19th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
August 9, 2020
In August 1996, the New York Times carried a front-page story about a 10-year-old autistic boy named Taylor. Much of the time Taylor lives in a fantasy world, like other autistic children. He is withdrawn from reality. He also suffers from a speech and learning impediment that limits his ability to communicate with people.
One hot August afternoon, he wandered off alone into a swamp on the edge of Florida’s Elgin Air Force Base. It is an extremely hostile area infested with poisonous snakes and man-eating alligators. For the next four days, he swam, floated, and sloshed his way through 14 miles of swampland. A year before, the same swamp claimed the lives of four army Rangers on training maneuvers.
Taylor’s journey was lit up at night by thunderstorms that stabbed the swampland with bolts of fearful lightning. On the fourth day, a fisherman spotted Taylor bobbing up and down in the East Bay River.
Except for cuts and scratches over much of his body and being very hungry, he was fine.
Because he is autistic, Taylor has said very little about his four-day adventure. About all he had to say was, “I see fish! I see lots of fish!”
Residents around the swamp call Taylor’s survival a miracle.
Taylor’s family think his autism may have helped him to survive.
His sister explained why, saying, “Taylor doesn’t know how to panic.
He doesn’t know what fear is.”
These days we're going through a corona virus pandemic. People do not all follow the health protocols of government. Government even ignores its own established health protocols. There were violent explosions in Beirut the other day. There are wildfires raging in the state, hurricanes in the east. There are protests in Portland, Seattle, New York and other places. Tenants may be evicted from their rented homes. School is starting, but we're not entirely sure it can be safe in-person. Election-related problems arise not to mention the increase of crime around us.
All of these are valid problems we and especially those who go through them, rightfully worry about. BUT LET US NOT - like the disciples in the gospel, when they saw Jesus, cry out "It is a ghost!" - LET US NOT PANIC.
People who panic do not help make the situation better. This is why they are sent away from the ER.
"I am a calm person." We might say "I do not panic."
Did you shop for a lot of toilet paper when the corona virus pandemic started? Did you grab as many water bottles as you could from the shelves? Did you intend to ransack the sanitizers? Did you search for N95's from Amazon?
Elizabeth Cheney suggests in a poem about a robin and a sparrow, how we sometimes deal with problematic situations. It goes like this:
Said the Robin to the Sparrow:
“I should really like to know
why these anxious human beings . . . worry so.”
Said the Sparrow to the Robin:
“Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no heavenly Father
Such as cares for you and me.”
But God cares and even though it may seem he is not in-control, God is in-charge:
Bette Midler sang:
From a distance the world looks blue and green
And the snow-capped mountains white
From a distance the ocean meets the stream
And the eagle takes to flight
From a distance there is harmony
And it echoes through the land
It's the voice of hope It's the voice of peace It's the voice of every man
From a distance we all have enough
And no one is in need And there are no guns,
no bombs and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed
From a distance we are instruments
Marching in a common band
Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They’re the songs of every man
From a distance you look like my friend
Even though we are at war
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting’s for
From a distance there is harmony
And it echoes through the land
And it's the hope of hopes It's the love of loves
It's the heart of every man
God is watching us God is watching us
God is watching us from a distance
And so God meets Elijah in a gentle wind. The winds and waves die down when Jesus comes along. Peter is able to walk on water as long as he's focused on the peaceful heart of Jesus.
That peace in Jesus' heart wells up in the Garden of Gethsemane.
With all the powers of death and darkness closing in on him, just when it seems that God has abandoned him and the earth, he begins his prayer: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.”
What Jesus is saying is that, despite indications to the contrary, despite the fact that it looks like God is asleep, God is still in charge, is still Lord of this universe, is still noticing everything, and is still fully in power and worthy of trust.
This is the essence of faith, to believe that someone benign and concerned with us is ruling the universe and therefore, we can stop our unnecessary fretting. To have faith is to believe that someone's here, aware of the situation, and is in charge.
There is someone here who sees the bigger picture. And all we are aware of are the storms of life raging around us that remind us that "THIS IS NOT OUR HOME." We are on a journey. We tend to be impatient like kids in the car who keep asking "Are we there yet?" And just like kids on a road trip, let us realize that we are not on this journey alone. God does not just take care of things from up there. Because of Jesus, we know God works by our side because he is Lord of all our history.
Frank William Stringfellow was an American lay theologian, lawyer and social activist. He was active mostly during the 1960s and 1970s.
He was once addressing a group of social justice advocates on a day when they were particularly discouraged because a key project, to which they had given considerable time and effort, had failed.
Assessing both their sincerity and their discouragement, he said something to this effect: “I am old enough to scold you. I see your passion for truth and justice, and I laud that, but I hear your discouragement too. You lament the world’s hardness of heart, and you are correct there too. However, what I don’t hear in all this are many words about the Lordship of Jesus. We talk as if we need to save the world, as if everything depends on us. Well, it doesn’t. In the resurrection of Jesus, the world is already saved, the powers of death and darkness have already been vanquished. We only need to live in such a way so as to show the world that we believe this.”
Life in this world will be filled with trouble. This is not our home and we are not home yet. But God is so very aware of the troubles of this world in Jesus, God experiences the worst of troubles in the death of Jesus and in the suffering of the Body of Christ on earth, and God has conquered the troubles of our life in Jesus' resurrection.
And so we go through the troubles of life doing the best we can in the situations we find ourselves in – we use face coverings, we wash our hands, we keep a safe distance from one another, we come to the aid of those who need help remembering we are not alone - but accompanied by a very near and loving God - one so close to us, the Lord of our history who we, in our panic, might even mistakenly believe is a ghost. Let us allow him to get into our boat – into our lives, bring ourselves to live by his ways, especially as he gives himself to us a food. So that each and every day as we face life's challenges we live by the mystery of faith:
"We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection until you come again!"
Thanks to Fr Mark Link, SJ and Fr Ron Rolheiser, OMI, Elizabeth Cheney and Bette Midler for help.