“I will not leave you orphans…”

Reflection by Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU, on the Sixth Sunday of Easter,
May 17, 2020
St. William Church, Louisvil
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When I was in 6th grade many years ago, I had a teacher who made us memorize poetry. I remember part of this one:

Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;

James Whitcomb Riley

An orphan—a word from the Greek meaning “bereft.” 

Then there is another Annie, who was an orphan, and in a loud song she and her sister orphans proclaim, “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” as they scrub, do dishes and sew.

An orphan—someone bereft.

And then there is Oliver Twist, the foundling boy who was orphaned and trafficked into pickpocketing in the streets of London. Bad things happen to orphans.

And finally, there is Cosette in Les Mis who is orphaned and falls into the hands of vicious foster parents who force her into child labor. Cosette is bereft.

Orphans find themselves exploited, taken advantage of, voiceless, and confused.

But there is hope in the end for every one of these characters I mentioned, because each one has an advocate. In “Little Orphan Annie,” it is the children—because they love her bedtime stories; Daddy Warbucks advocates for Annie in the musical; Mr. Brownlow advocates for Oliver and Jean Valjean protects Cosette until his death.

In today’s gospel, John tells us the touching story of Jesus taking leave of his friends. This is just about the end and he has so much to say. But today’s passage is only a part of what has come to be known as the last discourse or as Joan said last week, the commencement address. Who knows if all the things in the last discourse were really said that night or not? That is of no consequence really, but John apparently wanted to put these words together so that his readers would hear them as Jesus’ kind of farewell speech.

I once saw the Fountain Square Fools, a Gospel mime group out of Cincinnati do this last discourse. They showed Jesus getting up from the “last supper” and starting toward the door, then he would run back and sit down again and say something he had forgotten. He would get up again and take a few steps and then run back and say something else as though he had forgotten an important thing. It was so like any of us who are getting ready to leave and we are telling babysitters or pet sitters the last few things we may have forgotten to write down or say earlier.

But in the middle of all this leave taking, I think the sweetest, most touching thing Jesus says to this rough and tumble, sometimes slow in comprehension group of working men is, “I will not leave you orphans.” I will not leave you bereft; I will not leave you to be exploited, or voiceless, or confused. I will not leave you fearful or powerless; no, I will send you an advocate. An advocate who will lift you up. This advocate will help you find your voice; she will support you as you go to places, you never dreamed… to quote Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go”—Samaria, Corinth, Antioch, Lystra, Ephesus, India… “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” because of the courage this advocate will give you, the voice she will give, the power to heal you will experience, the wisdom you will give to people when you lay your hands upon them. Oh, the difference this advocate will make in you!

This talk about orphans and advocates set me to thinking how often we become advocates for orphans in our society. “I will not leave you orphans.” I will send you an advocate. I think our St. Vincent de Paul group says that to those who need their rent paid or their electric turned on “We will not leave you orphans.” We will advocate on your behalf.

Some say that at the bus station to those asylum-seekers who come through Louisville hoping for refuge and a better way of life. “We will not leave you orphans,” and we will speak out on your behalf.

And, “We will not leave you orphans,” echoes to men on the street when they come to St. John Center for coffee or a shower or help with finding housing. We will advocate for you to be treated with respect.

And Just Creations says to artisans from around the world, “We will not leave you orphans,” we will see that you get a fair price for your beautiful work and your tasty coffee.

Now I leave us all with a personal challenge. Who are the orphans calling us? Who is calling us to be an advocate? Is it our planet? Is it those who have no work because of Covid 19? Is it those unjustly incarcerated? Is it our elders in nursing homes? Is it someone in our own family? There are so many bereft today… so many who are orphaned who have no one to say to them as Jesus did, “I will not leave you orphans.” Are we prepared to say that? Are will prepared to be an advocate? Are we prepared to live in Jesus and have Jesus live in us? What will that mean?

Jesus said to his disciples:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him.
But you know him, because he remains with you,
and will be in you.
I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
In a little while the world will no longer see me,
but you will see me, because I live and you will live.
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father
and you are in me and I in you.
Whoever has my commandments and observes them
is the one who loves me.
And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
JN 14:15-21


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