August 3, 2014
ORDINARY 18 (A)
When He … saw the vast crowd, His heart was moved with pity for them, and He cured their sick. – Mt. 14: 14
A preacher well-known for his moving sermons was on a big jet crowded with passengers. In mid-flight the pilot announced that due to mechanical problems he was going to make an unscheduled landing for repairs. After landing, the passengers disembarked with instructions to return in two hours. When they returned, one of them apparently had spent most of his time in the bar. He staggered onto the plane, obviously drunk, & began to make slow progress down the aisle. As he neared his seat, he spotted the preacher. Pointing to him, he said in a loud voice, “There is one of the great preachers of our time.” Then collapsing into his seat he added, “His preaching has changed my life.”
Preaching has its place, but in itself rarely changes people’s lives. Good preaching can offer insights, spark emotions, & impart knowledge. But genuine change in people’s lives takes place on the level of healing.
A wealthy young woman asked her priest for advice on how she could help the poor. He suggested a particularly poor family in the parish & encouraged her to visit that family every week. Then he made her promise not to patronize them, but to work on building a genuine & sincere relationship with them. The priest said, “Just visit them, & let them minister to you.” He was trying to tell her that she needed the poor more than they needed her.
She took his advice. She visited them once a week & listened to them. She began to know them no longer as the abstract “poor,” but as real people like herself. As she began to know them this way, she was able to more & more to identify with their problems. As a result, she “changed, & changed dramatically” as the priest put it later. She was now better prepared & better equipped for an effective ministry of caring & healing.
In our person-centered ministry of caring & healing, Jesus is our model. It is a ministry of hope, & we presume to offer people hope to those in need not because we are great but because God is great. We presume to offer new life to those who are hurting, not because we think we have it made but because we can say, “come & see us in our own brokenness; come & share with us an abiding hope in a gracious God who will never abandon us.”
There is a story set in the Middle Ages that goes like this: two knights in full armor were riding through a deep wood thinking that there was no one else for miles around. They came upon each other in a particularly dark spot. Both were startled & each misjudged the movements of the other as signs of hostility. So they began to fight, each believing he was under attack & must defend himself. As the conflict grew, one managed to knock the other from his horse. Whereupon, he drove his lance through his opponent’s heart. The victor dismounted & bent over the man he had killed. He pulled back the dead man’s face mask, & to his horror, recognized his own brother.
If we fail to offer the world a ministry of caring & healing, our actions will be interpreted as signs of hostility & we will destroy each other. But if we do offer such a ministry modeled on Christ our actions will be interpreted as signs of hope – and we can help people move from darkness to light, & they will find those whom they thought to be enemies to be their brothers & sisters.
But first our lives must be changed & changed dramatically, if we are to have any credibility whatsoever. If loneliness is the most common problem in the world, we in the caring fellowship of the Church must be part of the solution. If we could feed everyone, clothe everyone, educate everyone, & put a roof over everyone’s head, we still would not have given them a reason for living. Only Christ can do that. AMEN!