Reflection given by Sister Jean Anne Zappa, OSU on Sunday, September 23, 2018
Chapel Donor Mass, Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, Ursuline Motherhouse
On retreat a few years back, I had an encounter that still touches my heart in a profound way. Walking around the lake in front of me was a young boy with a teenager, presumably brothers. They were chatting and the boy was feeding the ducks. The older brother told him it was time to go, but the boy kept on walking. The brother called his name and said, “Brad it is time to go,” so they began walking up a hill.
All of a sudden, the young boy, Brad, turned around and caught up with me and began to walk with me, in silence. I smiled at him and he offered me the bread he had left over from feeding the ducks. I received it; he smiled and then ran back up the hill. In silence and with the act of handing me the bread, he invited me to continue feeding the ducks. Somehow his goodness and simplicity, but mostly his generosity and trust, sharing his joy, and in his action, sharing what was important to him touched me. When I reflected on today’s readings this experience immediately came back to me.
In the Wisdom reading (Wis 2:12, 17:20) the author is struggling with the questions like: who can understand life, how should humans behave, what is the attitude about life, suffering, inequality and death, why do the wicked prosper, how do human experiences affect our faith, how does one find joy in contemplating God and creation?
The letter of James (JAS 3:16–4:3) struggles with the same question: the inequality is among the community—the body of Christ, starting with the individual and affecting the whole.
So James calls forth repentance and openness to the generosity of God because if tensions are not resolved, tensions manifest as oppression to the poor. James calls for faithful acts of love and service, to be in solidarity with each other especially with the social outcasts.
The Gospel reading (MK 9:30-37) begins with a prediction of the Passion, death and resurrection, which relates to the Wisdom question of the meaning of suffering, especially of the just and the meaning of immortality. Jesus then teaches his followers that the primary reason for faith is repentance and discipleship, a reminder of what the letter of James calls forth in his message— repentance is necessary, as that leads to solidarity with the outcasts and acts of faithful service—true discipleship to follow Jesus.
Then Jesus takes a child and says whoever welcomes a child, welcomes me and the one who sent me. We think that Jesus uses the image of children for us to be as innocent, honest and simple as they, yet in the time of Jesus, children were outcasts in society, had no legal rights, many were poor and homeless, not unlike the children of today separated at the border or abused by those in power. Jesus says that true discipleship is when you welcome the vulnerable, when you serve the least, you then serve Christ himself.
The theologian Richard Rohr said, “When at the bottom of society, it is the privileged vantage point for understanding the liberating power of the gospel for the individual and society”. Jesus risked being least and vulnerable entering into his passion death and resurrection. Jesus is calling us to risk vulnerability so we are open to the least and vulnerable for Gospel life to happen.
Back to the experience with Brad whom I met walking by the lake: I hope I welcomed him as he chose to walk with me, share his food with me, and trust me to do the right thing with what he desired. His spontaneous act of offering what was important to him touched my life, to be open and receive what others offer. As we walked together in silence around the lake, without even knowing it, we were contemplating each other’s presence and nature just like the book of Wisdom invites us. He was my Jesus, risking his vulnerability, inviting me to share and join in acts of kindness as James said, to welcome him and others as Jesus calls us to, and to reflect on the meaning of life as Wisdom says.
Today we celebrate and honor you, our donors, who have chosen to walk with us in ministry of Jesus building up God’s reign by the sharing of your resources. You are like the little boy who decides to trust us with your resources to live discipleship together. You are open to share your gifts with us to help preserve this worship space where folks are nourished by the Eucharist in faith and for loving service.
Together, we are open to feed the outcasts and to welcome the vulnerable as you support our ministry fund. Just as the boy did, you as donors walk with us that together in partnership and support we ponder the same Wisdom questions of suffering, inequality and oppression and answer with faith and justice and acts of love. You graciously and generously give and we Ursulines welcome you and thank you. As that boy showed Jesus to me, you show Jesus to us by your generosity and together as disciples we follow Jesus and serve with joy and love.