Sitting Beside the Other

BY FR. BRIAN ZUMBRUM, OSFS

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time | September 9, 2018

See today’s readings here. This homily focuses on the second and Gospel readings. The archive of all of Fr. Brian’s homilies can be found hereSalesian Sermons

One of my 1st immersion trips that I ever took was to Camden, New Jersey my sophomore year of college.

Prior to this trip, I had done my share of community service.

I had worked the clothing drives.

I had helped pick out toys to place under the Giving Tree at church.

I had even spent a week working with Habitat for Humanity in Michigan.

So when I arrived in Camden, I felt confident that I knew what I was getting into.  I was here to serve. I was here to do what needed to be done. I was here to save Camden!

So the second day there, I eagerly walked up to Sue at Francis House and asked, so what do you need me to do?

She looked me square in the eyes and said . . . I don’t need you to do anything.  What I need is for you to go and BE with my family. My sisters and brothers who have AIDS.

Suddenly, all of my confidence deserted me.  See I had become so good at doing for others that I had never really needed to be with others.  And now that was what I was being asked to do.

Thankfully, Sue understood that.

And in that moment, she gave me a gift.  A gift that transformed my life.

Which is the gift of the truth.  

The truth that if one desires to be a Christian, you need to encounter Christ. And the only way we will encounter Christ is when we choose to be with Christ.  

Christ present in the poor.  The homeless. The addict. The survivor.  The other.

It was this truth that I was reminded of in the beautiful readings for this weekend.

For in the Gospel we see a Christ who chooses to be with his people.

A Christ who enters into an individual’s journey.  Who chooses to get messy.

All for the sake of helping another to encounter the healing, the reconciliation, and the community that they were seeking.

And in the second reading, we are bluntly told to do the same.

To sit beside our brothers and sisters.  

Not to keep them at a distance.

Not to lord over them.

But to sit beside them and share in their lives as they are . . . messy, complicated, graced and fractured.

The command is so simple and yet so radical to us as the Church in 2018.

For let’s be honest.  We are not very good at this.

We tend to keep our distance.

We keep a comfortable radius of empty pews around us, leaving the other just far enough away for us to not have to shake their hand.

We keep our priests and ministers away and apart, looking down on the congregation from our pinnacles of marble.

And when we leave these sacred walls, we enter into our own lives that are painfully segregated.  Our neighborhoods, our schools, our workplaces, our social circles. They tend to be filled with people who think like us, look like us, live like us.  

And the consequence of our isolation is we too often begin to judge those who are outside of our circle.  Making distinctions. And assuming that we know who should be sitting beside us and who should remain on the floor.  Assuming we know who is right. Assuming we know who is favored.

But this my friends does not need to be the final word.

We too can rediscover the truth of where Christ is found.

In the other.

If we choose to be with them

Black.  Homebound.  Unemployed. Felon.  Undocumented. Gay. Depressed.  

Our sisters and brothers.  Our family.

May we have the grace and the courage to sit this day beside the ones in whose presence we shall discover our God.

May God be Praised

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