Fill this World’s Gaping Vacancies

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Sunday’s Old Testament reading has real life application to our modern lives (2 Kgs 4:8-11, 14-16a). It involves a “woman of influence” and her husband who felt their place in the outside world was filled to capacity but that their own home had a gaping vacancy. Then the prophet Elisha entered their lives, filling their empty space with the holiness they’d been missing. He introduced them to a God whose influence dwarfed their own. He made them realize just how empty their life was.

Elisha must have taught them that without God their love would die with them. He promised them a new life in which their love would become a divine legacy that could be occupied by a new generation. In that way, death would no longer have power over this couple, and they would exert a new influence powered by divine love.

That love couldn’t be contained between the two of them, and Elisha told them it would result in an offspring representing God’s love incarnate. That’s the definition of a holy family, and Sunday’s Old Testament version of it offers a bridge to the New Testament’s embodiment of it in Jesus the Christ. Jesus proved that death has no hold over anyone who lives the love of a holy family, for that love becomes a perpetual occupation. As Paul teaches the Romans in Sunday’s second reading (Rom 6:3-4, 8-11),

If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. … Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.

It’s in that context that the tough love we hear from Jesus in Sunday’s gospel makes complete sense. Love contained is not God’s love. Love that doesn’t go beyond our doors represents a gaping vacancy behind them. A holy family’s home must be found outdoors, among our human family. We must be like Elisha the prophet, introducing everyone we meet to God’s love in us, and we must, in turn, see Jesus in everyone we meet.

NOW, read Jesus’s seemingly harsh instructions to his disciples in that light (Mt 10:37-42):

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Our homes aren’t designed for vacancy because vacancy represents life’s absence. We are sent into the world humanity calls home to be received, and thus to occupy what’s empty. In that way we are no different from Elisha OR Jesus, for as Jesus tells his followers:

“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

–Tom Andel

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