Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sixth Grade Kickball

A Concord Pastor had a beautiful homily this Sunday, based on a day in his life when he felt like the lepers we read about in today's first reading and Gospel at Mass:

Let me tell you a story of when I was a kid, in the sixth grade. At recess time after lunch at the Great Oak School in Danvers, Kickball was the game the boys most often played.

I wasn’t very good at sports and as a result, when teams were picked by two captains, I could always count on being chosen last. It wasn’t pleasant but I became accustomed to it.

But one day something different happened.

The two captains were choosing teams and I was waiting to be picked last but when I was the only one left the captain who was about to end up with me said to the other captain, “You can have Austin.”

And the other captain said, “No, we don’t want him either.”

I walked off the playground and back into my classroom on what will always be one of the worst days of my life.

Remember the words in the first scripture today? The one who bears the sore of leprosy will cry out, "Unclean, unclean!" and he shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.

That’s how I felt that day on the playground: somehow marked by my athletic clumsiness, not clean enough to be chosen for a team, and banished from the playground, to spend recess outside the camp of the chosen.

If you’ve ever had a similar experience, or if my story reminds you of a time when you were a captain choosing up sides, then you have a window for understanding today's scriptures.

The aversion folks had in biblical times to scabs, pustules and sores wasn’t based on a fear that they’d catch what the sick people suffered - their experience taught them otherwise.

Rather, they feared that physical contact with the diseased, would render the healthy spiritually unclean: lost to God’s love – losers.

And that’s just what my classmates feared about me: if they let me on their team – they’d probably lose.

Children can be cruel in how they banish other kids outside the camp of a playground, cafeteria table or group of friends. Grown-ups are usually more subtle about these things but the sting of prejudice and exclusion still has power to deeply wound those who are rejected.

We have all manner of ways of defending our behavior when it includes some and excludes others.

I don’t think the kids on the playground at my school set out to hurt me – they just wanted to win a kickball game.

And therein lies the problem.

Our desire for something for ourselves, even something good, can so easily blind us to the hurt we inflict on others.

What Jesus does in the gospel story today was radical for his times: he stretched out his hand and touched a leper. He risked being perceived as unclean himself, a loser, for the sake of one who had been banished from the community.

And in doing this he clearly establishes a model for how we are to relate with one another.

There are many who perceive the Church, today, as an authority banishing to a place outside its camp, apart from its table, those perceived in some way to be “unclean.”

Such situations are not without subtleties but we need to heed St. Paul who wrote to us today, "Whatever you do, do everything for God's glory and avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks (the Gentiles) or the church of God."

Back in 1959 at the Great Oak School, my teacher, Mr. Silvernail, was in my classroom when I retreated there from my embarrassment on the playground. He listened to my story as I choked back tears and told me he’d take care of things.

I don’t know whom he spoke to, or when, or what he said, but the next day he encouraged me to go out to recess and I did. I was still the last kid picked for a team, but that was OK: I was chosen.

In so many ways you and I are unclean, and very often we are a bunch of losers, but that doesn’t keep Jesus from choosing us to be with him and it doesn’t keep him from choosing to be with us.

He stretches out his hand and touches us in the sacrament of his body and blood, at the table of his sacrifice. He chooses us for his own.

As he invites and welcomes us here, let us choose and welcome others into our lives, into our hearts and into the faith of our church.

1 comment:

Concord Carpenter said...

Great homily! One of his best.