HOMILY: On Allowing Encounters to Change Us

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

The Epiphany of the Lord | January 3/4, 2015

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

Right after graduating high school, I had the opportunity to travel to Europe for the first time.  I was with numerous other high school students from around the country, brought together to share music and fellowship with each other and with our European hosts.  For two weeks, I had the tremendous privilege of exploring France, Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland.  Truly, it was an experience I will never forget.

Now it so happened that we were in France on the 4th of July.  Now, in all fairness, we were all feeling a tad homesick.  Something just seemed off about celebrating our independence anywhere else but home.

As we were reminiscing about our holidays at home, we came upon a crude curse directed at the United States scratched into a wall.

Suddenly, we had our punching bag.  Within moments, we were all venting about the French.  We discussed their ingratitude and their arrogance.  We bashed their politics and their culture.  And in the process, we convinced ourselves of our own superiority.

We headed back to our hotel still fuming over the perceived slight to our national honor.  And that was when it happened.

I got my first migraine.  It was crippling.  I still remember spending several hours in bed, grimacing under the dimmest of light.  My friends tried everything to make me feel better.  But it was hopeless.  Nothing seemed to work.

Now, we had a concert that evening, but it was obvious that I was not going to make it.  My friends slowly shuffled off to get dressed, leaving me alone.  I was in pain, homesick, and now on my own.  As the last buses pulled away, I found myself in tears.

Then there was a quiet knock on the door.  One of the hotel managers opened the door and proceeded to ask if I needed anything.  I frankly didn’t know what to say, I was so in shock.  She smiled and proceeded to get some warm compresses to ease the pain.  Then she ordered me a bowl of warm soup and kept me company as I ate it.  As I regained my strength, she began to ask me questions about the United States.  I told her about fireworks and BBQs, high school and Harrisburg.  Before I knew it, my friends were back.  She slipped quietly away, leaving me humbled and grateful.

I couldn’t help but think of that memorable day when I heard the Gospel from today.

For our Gospel is full of a cast of characters coming from different backgrounds, sharing different cultures.

You have wise men from distant lands.  Using the stars to lead them in their pursuit of truth.

You have a Jewish king, caught between the demands of his people and the reality of serving under Roman domination.

And you have a poor family.  A carpenter, his wife, and an infant child.  Awaiting the conclusion of a census so that they can return to their home.

Each of these figures is faced with a choice in their encounter with the other.

Do they allow the encounter to change them?

It is the same question that reverberates throughout the ages.  The same question that each of us faces every time we encounter another person.

Do we allow the encounter to change us?

At first, my friends and I resisted any attempt to see the world from someone else’s perspective.  We presumed that we had all the answers.

We were so like Herod.  Convinced of the righteousness of our own cause.  Afraid of change.  Wary of anything new.

But then everything began to change.

For we encountered a woman who through her actions began to tear down our walls.  She offered compassion, understanding, and kindness.  And in the process, she led us to a deeper truth.

Like the wise men, she served as a reminder that truth is found wherever we encounter Christ.  And this search will lead us to mangers in Bethlehem, hotel rooms in France, and street corners in Wilmington.

My friends, when we look around this world we see countless Herods, clinging to the security of their own positions, perspectives, and cultures.  Refusing to see the light shining in the other.  Undermining and destroying all who oppose their vision of the world.

We see the fruits of this polarization.  We see the consequences of a world in which two sides refuse to understand each other.  We see the conflicts that tear apart this country . . . Black vs. White, Immigrants vs. Native-Born, Republicans vs. Democrats, Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice, Fundamentalist vs. Secularist.

Each side convinced that they possess the Truth.

And yet, I am convinced that the world does not need another Herod.

The world needs more wise women and men.

Who seek Christ wherever he is found.  Who seek the truth wherever it may lead.  Who allow love to break down our barriers and soften our hearts.

So that we may learn from the other.

So that we may rejoice with the other.  So that we may weep with the other.

So that we may make the other our sister and brother.

May God be Praised.

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