BY FR. BRIAN ZUMBRUM, OSFS
3rd Sunday of Lent (Year C) | March 24, 2019
So yesterday I returned from a week of service immersion in Quito, Ecuador.
And let me tell you, these trips never get easier.
For when you choose to walk into the midst of intense poverty, you are confronted with the trauma that it leaves in its wake, especially on the children who bear the brunt of its cruelty.
A reality that I witnessed first hand as I sat in the back of an eighth grade classroom and met Suco.
See Suco just radiated hostility. Hood drawn over his head. Arms crossed. Muttering under his breath at each direction that was given.
And of course, I was asked to go work with him.
So I hesitantly sat down with my interview questions ready to practice his English, prepared for the inevitable battle that awaited. He watched me warily as I approached. And the two of us sat there in silence for a few moments.
And it was in that silence that I was reminded of the first reading for this weekend.
For I realized that I was on sacred ground.
The sacred ground of encountering God in the other.
In the bush that often is burning and yet never consumed.
For contained within Suco was a story I would never fully understand.
A story filled with triumph and trauma.
A story of grace, a story of the cross, a story of redemption.
A sacred story, written by God. A story that I would need to be humble enough to stand before and hear, even if I didn’t understand it. Even if it scared me. Even if it made me deeply uncomfortable. Even if it broke my heart.
And so I did.
I removed my shoes of judgment and assumption. I removed my need to be right. To be in control.
And I stood on his holy ground. Listening as he slowly began to ask the questions, revealing a brilliant mind, a quick wit, and an innate curiosity.
And in our interactions, I could not help but think of the implications of these readings for us all.
For let’s be real, we are far too often like the owner in the Gospel, viewing the Sucos of our world as barren fig trees. Beyond our ability to help. Beyond hope.
The kid in class who grates on our last nerve with his political commentary
The colleague who never pulls their weight
The in-laws who are so fiercely critical of how we raise our children
Our ex who continues to speak badly about us behind our backs
Or we look at the world and we appear powerless in the face of systemic issues that seem to confine so many of our sisters and brothers to barren soil.
The domestic violence that rages behind our closed bedroom doors and the human trafficking that lurks in every corner of the globe.
The poverty that stalks the streets of Wilmington and the calles of Quito.
The violence of gang warfare and the terror of war between nations.
The racism. The nativism. The sexism. The homophobia. That screams from sea to shining sea that some people are worth more than others.
But then we hear the first reading and we are reminded of the truth that the gardener never lost sight of.
Which is all of this apparently barren soil is truly sacred ground.
And each of those women and men we encounter are encounters with the great I AM.
Inviting us to gently remove our own sandals. Removing our own expectations and assumptions. Removing our apathy and our helplessness. Removing our anger and our fear. Removing the lingering wounds and scars. Removing the arrogance and pride. Removing the envy and the greed.
Allowing our lives to gently till this soil, working with our God to bring forth fruit. A harvest of justice and peace, of healing and reconciliation, of love.
Our Lenten journey continues my friends. The soil awaits us. Let us approach this sacred ground once more this day.
May God be Praised.