Throughout the Christmas Season and Epiphany time, we have been called upon to be “lights to our world,” and today, once again, Isaiah’s challenge is that we continue “lighting up” our world. The challenge, the reminder, that this is indeed our task perhaps falls on deaf ears—it might be that we don’t need to be reminded as much as we need to believe that we can do it—that Jesus didn’t make a mistake in asking us—to be “lights” to others and carry on his message of love. Our president’s words of, “Yes we can!” seem apropos!
Our Gospel today shows Jesus being pointed out by John as the “Lamb of God,” the one sent for all of us. Next Sunday we will read of Jesus beginning to gather those around him who will be the first “lights,” following his lead to continue spreading the Good News that God loves and cares about us and will ultimately save us, to be our best selves.
All of the readings of this past week that the church has chosen for us, give us a good idea of what Jesus, the Messiah was like. People had awaited this Messiah for hundreds of years and even though the prophets had been quite clear in foretelling just who he would be, and how he would be in this world, many people still had the wrong idea.
Jesus showed them quite clearly that he wouldn’t be a Messiah who would physically go to battle to save them from their enemies as much as he would be one who would conquer ideas that said some are included and some are not in God’s love and care. He would dispel notions that some are clean and acceptable to come into the synagogue and others are not.
In fact in one of the daily readings this past week from Mark’s Gospel, we see Jesus being berated by his disciples and others for the company he is keeping—they tell him, you shouldn’t be seen with sinners, tax collectors—what will people think? I for one believe that I can’t control what people may think, so I just have to do what seems right. “You will lose followers,” his disciples worried, if you are seen with such people. Another reading of this past week shows him curing a leper. His followers then say that he shouldn’t touch such people. But very quickly, we come to see that Jesus does not take his cue from the crowd. He tells them and us that all the people that the world looks at as untouchable, are in fact the people that they should touch, should be seen with, and should keep company with, if in fact they want to be his followers. In Jesus’ eyes, no one is better than any other.
Our walk with Jesus really challenges us to place ourselves in someone else’s shoes so that we cannot just pity the down-trodden, but truly understand them—who, if we are honest, could be us, there but for the grace of God. Sometimes the only way we can see how our actions may affect others is to walk in their shoes awhile. I find myself reflecting on the plight of those who have no homes these days, especially with the new Winona Warming Center just opened.
Earlier, in speaking of lepers in the time of Jesus, we need to remember that they were considered untouchables—they had to live outside the city and were shunned by others. Any kind of affliction that people didn’t understand, and for which there seemed to be no cure, was treated this way and was generally thought to be, and this is just as bad, a punishment for a person’s sins. So you can see that it got rather complicated and Jesus had his work cut out for him dispelling ideas that weren’t of God.
This reminds me of our trip to the Hawaiian Island of Molokai where St. Damien labored among the “outcasts” of society for so many years until he succumbed to leprosy himself. Now, there are medicines for this horrid illness, but not then. But we need to remember the harm that is done emotionally and spiritually to those we cast aside—the greater injury, I think.
So, what does all this have to do with us today? Well, we may not have lepers to shun anymore—but we do have many ailments and conditions that we look down on in our present day and the people who are plagued with them. We as Christians, Jesus’ followers, are called to do all we can to be helpful, caring, understanding and compassionate, especially of those who are considered different from the status quo. Many times great beauty can be found if we can get past what we see on the surface that may seem “untouchable,” or something that we don’t want to bother with.
I have had the good fortune in the past to work with groups of mentally challenged individuals. Sometimes these good people have some physical disfigurement that we have to get past, but I have usually found that what is inside is worth the effort.
This reminds me of a present-day example—on January 20th the Muslim community in Winona will be sponsoring a gathering for speaker, Dr. Tamin Saidi, who is the Imam at the Plymouth, MN mosque. His topic will be, Let’s Make America Great Together. The talk will be uplifting the fact that the Muslim Community here has always been a welcoming group of people and plan to continue that welcome no matter what our president-elect has to say on the issue.
Friends, alcoholism and other drug addictions, along with chronic poverty are just some of the other conditions that befall people in our midst, and sometimes we are apt to look the other way and say, that isn’t my responsibility. Thankfully, our country is becoming much more accepting of the LGBTQ community and others whom we may consider, different. We all have the tendency to label people by their affliction or difference rather than simply accepting them for who they are, our sisters and brothers in this big wide, awesome world! The incidence more and more of bullying in our country is another place where some light needs to be shown. We all need to be in contact with our president-elect and insist that he cease with the bullying rhetoric of the campaign and become a true leader, not so much caring for himself, but for the nation that some elected him to care for.
As Jesus’ followers, we are each called to be of service to others, caring, sharing, speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves—basically doing the right thing! We won’t always be understood for the choices we make, people may laugh at us—but in our hearts we will know that we have done the right thing—what in fact Jesus would have done. We must on a regular basis, ask, what would Jesus do here? We must be convicted of living out his message!
The gospel given us today stops short of the individual calls of those first followers of Jesus that are recorded there. There is a wonderful invitation bestowed by Jesus to these first followers when the call to follow him was new. In their excitement at having found him they said, “Teacher, where do you live?” He then invited them as he does each of us these hundreds of years later—“Come and See.”
Our lives as Christians are about just that—continually coming to know and understand Jesus and his message better, and applying it to our present-day lives. We are given different opportunities “to touch,” “to be seen with,” “to keep company with,” those whom our world might choose to throw away or to shun. We can’t miss them if our eyes, ears and hearts are open. A concrete way that I see our community doing this is through our commitment to the monthly meals at the Catholic Worker House. For those of you who stay to eat with the recipients of your food, there is the opportunity to come to know someone different perhaps from those you might ordinarily hang out with. This isn’t always easy, but it is what we are called to—to be open to.
We are blessed with knowing Jesus who continually shows us the way, giving us opportunities to reach out beyond ourselves to a wider world so in need of the light we can shine. May each of us never tire of coming and seeing how Jesus was with others and then doing the same.
We all received a wonderful message of hope this past Tuesday night when our president, Barack Obama gave us his final address. Beyond simply being proud of who he is and what he has done for our country in the past 8 years for the weakest among us, from ending wars, to securing healthcare for millions of people who had none, to standing up for equality in marriage for all those who love each other, to protecting the environment, to leading the way in making our world safer from nuclear proliferation, to standing up for women in equal pay for equal work and for women’s rights over their own bodies; to give you just the short list, we can look to him as a model of truly, “shining the light” of Jesus to the world.
As he said, and I paraphrase, we all have a part in this—this is our country—we might add, our Church, and each of us needs to do our part so that it can continue to be great! We all need to lace up our shoes, put our feet on the ground and get going! We have great strength my friends, to make change—don’t ever forget that—exercise your strength, your voices—both will be needed these next 4 years!