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Our Mysterious Companion from St. James Cathedral, Seattle on Vimeo.


 

Dear Friends,

         I’ve always had a fondness for the story in Luke’s gospel about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (24:13-35).  I preached on it last Sunday but it was still in my mind the other day when I was taking one of my many ‘sanity’ walks around the neighborhood (properly masked and scrupulously observing social distancing, of course!).  Before setting out, I had just read some rather doomsday-like predictions about how long this lockdown will last and, to be honest, my spirits were not at their highest.  The predictions I read had, I’m sure, no greater claim to accuracy than others that are out there, but they managed to get my attention.  Thus, my less than upbeat mood.

            As I walked along, it dawned on me that I was a bit like one of those two down-hearted disciples on the Emmaus road who told the mysterious Stranger who joined them how they had lost hope.  Don’t get me wrong: I haven’t lost hope – not by a long shot – but sometimes I don’t feel very hopeful.  And that day was one of them.  And then I got to thinking about that mysterious Stranger and realized that he was the companion along my walk as much as he was along theirs.  He always is, but I’m not always as aware of him as I’d like, and sometimes he’s quite good at hiding himself.

            Even so, I tried to tune into what he might be trying to tell me as I walked along.  And the first thing he seemed to be telling me was to ‘get over it!’  Get over what? Well, get over thinking that this whole thing is somehow about me.  It’s not, of course, even though, like all of us, I do have to deal with it.  But what it’s really about is the people who have been stricken with the virus, some of whom are fighting for their lives right now, and some of whom have lost the battle.  It’s about them and it’s about their families who couldn’t even say goodbye to them or give them a proper sendoff.  And it’s about the people who are daily risking their own lives to save the lives of those people and so many others like them. And it’s about scientists who are madly scrambling for a cure, a vaccine; and it’s about all the ‘essential’ workers who are making it possible for the rest of us to carry on each day.  So, that was the first thing I picked up on as I did my best to listen to my mysterious Companion.  Keep your eyes focused outward, not inward, he was telling me.  There’s a whole world out there that is suffering, straining, struggling.

            And then, he began to do for me what he did for those two disillusioned disciples who “had hoped” that the “prophet mighty in word and deed” might indeed be the long-awaited Messiah.  He began to open up the scriptures for me.  Which scriptures?  Not the Jewish scriptures as he had for the two disciples, but the gospels.

            Not surprisingly, he took me to Luke’s gospel, the gospel of mercy, my favorite of the four gospels and the first thing he brought to my mind was the parable of the Good Samaritan (10: 29-37). He reminded me that I needed at this difficult moment to have not only an eye for the stranger and the outcast but a heart for the stranger and the outcast, and a willingness to put my own needs and preoccupations in second place.  And it was my parishioners he seemed to be talking about. And while I don’t view my parishioners as strangers or outcasts, still I know there are some who are, in fact, estranged, and some who feel overlooked and unappreciated, and so I found myself thinking that maybe I should be spending quality time these days reaching out to parishioners, looking for ones who may be wounded in one way or another – abandoned, left by the wayside. Maybe I’m the one who can pour a little oil into their wounds, lift them up, take them to a better place.

            The mysterious Stranger then took me to another parable in Luke’s gospel, the parable of the Prodigal Son (15: 11-32). The parable might better be called the parable of the Prodigal Father or the parable of the two sons because both of them are important in the story, but we’re not likely to change that, are we!  No matter. I heard him gently reminding me how patient and welcoming I need to be when it comes to parishioners who have, for whatever reasons, drifted from the practice of their faith and who may be making tentative steps toward reclaiming it.  I should be meeting them more than half-way just as that wonderfully merciful father in the parable did when he ran out to meet his erring son to embrace him.  And I should be patient, too, with those parishioners who, because they tend to always do things right, are quite resentful when they perceive the church as being way too merciful, too understanding, too forgiving toward those who haven’t always toed the mark.  They’re like the resentful older son. To be honest, sometimes I find it much harder to be patient with them than with the Prodigal!

            And then he took me to Luke’s version of the Beatitudes (6: 20-26) - to “Blessed are you who are poor, blessed are you who are hungry,” and I was immediately confronted with the faces of countless homeless men and women whom I saw on a recent walk through the streets of downtown Seattle. It was pretty shocking to realize that they are, in fact, about the only people you see on the streets right now. Equally shocking are the words of Jesus, “for the kingdom of God is yours.” Sobering thought.  And then I heard, “Blessed are you who are now weeping,” and I saw the faces of so many whose lives have been upended by the coronavirus and was comforted by the thought that those who are now weeping will one day laugh.  And when I heard, “Blessed are you when people hate you” I found myself thinking about courageous political leaders who don’t let their own self-interest or the cries of angry mobs deter them from listening carefully and dispassionately to the facts; who always tell the truth – no matter what it may cost them politically. They may not always feel ‘blessed’ but Jesus assures them that they are.

            And my mysterious friend wasn’t quite finished opening up the scriptures for me because he then brought to mind Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer (11: 2-4) – briefer than Matthew’s which we know by heart, but the same in all the essentials.  He reminded me that God always has to come first – God, and not my hopes, my plans, my needs (“Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come”).  And that’s a hard enough pill for me to swallow at times, but it’s even harder when put alongside the next words of the prayer, “Give us each day our daily bread.”  I don’t know about you, but I spend a fair amount of my efforts thinking not about today’s bread, but about tomorrow’s.  I’m a planner and sometimes a worrier, and I like to make sure that there were will be bread not only for tomorrow but for the days, months, and years after that!  My mysterious Companion took me to task for that and, while I got the message, it’s going to take some doing for me to truly embrace it…!

            As I was nearing the end of my walk, there was this moment of earnest prayer when I found myself asking my Companion not to go on his way but to stay with me. He agreed, but on one condition.  I heard him telling me to keep my eyes and ears open to all the ways he makes himself known to me along the way. Not just in the memorable exchange we had just engaged in, and not just in the Eucharist where he makes himself known to me each morning in Word and in Sacrament, and not just in you, my wonderful parishioners, in whom he lives so clearly and so evidently. All of these ways, for sure, but also in people whose appearance may be anything but attractive, who are down and out, mentally ill, or maybe drunk or on drugs – people who can make some pretty heavy demands on me that I don’t always want to meet.  I’m there, too, he told me – in them, - so, when I accept your invitation to stay with you, I expect that you will keep your eyes and ears – and your heart – open so that you don’t miss me.

            That’s the deal we made, my Companion and I.  I’m trying my best to live up to it. Will you join me?

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303