FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
There is a poet whose work I know that I’ve shared with you before. His name is Ted Kooser. He’s a retired life-insurance executive, from the town of Garland, Nebraska. He’s also a former Poet Laureate of the United States. The last of his poems that I shared with you was called, ‘The Beaded Purse.’
But he recently published a volume of new and collected poems called, “Kindest Regards.” And today I’d like to share a poem from this new volume, called, ‘Abandoned Farmhouse.’
‘He was a big man, says the size of his shoes on a pile of broken dishes by the house; A tall man, too, says the length of his bed in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man, says the Bible with a broken back, on the floor below the window, dusty with sun; but not a man for farming, say the fields, cluttered with boulders, and the leaky barn.
A woman lived with him, says the bedroom-wall papered with lilacs, and the kitchen shelves, covered with oilcloth, and they had a child, says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves and canned tomatoes, sealed in the cellar hole. And the winters, cold, say the rags in the window frames. It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.
Something went wrong, says the empty house in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the field say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste. And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard like branches after a storm: a rubber cow, a rusty tractor with a broken plow, a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Today, for the first time since his baptism by St. John, Jesus goes home. From the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit had driven him into the desert for forty days and nights, after which he was tempted by Satan. From there he had travelled up and down Galilee, healing the sick and forgiving sinners. He had called the twelve apostles, and they had followed him. Last Sunday we heard of his healing of the woman with the hemorrhage, and his raising of Jairus’ daughter.
Today, as we begin Chapter 6 of St. Mark’s gospel, Jesus returns to Nazareth. Jesus goes home. And I wonder whether it occurred to him that something had gone wrong.
The gospels tell us that Jesus was raised in Nazareth. Nazareth was where he was formed in the faith. The synagogue in Nazareth was where he had learned the scriptures - the Law and the Prophets.
But today, upon his return, he is ‘amazed by their lack of faith.’ Something had gone wrong.
“Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
We might infer that the townspeople of Nazareth found that their Jesus had ‘grown too big for his britches.’ His miracles and his teachings seem to have made him a stranger to them; and their sudden hostility and ‘lack of faith’ must have made it hard for him to recognize them. Something had gone wrong.
It might help us to understand what if we back up a little. Why did Jesus come? Why was he here in the first place? What was Jesus’ purpose?
Our Creed tells us that he came to redeem us from original sin. That he came to mend the disobedience and willfulness in us. That he came to restore us to our friendship with God.
And one has to suspect that, God’s plan to send Jesus into our world must have been based on God observing our world, and noticing again that something had gone wrong. When he had first fashioned the world God had observed everything that he had made, and found it very good. He’d created us in his own image and likeness, and walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening.
But then came the serpent, and the apple, and Adam and Eve’s embarrassing discovery that, suddenly, they were naked. And they hid.
Eden, then, must have resembled an abandoned farmhouse, where something, obviously, had gone wrong. God sent Jesus to restore it. God sent Jesus to restore us.
To fix what had gone wrong. Those very things we observe in the people of Nazareth - our pride…our willfulness…our disobedience.
My friends, to follow Christ - to have faith in Christ - is to share in his mission of redeeming God’s deflated dream of harmony between heaven and earth, and serenity between himself and us.
To have faith in Christ is to submit to God’s earnest desire to mend ‘that something’ that has gone wrong in us.
Let us join him at the altar where his mending ever begins. – Fr. Brian
THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
One of the methods I use to help me prepare my homilies every Sunday is to slowly read through the readings, especially the gospel passage. As I read through the readings, I ask God to stop me at a word, a phrase, a verse or an image that God would like me to pay more attention to. Then I spend time reflecting on that word, phrase, verse or image to see how God is trying to speak to me through it and to make clear to me what God would like me to preach about that weekend.
I did that with today’s readings. And as I read through all three readings, the very last verse in our gospel story from Mark caught my attention. Jesus says to the family of the little girl that he had just raised from the dead that they should give her something to eat.
I generally tend to think about Jesus in terms of the spectacular things that he said and did. I think of Jesus who healed the sick, cast out demons, raised people from the dead, fed a hungry crowd with five loaves and two fish, walked on water and calmed a great storm at sea. I think of his great teachings like the Sermon on the Mount or the Commandment of Love. I think of his passion, death, resurrection and ascension and his sending the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
But what struck me most about Jesus in this gospel story was his attention to a little, practical thing - telling the family of this little girl that they should give her something to eat. Jesus knew that after the long ordeal of her sickness and death, she would be in a weakened state and that she would be hungry.
This is not the first time that we hear about Jesus doing something like this. In Mark chapter 7 there is a story about Jesus healing a man who was deaf. In Mark chapter 8 there is a story about Jesus healing a man who was blind. In both cases we are told that Jesus took them off by themselves away from the crowd. Why? I believe that in both cases Jesus was sensitive to their situation. He knew that if he healed the deaf man with a big crowd of people gathered around him, it would be overwhelming to him to suddenly be able to hear in the midst of all the noise of a large crowd. Similarly, he knew that if he gave sight back to a blind man in the midst of a large crowd where he would suddenly encounter a wide variety of colors and images, it would be very disorienting to him. So Jesus takes them away from the crowds where he could restore their hearing and sight in a personal, private encounter that would allow them to gradually get used to hearing and seeing.
My point is that Jesus not only did spectacular, miraculous things. He also did little things with great love. He was sensitive to how people would react to the things he did for them and to what their needs would be after they were healed.
Give her something to eat. Jesus cared about this little girl who had just been raised from the dead. He not only did the big thing – raising her from the dead. He also did the little thing, making sure that she got something to eat.
This gospel challenges us to be more attentive to little things, to what people might be thinking or feeling, to what people might actually need in our encounters with them.
This is a good segue into Sr. Barbara who we celebrate and thank today. She has served here at St. Gregory for 32 years. As I think about Sr. Barbara and her impact on our parish, I call to mind all the many little thoughtful things that she has done with great love for the people she has met and worked with. She remembers birthdays and special events in people’s lives. When she goes to visit someone, she brings them a small gift. She loves little children and finds a special gift that she can give them. She visits people in hospitals, nursing homes and in their homes, caring in her own special way for those who are sick or homebound. She attends wakes and funerals to offer comfort to people experiencing loss and grief. She joins people at their family celebrations and enjoys food and of course a glass of wine with them. Through Social Care, she has reached out to help many people who are poor and in need. She feels in the depth of her heart and soul the pain, the struggles and the challenges that people are going through and finds little ways to reach out to offer comfort and help. She has made hundreds if not thousands of phone calls to people who need someone to talk to and care about them. Little things count, and over the past 32 years, Sr. Barbara has done countless little things for so many different people in so many different ways, and she has done them with great love.
Sr. Barbara, look around our Church this morning. There are a lot of people here. These people have come here today because of you, because they want to honor and thank you for the all the many little ways in which you have touched their lives with great love.
In light of that, I have a request of all of you gathered here this morning. The best possible way in which you can thank Sr. Barbara for all that she has done to serve you is not to give her a material gift or present but rather to leave here today and consistently look for little, practical things that you can do for someone you know who is experiencing some sickness, challenge, difficulty or personal need in their life. And do it with great love.
Happy birthday Sr. Barbara. We will miss you when you leave us. And thanks for the memories you leave us with, memories that we will treasure as we think of you when you return to your motherhouse in Cincinnati. God bless you. – Fr. Paul