A reflection for the thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Rebecca Bratten Weiss reflects on the readings for July 2, 2023.
Catholic Voices

Readings (Year A):

2 Kings 4:8 – 11, 14 – 16a
Psalms 89:2 – 3, 16 – 17, 18 – 19
Romans 6:3 – 4, 8 – 11
Matthew 10:37 – 42

Reflection: A preferential option for the vulnerable

“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” (Matthew 10:37-42).

These verses, where Jesus asks his friends to make tremendous sacrifices to follow him, can seem challenging. And, for many who are deconstructing from harmful and manipulative religious traditions, they may seem to offer a template for spiritual abuse. Many have suffered injustice and pain and found no help from fellow Christians who just told them “Jesus wants you to carry your cross.” Women who are struggling because their doctor told them another pregnancy could kill them, and have been told they have to “take up the cross” of potentially dying, before considering options for preventing pregnancy. People who have been abused by a member of the clergy get abused a second time around when Christians tell them they must forgive and “take up the cross.”

How many people have been cut off by friends or family because they married outside the church, because they divorced, or because they are LGBTQ? I have heard Christians talk about refusing to attend a marriage of a loved one, or not letting a loved one bring their partner to visit. I have seen families ostracize and even expel their LGBTQ children in the name of Jesus—sometimes using these verses to justify this harmful behavior.


So, what do we make of this gospel passage? How can we read it in a way that doesn’t seem to justify abuse, injustice, and ostracism?

The Catholic church has a “preferential option for the poor” in its social teaching. I think we should also bring a preferential option for the vulnerable, to verses like this. They should not be used to justify harming those are already in difficult situations. That’s not the gospel Jesus taught. He taught, instead, that to those who have much, much will be required. The rich and privileged have an obligation to share their wealth and to help those most in need—as the wealthy woman of Shunem helps Elisha, in the first reading, this Sunday.

When earthly attachments get in the way of this, that’s a problem. It’s a problem, too, when we let our personal attachments prevent us from working for justice. I think about times in the past when I chose to be silent about injustice, because I didn’t want to upset powerful people, or because I craved societal approval. Those are times when I was unwilling to “lose my life” for the sake of Jesus.

And Jesus told his followers clearly where we would find him: in the poor, the immigrant, the hungry, the incarcerated. When we decide to prioritize our material possessions over the needs of those vulnerable people, we’re not loving Jesus. Jesus is telling us we must not let our fear of rocking the boat or losing our social capital prevent us from helping those in need or speaking out for survivors.

It’s still not easy. It’s still a challenging gospel. But when we look at it this way, we can see it’s a gospel worth living by.