MAGIC BEANS


Here is my homily for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 22, 2009. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/022209.shtml. Thanks for reading - and I appreciate all your feedback and comments - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

More than likely, everyone has heard the fairy tale "Jack and the Beanstalk." As familiar as the story is, to refresh our memories just listen to the beginning of the tale, presented in a slightly varied form in the book Politically Correct Bedtime Stories:

Once upon a time, on a little farm, there lived a boy named Jack. He lived on the farm with his mother, and they were very excluded from the normal circles of economic activity. This cruel reality kept them in straits of direness, until one day Jack’s mother told him to take the family cow into town and sell it for as much as he could. NEVER MIND the thousands of gallons of milk they had stolen from her! NEVER MIND the house of pleasure their bovine animal companion had provided! And forget about the manure they had appropriated for their garden! She was now just another piece of property to them. Jack, who didn’t realize that non-human animals have as many rights as human animals –perhaps even more – did as his mother asked.

On his way to town, Jack met an old magic vegetarian who warned Jack of the dangers of eating beef and dairy products. "Oh, I’m not going to eat this cow," said Jack "I’m going to take her into town and sell her."

"But by doing that, you’ll just perpetuate the cultural mythos of beef, ignoring the negative impact of the cattle industry on our ecology and the health and social problems that arise from meat consumption. But you look too simple to be able to make these connections my boy. I’ll tell you what I’ll do: I’ll offer a trade of your cow for these three magic beans, which have as much protein as that entire cow but none of the fat or sodium."

Jack made the trade gladly and took the beans home to his mother. When he told her about the deal he had made, she grew very upset. She used to think her son was merely a conceptual rather than a linear thinker, but now she was sure that he was downright differently abled. She grabbed the three magic beans and thew them out of the window in disgust. Later that day she attended her first support group meeting with Mothers of Storybook Children...

Jack’s mother is upset because she had faith in her son to be able to take this cow, and get some money for it. She had a specific expectation, a reasonable assumption that old Bessie would be worth a few dollars, not a few beans. More importantly she was looking for an immediate response to an immediate problem, and this simple minded son of hers didn’t exactly get her what she wanted.

These last few weeks that we’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark, we keep hearing miracle stories. Demons are being cast out that had tormented individuals for years. A mother-in-law (!!!) is cured of her fever after her son-in-law (!!!!) requested that cure. A man suffering from leprosy is miraculously healed. So with all of these incredible things going on, Jesus has caused quite a buzz. People are seeking him out. Because, just like today, everyone has problems. Some more severe than others. But for each and everyone of them, their problem is especially real, especially burdensome, especially challenging to them.

A relative is sick. A friend is dying. A person’s out of work. A family needs money and all they have is a cow. And so in the Gospel, we have this scene where people have completely surrounded this house. Imagine that the Jonas Brothers are appearing in a shed, right next to a High School at 3:15 in the afternoon. That’s the type of crowd you have here. Jesus is like a rock star.

Funny thing, St. Mark, as he’s writing this account seems like he’s outside as well... like he couldn’t get in. Because we don’t get to hear from Mark what Jesus was preaching to this crowd. And more than likely, most people that were there that day weren’t interested in that preaching anyway. They are hoping they are the next ones to have their problems healed or fixed by Jesus. That he will cure them of their ailments.

Into this scene, these 4 guys come. They too have heard about Jesus appearing in Carpernaum in his return engagement. And here’s there chance. There buddy who’s a paralytic, they say to him - we’re going to take care of you bro. This Jesus guy we keep hearing about - he healed this guy with a demon. He cured a leper - A LEPER! He even cured Simon’s MOTHER IN LAW! There’s no way he won’t be able to cure you too... And we’re going to make sure he sees you and cures you.

You have to admire their mocksie - they get there a little too late. The crowd’s way bigger than they thought (did they think they had inside information about Jesus’ appearance that day?). But they promised their friend that this guy Jesus would see him, and do that thing that he does to cure him. So they go our, grab a ladder, rip open the roof, lower there buddy down on the mat, right in front of Jesus.

You almost wonder was Jesus in the middle of proclaiming the Beattitudes "Blessed are the poor in..." RIP - "What was that???" and this paralyzed man is lowered right there and then. The whole room, probably people who were waiting on line or in the front are probably a bit peeved thinking "they cut- we want our cure too." The 4 guys are on the roof - as they watch Jesus, they see him approach. "This is going to be great, Jesus is going over to him! AWESOME, HE’S GOING TO GET CURED". The room’s attention is focused. The crowd is silent and they are now paying attention to Jesus’ words as he says "CHILD YOUR SINS ARE FORGIVEN."

