HOMILY: Never Give Up

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time | January 23/24, 2016

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

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

I have one primary rule as a teacher.

And that is, you never give up on a student.  

No matter how difficult that student can be.  No matter how belligerent or rude.  No matter how often they fail or how uncooperative their parents may be.  Even if a school must ultimately expel them.

You never give up on them.

Now, I don’t remember exactly who taught me this rule.  But I do remember the first time it was truly tested.

I was a student teacher at the time, working with a senior who had developed quite a reputation around the school.  And yet, I had always found him to be thoughtful, honest, and supportive, especially for a new teacher who often felt unsure of his gifts and his place at the school.

One weekend, this young man volunteered with many of his classmates to assist at a Special Olympics tournament I had been running.  I smiled as I watched this huge senior embrace little kids with Downs Syndrome, cheering them on as they raced for the awards podium.  I could not have been prouder.

So imagine my shock when I returned to school that Monday and learned that my student was up for expulsion because of his decision to skip the senior retreat the Friday before.  

Determined to find another solution, I set up an appointment with the president.  I was ushered into his office and bluntly asked why I cared about this young man.  Didn’t I know that he would be dead or in jail in the next five years?

I sat absolutely stunned.

How could someone write off a child?  How could someone give up so easily on a student entrusted to our care?

And so I remember looking at the president and saying, “Well, I don’t see how an expulsion will help the situation.  If those are your concerns, then he needs us now more than ever.”

The president looked back at me and said.  If you want him as your problem, good luck.  He is all yours.

Well, that student would ultimately graduate from the school.  And it has now been almost ten years since that fateful encounter.   I have not stayed in touch with that young man.

But I have never forgotten the lesson that encounter taught me.

The lesson that is at the heart of our second reading for today.

Which is that each and every one of us is an irreplaceable part of the body of Christ.

We hear this reading so often that it is easy for us to let it pass right over us without it ever sinking in.

But pause for a moment and realize the implications of this statement.

Each of us is an irreplaceable part of the body of Christ.  And in those moments when we are at weakest, we are even more important to the entire body.

In those moments when we are at our weakest . . .

Those moments when we are struggling with doubts or overcome with fear.

Those moments when we stare down the barrel of a gun or at a bottle of pills because we have almost lost hope.

Those moments in which the limits of aging press upon, as surgeries mount, joints ache, and the work we have done for a lifetime is no longer possible.

Those moments in which we have utterly failed.  When our sins stand before us, withering us with their glare.  When our shame smothers us.

It is in those moments that we are ever more precious to the body of Christ.

It is in those moments that we should be wrapped in the arms of a warm embrace, lifted up by outstretched hands, gazed upon with eyes of compassion, and listened to by open ears and open hearts.

And in turn, in those moments when we glance upon another member of the body who is weak,

It is our eyes that should be filled with compassion.  

It is our ears that must be open.  

It is our arms that should be ready to welcome.

It is our hands that should be wiping away tears.

It is our feet that should be running towards those who need us.

It is our hearts that should be loving each person we encounter with an unconditional love . . . regardless of race or gender or creed, regardless of their past or their profession or their political party, regardless of the fact that they may be homeless or gay or autistic.

We are the body of Christ, my friends.

And each of us is an invaluable part of this mission that we call Church.

Let us work to make sure that we do not give up on a single member of this body.

May God be Praised.

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