In a cold winter night, a wandering ascetic asked for shelter in a temple. The poor man stood shivering there in the falling snow, so the temple priest, reluctant though he was to let the man in, said, “Very well, you can stay, but only for the night. This is a temple, not a hospice. In the morning you will have to go.”
In the dead of night, the priest heard a strange cracking sound. He rushed to the temple and saw an incredible sight. There was the stranger warming himself at a fire he had lit in the temple. A wooden Buddha was missing. The priest asked, “Where is the statute?”
The wanderer pointed to the fire, then said, “I thought this cold would kill me.”
The priest shouted, “Are you out of your mind? Do you know what you have done? That was a Buddha statute. You have burned the Buddha!”
The fire was slowly dying out. The ascetic gazes into it and began to poke it with his stick.
”What are you doing now?” the priest asked.
”I am looking for the bones of the Buddha whom you say I burned” (Anthony de Mello, Taking Flight, 58).
We come to church to meet God. We come to church to pray and to worship God. For many of us, God is present in the church. God is present in the Eucharist. God is present in the reading of the Scriptures. God is present in the statutes we have in our church building. When we look at the Crucifix, a statute of Jesus or a statute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we show our reverence to these religious symbols, because we believe they are sacred. They stand for God. They stand of what we consider “holy.” And today, Jesus is telling us that God is present in another way. Other people, especially other Christians, are also standing for God. You and I are standing for God. Are you holy? Am I holy? Are we holy? I am afraid that we are.
We are holy because we were baptized into the death of Jesus. Baptized into the death of Jesus means we renounce Satan's way of life in order to live with Jesus in new life. This makes us holy. According to St. Paul, Jesus died to sin and lives for God. So, after baptism, we too must think of ourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus. Thus, to live for God means to die to sin. To live for God means to renounce Satan. To live for God means to get ready to lose our earthly life for life in Jesus. This is what Jesus means when he says, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” To lose our lives for Jesus means to lose something we have or something we like in this world for the sake of Jesus. What are some of the ways for us to die to self and live a new life in Jesus? A couple who had been married civilly for several years decided to have their marriage validated by the Church, and become active in the Church again. That is to die to self and live for Jesus. In a very concrete way, our parish is in need of money to repair the air-conditioning system in the parish hall. You can sacrifice not to dine out or to go to a movie and donate the money to the church for the repair of our air-conditioning system for our church. That is dying to self and live for Jesus. Or you might have a good voice to sing, but you are shy. You try to overcome your shyness by joining the choir to sing to praise Jesus in the community. That is to die to self and live for Jesus. There are many ways we can die to self and live for Jesus.
Secondly, to live a new life in Jesus requires us to look at life and to relate to one another in a different way. As Christians, we are not relating to one another as other people in the world relate to one another. We do not use one another or exploit one another. We do not cheat one another as some of the big companies are cheating on their investors. Through Baptism, we share the common priesthood of Christ. We are priest, prophet and king. The baptism we receive is the commission for us to be Jesus' disciples. Baptism is a seal that makes us a welcome sight to all who see us. Therefore, as Jesus says, when we receive one another, we receive Jesus. Many of us love the priests, religious and missionaries. When they come to visit us, we welcome them easily. But how about other Christians who are not priests, religious and missionaries? Do we love them? Jesus says, “Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple, amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” When we give one another a cup of cold water to drink because we are Jesus' disciples, Jesus will surely remember our kindness to one another.
A woman who lived in Shunem showed her hospitality to Elisha by inviting him to dine with her. She recognized that Elisha was a holy man of God. So she suggested to her husband to arrange a little room in her house for him with a bed, table, chair, and lamp, so that when he comes he can stay there. Because she received Elisha, the woman received her reward. She had no son, and Elisha promised her, “This time next year you will be fondling a baby son.”
What are your cups of water to give to Jesus' disciples? And what are your ways to show hospitality to Jesus' disciples? A young woman wrote to Ann Landers:
Dear Ann Landers:
My 28-year old cousin, “Annie,” is going to be married next month. Annie was married once before to a useless, lazy good-for-nothing who cheated on her. Annie's father is convinced that this marriage will be no better than the last one, and he refuses to be a part of it. He won't walk her down the aisle, nor will he attend the wedding.
Annie has asked my father (her uncle) to give her away in marriage. My father is honored by the request, but doesn't want to stir up a hornet's nest with his brother. I think he'll do it for Annie's sake.
I am bitter that Annie is asking my father to do this when he hasn't yet walked his own daughters down the aisle. Why should she be the first one to give him this honor? If Dad decides to do it, I will accept his decision, but it will take me a long time to forgive her for asking. What should he do?” (Not A Bride in Virginia)
Not a Bride in Virginia is challenged to give a cup of water to her Annie. Is there anyone who needs of a cup of water from you? Are you willing to give a cup of water to that person?