"Huh?" They probably were as excited to hear that as Jack’s mother was when her son came running in and said "Hey look Mom - BEANS." And the crowd was kind of taken aback. And the scribes, oh those scribes - They were skeptical to begin with of this new Jewish phenom. It was one thing when all these people keep reporting these miracle cures. That was suspicious enough. Now they were dealing with this blasphemer. God forgives sins - who’s this guy think he is?

Jesus keeps trying to tell them who he is. He keeps trying to get the message out. He DOES forgive sins. You can almost imagine him setting it up for them like an "if-a-and-b-then-c" equation from high school geometry class: "Okay, a) only God can forgive sins. b) I forgive sins. Therefore, c) I am . . ?" and waiting for their response. And how important his forgiveness is, which he offers us, how much we need that! But we keep forgetting that. It’s still more impressive to us, today, if someone were to come here in a wheel chair and then walk out, than it is to hear Jesus say to us (through a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation), "I absolve you of all of your sins."

Last week we read how Jesus cured the Leper first and then told him to keep the miracle to himself and to rejoice in his being restored with his community by the Love of God. That didn’t exactly go according to plan. He told everyone he met (can’t blame the guy) But because of things like that, people keep going to Jesus looking for the quick fix, the immediate fix to an immediate problem. It’s like they’re asking for a broken leg to be fixed ignoring their body is afflicted with cancer.

And that’s the point. Jesus is more interested in healing all of us of the cancer of sin that continues to afflict all of us - he’s more interested in restoring us as Children of God than to just fix the laundry-list of problems that afflict us on a daily basis. Not that he’s not interested in those problems, too; he just sees the bigger issues, the bigger problems, the things we might ignore that are afflicting us, too.

Trying to underscore that point, Jesus basically points out to them, "Look, I know you’re not thinking about that... I know some of you are thinking, ‘Who are you to forgive sins?’ And if I have to heal this guy from his paralysis and tell him Rise - pick up your mat and walk, in order to get my point across - then so be it." And that definitely got people s attention.


What will it take for us? Jesus wants to radically transform our lives. He’s hoping to inspire us in a faith that makes us want to rip open a roof to find him. And to trust him that, whatever it is he gives us as we go to him- whether it be magic beans, or, more likely, his Love and his mercy -it will be exactly what we need.

JESUS HELP ME

Here’s my homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 15, 2009. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/021509.shtml. Thanks for reading and for all your comments and feedback! God Bless - Fr Jim

There’s a tendency when we hear Gospel stories like this one, where Jesus heals a leper, to liken Jesus to some type of magician. Perhaps it’s the result of televangelists spoofs in which we see an old person with a cane being touched on the head - and then running and dancing down the aisle. These types of images create a sense of disbelief in miraculous healing, and can be one reason we seem to have a lack of connection to these "miracle stories."

The thing about this leper is that he is not asking Jesus to heal him from just any old illness. Leprosy is a bacterial infection of the skin, which can eventually paralyze someone and ultimately kill them. It is repulsive on many levels: people’s body parts literally decay in plain sight; there is a horrible stench associated with it; and (as if all that weren't bad enough) it is highly contagious. That's why lepers were separated from the rest of the community, and even required to wear a bell to announce there presence - so people could run away from them. Because of all this, people afflicted with leprosy not only suffered physical pain - they felt alone, isolated from the rest of the world. The suffering in their bodies was matched by the suffering in their souls.

Have you ever felt that alone? Have you ever felt that type of pain? Do you have something you’ve carried in your heart that’s so painful that you've given up hope of ever getting rid of it? You’ve tried everything - but it doesn’t seem like anything will help? If you do now, or have in the past carried that kind of pain, you can begin to understand how this poor guy in the Gospel felt.

One time that I really felt like that was during my s enior year of high school. My birthday being in November, I was one of the last in my class to turn 17 and get my drivers license. And that’s really one of the greatest feelings you experience at that age - that sense of independence. I remember thinking how amazing it was to be alone in the car driving back to High School that day I got my license. And, a few days later, I convinced my parents (after a whole day of furious arguing) that I should be allowed to drive some friends to the movies. It was going to be my first time driving at night. It had been raining all day, and tey were concerned - not because they didnt trust me, but because I didn't have enough experience driving (by the way, it couldn’t have been a lamer plan - we were going to see Home Alone). But, finally, after a whole day of fighting (and using my ace card of you-never-did-this-to-my-brothers) my parents gave in. I picked up my friends. All in all, there were going to be three girls with me (that was the one lie I had told my parents - I was only supposed to have two people in the car with me - but what’s one more?).

