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Posted by on Jul 2, 2023

What Goes Around Comes Around?

What Goes Around Comes Around?

A very human urge is to try to understand why something happens. If that something was something negative, we want even more to know why and then we ask what the consequences of that something might be. Think of children in the school yard. Some are very good at sports. Others are not. If those who are good at sports begin to pick on those who are not, there is every expectation that the teachers or other adults in charge will step in and stop the bullying. There is an expectation, or at the very least, a hope, that justice will prevail. In the eyes of those on the receiving end of the bullying, the hope may well be that the guilty ones will be punished. That doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, the guilty ones overstep and pick on someone who is stronger. In such instances, the originally bullied ones may take glee in the notion that “what goes around comes around” and the former bullies have gotten their comeuppance!

Now this is not necessarily the way we want to approach the world. If we all keep cheering for bad things to happen to the “bad guys,” things aren’t going to get a lot better. In fact, they will just keep getting worse. We might even discover to our dismay that we are starting to be seen as “bad guys.”

So, what to do?

The Scriptures point to another option. What if we assume that love is a stream of energy that flows continuously through all of creation and through each of us? That love doesn’t try to get even with those who behave badly and hurt others. Instead, that love aims to bring out the best in all it touches.

Elisha experienced that gift of love through the generous hospitality of a woman in Shunem who first invited him to dinner one day. As time went on, she and her husband hosted him often. Eventually, she arranged for a room to be prepared for him to use whenever he was in the area. Elisha was grateful for her hospitality and asked what gift might be given her in thanksgiving. His servant suggested that a son would be the best gift for her, because she had never had a son and so the gift was promised. The story continues beyond the short bit in today’s reading to tell of the birth of a son to her. It’s worth reading, especially remembering that women typically had no say in such matters as to who would be invited to dinner or to stay in a family home. Men made all such decisions. But this woman’s generosity was rewarded abundantly. The gift of loving welcome and hospitality was returned and amplified with the gift of a son. (2 Kings 4:8-11, 14 – 16a)

St. Paul speaks of baptism as an entry into the death and resurrection of Jesus. In entering into the water, a person enters into death. Upon rising out of the water, new life springs forth. The love of God flows like a stream of life, deeper than our physical world would lead us to imagine. With Jesus’ death, the power of sin was broken and the cycle of tit-for-tat was broken. Followers of Jesus live for God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:3-4, 8-11)

Jesus spoke strongly about what living in accordance with his teaching would require. The words are as jarring today as they were when he first uttered them. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…” Aren’t we supposed to love our families? Yes, but there’s more to what Jesus said than just the literal meaning of the sentence.

Jesus lived in a culture very different from our Western industrial culture of nuclear families with the expectation each will make their own way in life. In Jesus’ culture, the extended, corporate family was the basic unit of society. One was known in terms of the larger family. The head of the family was the oldest man, from whom the rest were descended. Women left their own family upon marriage and became part of their husband’s family. If they did not produce male heirs, they were considered worthless and might even be returned to their original extended family.

In this type of culture, the honor of the family is everything. One’s responsibility is to behave in a way that will not embarrass or otherwise harm the reputation of the family. If one’s family has a dispute with another family, there is no expectation that individuals will step outside their own family and do anything good for a person of the other family. Think of family feuds like that of the Hatfields and McCoys. Or the families of Romeo and Juliet, for that matter. When Jesus speaks of loving father or mother more than loving him, this is what he means. Loyalty to one’s family over loyalty to Jesus and the way he taught is not acceptable for his followers.

Do families take that kind of independent thinking and acting happily? Not usually. Even in our own nuclear families, it’s hard to take a stand that is contrary to the beliefs of parents or even siblings. Yet this is what Jesus expects of his followers – a willingness to take the risk of being misunderstood and even condemned for the refusal to conform to the expectations or the decisions of family or social group. This is taking up the cross, accepting the disapproval, the scolding, the mocking, even the rejection by those one has held dear, rather than conform to expectations that are contrary to the teachings of Jesus.

So what is expected of Jesus’ followers? What will come to them along the way? How will the stream of love show up? “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” The rewards for passing love along will correspond to those received by others. If one is receiving a righteous person because that person is righteous, then the reward will be the same as the one received by the righteous person. (Mt 10:37-42)

The actions that flow along in this stream of love may be grand and noteworthy. They may also be small and commonplace. A cup of cold water given to one of God’s little ones will be rewarded abundantly.

We are called to be channels of love and peace in our world. What goes around in a channel of peace may also come around, but it comes around in an ongoing, ever-increasing stream of loving action that will remake our world in God’s image. We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to do it all by ourselves. We just need to be open and generous in sharing the gift of love we have received. As we share in love, both the love and the basic requirements of life, we are carried along in the stream ourselves.

May we notice this week the times and ways in which the stream of divine love touches us. May we then open our hearts and hands to let it pour forward to others as well.

Readings for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A