Homily – 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I’d like to begin today with a story that Sr. Joan Chittister shared recently in her monthly reflection, The Monastic Way.  She tells us at the beginning of each month that her reflections are intended, “to stretch the soul and help [us] to construct [our] world differently—to discover how God dwells among us [today] in surprising ways.”

Sr. Joan began by saying that she found this story on the back page of the newspaper, below the crease in the page.  So from the beginning, she is letting us know that this is not a world-changing event, but an ordinary story about ordinary people—a good reflection I think for Ordinary Time. After you have heard the story, you can decide for yourself how “world-changing” it just might be.

This ordinary story lets us into the life of Billy Ray Harris, who after years of bad luck, moved away from family and friends, and without a job, became part of street life in one of our country’s larger cities.  All the benefits he could get had run out, so homeless, he turned to panhandling.

One day, a woman came by and dropped a few coins into his basket and went on her way. That night when he was counting his change, he found a large diamond ring in the corner of his basket. He wasn’t sure if it was a real diamond, so he took it to a jeweler who confirmed that it was real and offered him $4,000 on the spot.

Billy Ray didn’t sell it, but put it back in his pocket and returned to his spot on the street thinking he would keep it safe in case someone returned for it.  And sure enough, a woman returned the next day and asked about the ring. Billy Ray told her that he had it and the woman was in shock when he returned it to her!

She and her family were so impressed by Billy Ray’s honesty and lack of concern for himself  in returning the engagement ring that they started an on-line fund to raise $4,000 to give him for his generosity.  And when all was said and done, they raised $190,000 and gave it to Billy Ray Harris who was then able to buy a small house, get a job and reconnect with his family. His life was literally saved because others took a risk—everyone in this story, took a risk and moved beyond their needs to help another.  And not just to help, but seemingly, “to recklessly” help.

That is what our brother, Jesus, calls us to as well—to move out of ourselves, and to simply, love, and share of the good in our lives, with those who have less. We need to hear and heed this message even more now when the rhetoric coming out of Washington seems to be to turn in, protect, and take care of ourselves regardless of the immigrants, the refugees, knocking on our doors.

The prophet Isaiah tells us today that because of our commitment to God, much is expected of us and not just as religious practices per se, but as ethical mandates—things we should do regardless of religion—as being part of the human race. We are reminded that, to be one with God is dependent upon our social responsibility, to those with less—our livelihood seems dependent upon seeing to the livelihood of others.  In fact, all of us in the First World are really challenged and convicted by the unequalness of goods around our world.

The Scriptures use “light” to depict goodness in one’s life, and as scripture scholar, Diane Bergant says, the “good” is a symbol of our own deliverance, just as Billy Ray was delivered—that prosperity will be ours—truth, God’s favor, life and all good things.

Billy Ray Harris extended the good that he could and those who had more of this world’s goods responded with abundance.  The mandates given by Isaiah today are about the basics of human living—food, shelter, and clothing. But the mandates ask for more from us—we are to get personally involved; face to face kind of involvement—sitting down with the recipients of our charity at the Catholic Work House, hearing their stories, sharing an hour with them.   “Share,” paras in the Greek, means to “break in two,”–I would say, “to open ourselves up.”

Isaiah continues to challenge us to stand up for those oppressed, for those who live with economic burdens, those who are falsely accused. We will need to speak up when we hear speech that undermines the fabric of our social life, even if the source of that speech is the White House. Those who are part of the family of believers are expected to be concerned about all these issues—we are to be about community and about what builds that up, not tears it down.

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians is most concerned that he would not get in the way of the message of Jesus.  To clearly “shine our lights” our actions need to be pure, not about feeding our egos, but in “breaking open” ourselves for others.

Billy Ray Harris had every reason to see himself as most needy in the story that I shared—without home, job or family—but he dug deep to find the best in himself.  Even though there was much that was needed in his own life,  Billy Ray had the sense to know that there were things even more important to him than the material goods that he was without—like being an honest person and realizing that there was probably a meaning more important than his immediate need. If he were to lose his integrity, what did it matter if he had home, food or a job?

The Sermon on the Mount is instructive in this vein—with the symbols or signs of light and salt; we see how we are to find and share God in the ordinariness of our days—in the ordinariness of our lives—with other ordinary people like ourselves.  But in the midst of all this ordinariness; there is the “extraordinariness of God’s grace,” says Diane Bergant—ordinary people doing ordinary things, through the extraordinary grace of God. We all come from God—we are spiritual people—we are of God—called to do extraordinary things with our ordinary lives.

We, as followers of Jesus have hopefully been transformed by his words, his life, his actions, and that they have made a difference in our lives, so that we can be “light” in our world, to each and every person that we meet.

It may seem strange to us in the world in which we live—one that seems to uplift the strong and powerful, the glamorous, and the well-off, that Jesus would be giving a message that, the weak will confound the strong.”  Jesus was a simple laborer by trade as were his apostles and he called them where they were at and each did a great job of extending his life and light in the world.

Now, most of us can get our heads around the fact that Jesus was a simple man, that his apostles and disciples were simple men and women—what seems the harder thing for us to understand as Diane Bergant continues, is that we,  as simple people too would be Jesus’ choice to continue his work on earth—that each of us can make a difference right where we are in Winona, MN—that our own particular light is waiting to break forth, here, now, if we but allow it to.

Each of us learned the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as children and much of the goodness that each of us is about in life probably comes from those early messages from parents or teachers. Sometimes we forget that these simple ways to reach out to others and care for them is what Jesus asks of us as his followers—just the everyday; taking food to a sick neighbor or to a family who has lost a loved one, caring for an elderly family member or friend in our home, sending a card or flowers to someone who may be down on their luck.  It isn’t the grand that we are called to do, but the everyday, the ordinary, and in the ordinary, the deeds become extraordinary. Again, Ordinary Time is a great time to remind us of that.

Many of us are lamenting the cold these days that continues to hang on relentlessly. Joan Chittister, in one of her daily meditations tied the weather to the message laid out for us this week.  The cold and the vulnerable way that it makes us feel when we are out in it is a good time to reflect on those in our world who don’t have homes or heat, perhaps enough food, clothes—the basics of life.

She seems to be saying, as Jesus did so long ago—a message that echoes in our hearts still, that each of us needs to struggle with the inequality in our world in whatever ways we find it, materially, emotionally or spiritually. There sometimes seems little that we can do, but we should never be totally comfortable with the inequality—what many of us take for granted so often. But, we can do what we can do—support initiatives that share the world’s goods, simply coming to the realization that we live quite well because others have so much less.

Our world has become a rather small place and we all as nations on this planet have become quite connected, even though there are those in Washington who seem to know nothing of diplomacy.  The Sermon on the Mount and the words of the prophet Isaiah, each call us to awareness, to action. Let us pray together for the wisdom to see the ways that we can help and the strength to then, act.  And, let the people say, “Amen!”

Correction from this week’s bulletin: 

I had said in error that the Feast Day of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr was celebrated on February 2–his actual feast day was on February 3.  St. Blaise is the patron of illnesses of the throat and in the past, throats have traditionally been blessed in churches on this day. Those present at Mass today received that blessing against illnesses of the throat. For those not present today, I send you that blessing!