding hospitality to his ministers is well grounded in the Jewish culture. Among the Jews, the idea of Shalia is the attitude of treating the representative of a king as a king.
For thousands of years the people of Israel knew how best to be generous to their Levitical priests: It is clearly stated: “The Levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi shall have no hereditary portion with Israel; they shall eat the fire offerings of the Lord and the portions due to him; they shall have no heritage among their kindred; the Lord himself is their heritage as he has told them. This shall be the due of the priests among the people: those who are offering a sacrifice, whether an ox or a sheep, shall give the priests a shoulder, the jowls and the stomach. The first fruits of your grain, your wine and your oil, as well as the first shearing from your flock, you shall also give him” (Deuteronomy 18:1-4).
Preachers sometimes risk their lives, give their energy and sacrifice their comfort in order to meet the needs of the people they serve. This explains why Peter asked Jesus a practical question: “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus assured them they would receive abundant reward and eternal life. In the present life, they also need spiritual and material support from people whom they serve. According to Fernando Armellini, a scripture commentator, “Elisha represents all those who leave their country, their family, a comfortable and easy life to enter into the service of God. Such people do not need only clothes and food. They seek people who understand them, somebody to love and appreciate them, somebody that may share the work they are doing.”
The Catechism of the Church (official teaching) clearly explains the six precepts of the Church. One of these precepts is to contribute to the support of the Church and its ministers (CCC 2043 and Canon Law 222). Canon Law speaks of fitting support for the clergy and other ministers. The ministry of Jesus was bankrolled by some prominent and wealthy women, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna (Luke 8:1-3). These women were also among his travelling team.
We often believe that Catechists, the Religious, Priests, Bishops and other pastoral agents have more than enough financial resources to sustain them. The fact is that while a few may be very comfortable, there are many who are struggling financially to make ends meet. There still many who lack the basic tools such as a decent house and a befitting church to carry out their work effectively; there are those who are dealing with ill-health; there are many who are unable to support their families adequately; there are those whose cars are off the road and are unable to discharge their duties well because they are not mobile; some of these pastoral agents quit because of the overwhelming challenges in the ministry. Just like Elisha received support from the Shunammite Lady, the Ministers of the Gospel: Catechists, the Religious, Priests, Bishops and all pastoral agents need moral, financial and spiritual support from those with whom they work. How often do you pray for your priests and leaders of the Church? How much regular support do you give for the upkeep of the Church and pastoral agents? How many times have you offered words of encouragement and support to those working in the vineyard of the Lord?
13th Sunday of the Year A;
2 Kings 4:8-11.14-16;