ORDINARY 22 (A)
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do. – Mt. 16: 23
Our Lord’s rebuke of Peter is another example of Peter being an unlikely candidate to be the rock upon which Jesus would found His church. So let’s throw some light on this problem with a true contemporary story. An aging mother in Arizona called her 55 year old daughter in California to tell her it was urgent for them to talk. She & her mother had always been close, so she dropped everything to fly home:
“As soon as I saw Mom I could tell her health was getting worse. ‘There’s something I’ve never told you’, she said, her frail hands shaking as she put a packet in my lap. I pulled out a stack of yellowed newspaper clippings. ‘Mystery still surrounds the Hatbox baby found abandoned in the desert on Christmas Eve, 1931” ran a headline. What was this all about?
“I kept on reading. ‘The finding of the six day old infant not only touched off a mystery; it was considered almost miraculous….She was swaddled in old cotton wrappings…a hatbox was her crib…investigators said it was surely a miracle that she had not been devoured by prowling coyotes or died in the cold.’ I was starting to feel very strange. ‘Mom?’ My mother took both my hands in hers, her eyes full of tears. ‘It’s you Sharon. You were that baby.’ I stared at her in disbelief. Until this moment I had no idea I was adopted. Over the next few hours, Mom told me the incredible story.
“At sundown on Christmas Eve, 1931, an Arizona couple was driving home across a barren stretch of desert some 40 miles out of Mesa when they developed car trouble. While the husband worked to repair a broken fuel line, the wife walked away from the road. She caught sight of something in a clump of bushes. It was a round, black hatbox, its top not tightly closed.
“The woman called to her husband, who prodded the box gently with his foot. They heard a cry & opened the lid. Inside was a baby – a baby with red hair & blue eyes. The astonished couple took the baby into town to the Mesa police station & gave her to the deputy sheriff on duty. He took the baby to a maternity home run by a midwife named Ma Dana. The next morning, investigators returned to the desert to search for anything that might identify the infant. There was nothing.
“Word of the ‘hatbox baby’ spread rapidly. ‘I heard the news on the radio that Christmas morning,’ Mom said, ‘I’d always longed for a baby, but had never been able to carry one to term. So I shut off the oven without a thought of the turkey cooking inside & we rushed to get our names on the list to adopt you.’
“Mom stroked my red hair. ‘By the time the court date came two months later,’ she said, ‘more than 200 couples had signed up to adopt you. I figured we didn’t stand much of a chance, but I prayed & prayed. The night before the hearing it rained so hard that the bridge into town washed out, & most of the streets were flooded. Only one other couple was able to get to the courthouse, & since they already had an adopted child, the judge awarded you to us.’
“ ‘I’m so glad you were the ones who got me,’ I whispered, clinging to my mother the way I had as a child when something was wrong. I loved her dearly & I always would. But now I was an adult, & once again something was wrong, involving deep emotions I wasn’t yet ready to examine.
“I took the packet of clippings with me when I left that night. I tried not to think about them. But Mom’s failing health concerned me. She was alone, as my stepfather had died several years ago. I was divorced, so decided to retire from my job & move back home to Mesa to be with Mom.
“Eight months later she died. Her death filled me with grief. But one night as I stared out into the desert hills, I began to be haunted by other thoughts. I opened that packet again & read the newspaper clippings. ‘Had my birth mother really left me to die? Had my real mother not cared whether I lived or died? Please, God, I prayed, send some words to comfort me.’
“Ma Dana was now dead, & the couple that found me in the desert had long ago left the area. But what about the deputy sheriff on duty that night, Joe Maier? Was he alive? I could hardly believe it when I found a listing for him in the phone book. Joe was a friendly, big man with white hair. He took my hand in a warm grasp. Now in his nineties, he lived with his daughter, & he remembered the night in 1931 well.
“ ‘Mesa was a small town then, & the people here fell in love with you,’ Joe said. ‘They showered you with gifts. You were a gift to all of us.’ I struggled to tell him how I felt. ‘It’s been really hard for me,’ I said, ‘to think I was just dumped in the dessert to die.’ Joe shook his head. ‘No way,’ he said firmly. ‘You were clean, in a tidy flowered sleeper, with a blanket around you. You were in good shape, you’d been well cared for, & it was clear you couldn’t have been in the desert for long.’
“He leaned forward. ‘There’s a lot of questions about where you came from that night, questions that may never be answered. Was somebody hiding in the sagebrush to make sure you’d be found? Was that goodhearted couple that brought you in telling the whole story? Nobody knows for sure. But this much I am certain of: the baby put into my hands was clean & well-cared for & was meant to be found & given a good home.’
“I said goodbye to Joe with a sense of peace I had not had for months. Mom had said she felt that maybe women like her, who loved children so much but couldn’t give birth, were created to care for those babies who didn’t have mothers.”
This is a moving, true story. Think about it. There are three flawed people in it: the adoptive mother who was unable to bear children, the adopted divorced daughter left in a desert, & the birth mother who, for whatever reason, was unable to raise her baby. None of them expected the blessing they received: the childless mother a baby, the abandoned baby a home, the birth mother an answer. None of them could expect to be a rock on which human redemption was built. All, in fact, were like Peter & could well have cried his cry: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful person, O Lord.” Yet the Lord chose to build on them as the foundation for a human drama of grace.
So let’s go back to the Gospel. All of us spiritual redheads, all of us childless mothers, all of us birth mothers unable to cope, all of us hidden in a hatbox, all of us in the desert of our lives, all of us who fall on our knees exclaiming how unworthy & sinful we are; the truth is, we are all, like flawed Peter, the special objects of God’s calling & God’s desire to build His kingdom on the likes of us.
It is not for us to ask why, not for us to protest our unworthiness, not for us to parade our sins. No, we have only one choice: to humbly receive the keys of the kingdom & open up the doors of grace to as many people as we can. AMEN!