BY: Fr Andrew Ekpenyong at St Mary Magdalene Catholic Church, Omaha, USA.

1. Joke. Let’s start with a familiar one-liner joke: “Money cannot buy happiness; but poverty cannot buy anything!”. Dear sisters and brothers, today’s Scripture readings reveal connections between kindness and contentment, between generosity and happiness. Ultimately, truth is one and I was not surprised when neuroscientists from Chicago (USA), Lübeck (Germany) and Zurich (Switzerland) recently discovered through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that when people choose to be generous, not only do they become happier, but fMRI picks up evidence of increased neural activities associated happy moods and contentment. They wrote: “…Our data suggest that a commitment to generous behavior can increase happiness and thereby provide a neural mechanism that links commitment-induced generosity to happiness.” (“A neural link between generosity and happiness” Nature Communications, 11th July 2017).

2. Woman of Shunem. Thank God, we did not have to wait for fMRI to discover this truth. You and I already know, from our personal experience that being kind to others brings us joy and happiness. Human beings in every culture have had this experience. No wonder the saying: “If you want happiness for an hour; take a nap. If you want happiness for a day; go fishing. If you want happiness for a year; inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime; help someone else.” (Chinese proverb). In today’s 1st reading (2 Kgs 4:8-11, 14-16a) the woman of Shunem, an influential person, demonstrates this truth. Many of you here, and many people around the world, are making sincere efforts to live this truth. Let us encourage one another, using the Shunamite woman’s great example of generosity leading to happiness. Key takeaways are: (i). Look out for the needs of others and help. She noticed Elisha’s need of food, shelter, etc. She did something about it. She got her husband to cooperate in her generosity: “let us arrange a little room on the roof and furnish it for him with a bed, table, chair, and lamp, so that when he comes to us, he can stay there.” (ii). Expect no reward and don’t be eager to have more. The woman of Shunem did not expect reward from Elisha. Even when Elisha offered to do something for her, she politely declined, saying that she was satisfied with what she had (2 Kg 4:13), what an amazing person! She shared what she had and was not eager to get more stuff, not even the extra security of being linked up with the king as Elisha suggested. She was generous and contented. Elisha in turn had to look out for her needs. Yes. “For kindness, begets kindness evermore”, as the Greek playwright, Sophocles wrote. Elisha asked his associate what they could do. Gehazi answered, “She has no son, and her husband is getting on in years…” (which means she could end up a childless widow). Well, Elisha prayed (v16-17) and she became a mother the following year! Finally, (iii). Don’t panic when the painful happens. Believe it or not, the child later died. She laid the corpse on the bed in the room she had made for Elisha. Read what happened next in 2 Kg 4: 20-37.


3. Eternal Happiness. For today, the big extra lesson is that no one is immune from misfortune, not even the generous person. A TV comedian called it “the randomness of misfortune”. The Shunamite woman was generous, contented, and happy despite her share in random misfortune, namely, childlessness. The randomness of misfortune, connects the lessons of today’s 1st reading with the Gospel reading (Mt 10:37-42). It is the centrality of the cross in Christian life: “whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10:38) Looking out for the needs of others despite our own crosses, despite our own misfortunes, that is the hall mark of Christian generosity. By serving Christ in our neighbor, we appear to lose our lives, but it is such service of Christ in others, that leads to contentment and happiness even now. Unfortunately, no amount of kindness can bring us perfect happiness in this life, on this planet. Perfect happiness is God’s final gift to us: the beatific vision. This is what today’s 2nd reading (Rom 6:3-4, 8-11) reminds us. Thanks to the death and resurrection of Christ, thanks to our acceptance of His cross, “we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” (Rom 6:8). This faith reshapes our entire journey to eternal happiness by putting God first, as Christ told His apostles today: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:37). Our Lord is saying: one who loves God first, loves others next; one who loves God most, loves others best. Again, one who loves God most, loves others best. The Shunamite woman loved God most, and therefore loved her husband best, by getting her husband to be part of her kindness towards a man of God, the kindness that leads to happiness. May God bring us to eternal happiness as we continue to show kindness to others, through Christ our Lord, Amen.


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