HOMILY: Great Power, Great Responsibility

Fr. Brian Zumbrum’s homilies and reflections are posted weekly at Leaven in the World prior to a given Sunday. To see the archive of all his posts, just click hereSalesian Sermons

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time | August 23/24, 2014

PROTIP: Before reading on, be sure to take a look at the Sunday readings here. This homily focuses on the Gospel reading.

I would like to begin this evening by recounting a story that I read once about a particularly influential middle school teacher.

She opened up class by asking each student to write a list of 10 words that they would use to describe themselves.

Many of the students struggled with this task.  The words they chose were often negative in tone.  Words like stupid, fat, lazy, loner, fake.

When the students had finished, she gave them a second sheet of paper.  On it were the names of every student in the room.  She then asked the students to write down words they would use to describe their peers.  When they were finished she collected both sheets of papers and then resumed teaching class.

A few days later, she walked into the room and handed each student two pieces of paper.

The one was the list that they had written for themselves.  The other was a list of the top 10 words their peers used to describe them.  As the students began to read the second list, many began to cry.

The lists were overwhelming positive.

Words like . . . Kind, compassionate, loyal, athletic, smart, talented, beautiful, funny.

The teacher then told each student, your mission in life is to decide which list you want to define yourself.

Decades later, many of these same students were gathered to celebrate this teacher’s retirement.  As people were toasting her many accomplishments, one young man stepped forward and opened his wallet.  There was a piece of paper that had been creased and folded hundreds of times.  It was his second list.  As he took it out, other students began to stand as well.  Each student pulling out that second piece of paper that had spent decades stored inside of purses, taped to bathroom mirrors and resting on top of bed stands.

The student smiled and looked at the teacher who was crying.  He said, “I guess we learned that lesson after all.”

I thought of this story as I read the Gospel reading for this morning.

For like that teacher to her students, Jesus has just given Peter quite a job.

And if I were Peter, I would have been scared out of my mind.

For Peter knew full well his faults and foilibles.

He had an incredible temper

He could be quick to judge

He could be boastful

And, in those moments when his friend needed him most, he would abandon him and deny him.

So why would Jesus entrust such an imperfect human being with this tremendous responsibility?

The responsibility of binding or loosing other human beings.

Why?

I believe that the answer is found in this very same gospel.

Jesus did not choose Peter because of his natural intelligence, his charisma, or his character traits.  He chose him because of the genuine love that Peter had for Jesus.  The faith that Peter placed in Jesus.  The hope that Peter saw in Jesus.

And it was these qualities that allowed Peter to embrace this heavy yoke.

That allowed him to teach and to preach in a manner that brought healing, reconciliation and freedom to those he would encounter.

As members of the Church, we share in Peter’s commission.

We too have been tasked with the responsibility of binding and loosing our fellow brothers and sisters.

Like those dual lists that the teacher presented to her students, our words can have that same power.

To build up or to cast down.  To create or to destroy.  To heal or to wound.

To bind or to loose.

Do we bind people in chains because of their past mistakes?  Do we refuse to allow people to change?  Do we assume that people must act a certain way because of external characteristics that we have already stereotyped . . . their skin color, their age, the clothes they wear, the way they talk?

Do we bind people by the callous comments that we make?  Do we reinforce the bounds that people have already given themselves . . . that they are not good enough.  That they are not welcome.  That people would be better off without them.  Do we bind people by our refusal to see them, to see their pain?

Or do we loose people from the chains that have surrounded them.  Do we walk with them as they struggle to overcome an addiction, refusing to let go even when they fall?  Do we tell our children that their possibilities are truly endless?  Do we tell our teens that we love them no matter, freeing them from the stigma of their own mistakes?  Do we forgive?  Do we choose to see the best in others, rather than dwelling on their worst.

Like Peter, we too are faced with a weighty responsibility.  May we too draw our strength and courage from Jesus, the one in whom we place our hope, our trust.  The one who loves us to the end.

May God be Praised.

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