I remember I had just picked up the third person, and started to drive. It was pretty dark out, even at 7:00. And I was unfamiliar with this part of town - but I finally saw the "main drag" up ahead, which was pretty well lit up, and just focused on getting to that . . . Not even realizing I had pulled into another intersection . . . not even realizing I had gone right through a stop sign - with a car coming right at me. The car slammed right into my truck - we spun practically 360 degrees, finally coming to a stop by crashing into a curb. I remember I couldn’t even open my door, and all I could see was someone lying on the ground.

"Oh my God, did I hit someone?"

I climbed out of the passenger side of the car and looked down. It was the girl who had been sitting right behind me. She had crashed through the rear passenger window, and was on the ground, unconscious, with severe internal injuries - so severe she needed to be airlifted to a trauma center in Newark. The rest of the night was filled with interviews by cops, tests to make sure I hadn’t been drinking (which I hadn’t) or taken drugs (again a no) - and it was finally determined to be just a terrible mistake, an awful accident. I went to the hospital to see my friend in a coma, with doctors unsure of her prognosis - and I kept apologizing over and over to my friends, my family .

No one could comfort me - in fact, I didn’t believe I deserved comfort when I still didn’t know if my friend would live or die - or would have to live with permanent disabilities. The pain I felt, thinking that my friend could die because of a mistake I had made, was one of the darkest emotions of my life. I truly felt loneliness like I’ve never experienced. I cried like I’ve never cried before. I not only had this guilt that my friend's life could be over, or ruined - but that mine could be 'over' as well.

I got home, went into my bedroom and started to sob again, as I looked up at the cross and just said, "Jesus I don’t even know what to do - help me". I knew he couldn’t make the clock turn backwards and restart the whole night (or if he could, technically, because he is God, I didn’t expect that to happen). I almost couldn't believe my prayers for my friend mattered (since I had been the cause of it all) - I really didn’t know what I needed - I didn’t even know what to pray for. But - here is the key thing I learned that night - I knew Who to go to. Which is why today's Gospel triggered my painful memory. For the leper doesn’t really know what to ask for either. He goes to Jesus and basically says, "I know you can do anything - if you want you can cure me". And Jesus did

For me, in my prayer that awful night, a peace came over me. I felt like I heard a voice in my head saying, "Everything’s going to be alright, just have faith in me." At the time, I didn’t know what that meant, but I believed it. It was so real that I was finally able to fall asleep, and wake up the next day, even momentarily forgetting what had happened the night before.

In the end, it wasn’t the miraculous healing I had wanted. I wanted my friend to wake up that same morning, 100% better, maybe be back in school in a couple of days, and for everything to quickly get back to "normal". In reality, her recovery would be a lot longer, and more painful than I can ever imagine, even to this day. And I didn't immediately recover from the emotional pain and tremendous guilt that plagued me long after that day.

But I can say that I truly felt Jesus healed me during my prayer that first night. In that moment of complete aloneness, complete isolation, complete darkness - where I felt totally unlovable because of the mistake I had made - where I felt that no one would ever be able to forgive me (especially if the worst had happened, which it could have) - that night Jesus really touched me and healed me of horrible void. And in the days and weeks and years that followed, I was able to accept and believe in the people Christ sent into my life to help me through this painful recovery.
Why this painful memory resonates in reading this Gospel reading is because Jesus’ healing is more than just a miraculous thing that wipes away physical afflictions in a magical, gimmicky way. Which is why I think Jesus tells the healed leper not tell anyone. Its not that Jesus has a one-leper- per-day-maximum. He was more interested in removing the spiritual pain that was afflicting the leper - the isolation he felt - the feeling that no one could ever love him again - and, if Jesus had to heal him of his leprosy to convince him of the truth, than so be it.

What about us? I know there are people here who are in pain. Real pain. Pain that they’ve kind of grown accustomed, to or work so hard to hide. And that’s why I’m sharing my difficult story, because I know Jesus wants to heal you of your pain, too. Can we embrace the leper's faith and say to Jesus, "If you wish, you can cure me?" He is waiting, eagerly to touch our lives and say, "I do will it."