July 15, 2012
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 1: Am 7:12-15
Responsorial Psalm Ps 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14
Reading 2: Eph 1:3-14
Gospel: Mk 6:7-13
With an October birthday, I received my driver’s license around the beginning of November 1979. Soon after, with such “mobility” now a possibility, I began my first job, a less than exciting one indeed, six hours each night, from around 4:00 pm until 10:00 pm, proofreading dull government documents. It was hard work and I was not especially good at it, but the suffering paid off in a nice paycheck, and I was suddenly wealthy, able to enjoy some extras that I had never enjoyed before . . . . until . . .
One February evening, on the way from school to work, a freak winter storm hit—maybe since I had been at school all day, I had not heard about its prediction. Being a new and amateur driver, I was not sufficiently careful, when the precipitation turned into freezing rain and the roads were covered in ice. It seems like a moment “frozen” in time—yet it was over thirty years ago. I still remember exact song playing on the radio when the road I was driving made a turn, but my car didn’t. In an instant, my car bounced off another in the oncoming lane and then careened off an embankment and slid to a stop at the bottom of a slight decline. The other driver, off whose car I had glanced, was most kind. Her car was surprisingly little damaged. She said, “Oh, it’s an old car. Don’t worry about it.” And off she drove. Then, looking at my car, or rather my father’s car, I could see I had not been so lucky. The second collision, off the embankment, left the entire right front of the car scraped and dented.
In shock, once at work, I called my father to tell him. To his credit, he immediately asked if I was okay, then reacted to the news of the damage to his car with no hint of anger or disapproval—just “I’m glad you were not hurt.” WOW! What a dad! How’d I get so lucky?
Until—it came time to get the car fixed. The cost, back then, seemed astronomical: $1600. Feeling responsible, I half-heartedly offered, “I’ll pay for it,” not expecting this kind father to take me up on my offer. To my shock, my father said, “yes, I think that would be a good thing for you to pay.” WOW! What a mean dad! How mistreated I was! Suddenly kind, understanding Dad turned into mean, unreasonable Dad. This was all the money I had saved, for my entrance into college the next Fall, and now it as all gone. The mercy I experienced on the day of the accident seemed to have evaporated.
I recall going to the bank, taking out $1600, almost my entire account, took the money home, and gave it to my dad. He replied simply, “thank you.” To my surprise, however, even by the time I handed over this wad of cash, I remember some mild degree of satisfaction—“well, my debt is paid.” Dad’s mercy, seemingly withheld when he insisted I pay, led to my deepening sense of needing to be responsible and a sense of satisfaction when I took responsibility for my debts.
Imagine, instead, how things could have turned out if he had taken the cost of the repair on himself, and I got the idea, somehow, that I ought to expect others to cover for me. This could have led to a great deal of misery—feeling wronged or mistreated that others somehow ought to pay for my failings, or that they were not really MY failings at all if I was not responsible for the effects of them. Knowing my dad like I do now, I’m sure it wasn’t easy for him to not take care of his son, to pay for the crumpled car—could it have been harder on him than me? WOW! What a great dad! How’d I get so lucky?
On that day, and so many others, Dad was my personal trainer, putting up the resistance, not to grow my muscles, but rather my spirit and my virtue. This “resistance training” has helped me live such a more joyful, peaceful life of purpose and not dependency. I literally became a stronger person because Dad did not come to my rescue, but let me struggle and grow strong through the struggle.
It is clear that we don’t come into life on our own or through our own efforts—life is completely a gift given to us by our parents, and, ultimately, our God. So too it is true that, once we have life, we need others to help us grow and mature into fuller life—something we cannot do on our own. Hence, our families, our parents, our friends, our priests, our spouses, our brothers and sisters in Christ, are all necessary to help us do what we cannot do on our own—mature into full life. Sure, as we rub against others in our lives, sometimes painfully, we might not like them or appreciate the, but they are the only way we can be “roughed up” for “rough spots” to be worn off us, so we can become more fully human. Could it be so-called “difficult” people are our way to becoming more human, more holy?
The scriptures make it clear that this truth, that we need others to have life and grow into full life, is God’s plan for us—we are not meant to be alone, nor can we come to full life without others. “It is not good for the man to be alone” the first book of the Bible, Genesis, tells us. Further, as we see in today’s gospel, to be a follower of Jesus, to serve God, and to journey into life as a Christian, it is STILL not good to be alone. Thus, when Jesus is ready to send out his apostles, he sends them out in pairs, two by two, never alone, for just as it was in the beginning, it continues to be in Jesus’ Kingdom. WHY?
At first we might think it is so that we will have the encouragement and support of others in the faith—which is true. But, we also need them to guide us, challenge us, maybe even annoy us with a charitable challenge to live a more Christ-like life. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, we need others for life.
So, in faith, let’s give thanks for the people in our lives, who have helped us, challenged us to life. At the time they help us “rub off our rough spots,” we’re probably not feeling grateful, but with God’s grace, we can see how God uses them to guide us to fuller life.
So, let us pray: For the grace of forgiveness, when we see difficulties and conflicts as a fault of others, rather than an occasion of growth for us. For the grace of gratitude, when others seem a nuisance, an obstacle, and enemy, that we can see how they ultimately help us overcome our self-centeredness and see the joy in living for others. Above all, we pray for love, God’s gift that help us live in joy with others and help them live life fully as they help us. For it is indeed not good for us to be alone. Rather, we are to travel life’s journey with others, those around us this morning, helping each other in life and to eternity.