Water and A Rose
You and I make sacrifices every day, for our children, spouse, parents, etc. It is important that we see those sacrifices in the context of Christ’s sacrifice for us, and that we ask Him to bless and sanctify those sacrifices. It is also important to find our lives by losing them, to obtain by giving away. That means stretching, reaching out, and trying new things in the name of Christ Jesus. We sometimes call those actions “intentional random acts of kindness.” The seeming triteness of the phrase should not mask the profundity and seriousness behind it.
At the end of the passage in Matthew in which Jesus speaks of the conflicts that we have as a result of our faith and of following Him, and as a result of taking up our crosses, we have today’s lectionary passage, which is mercifully short. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple - truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” (Matt. 10:40-42)
Jesus is using the ripple effect metaphor, or we might say the DNA metaphor. There is a connectedness to things. Jesus plays upon that observation in life. He is claiming His Sonship as one sent from God. To honor Jesus is to honor God, just as honoring a prophet places one within the circle of a prophet. The reward which one receives is that of being part of the circle of believers who follow a prophet and who acknowledge a revelation from God. To give water to those who thirst is an act of compassion and mercy (charity) and places one within the circle of the merciful and hence in the embrace of God’s mercy. Behind this passage there are the connotations of Jesus as a prophet and water as the revelation and spirit for which everyone thirsts, who thirsts for mercy and righteousness.
You and I are asked to place ourselves in the paths of the disciples and to seek to proclaim the Gospel in our lives and through our affiliation with the Church, the body of Christ. That, of course, is what we do when we come here on Sundays and participate in the liturgy and in the Eucharist. Life necessitates forms and structures, schools and traditions. Creeds are important, doctrine is important and denominational distinctions are important. We have to work with mores and folkways. But things are not always clear. Throughout history there have been schisms within the Church, rivalries and wars. Within the United States there have been times of religious intolerance (Roger Williams had to flee the Puritans and go to Rhode Island and be a Baptist). The Roman Catholics founded Maryland and Georgia as places where they could practice their faith. Right now the Anglican Communion is having dialogue and discussion. The break-away conservatives protest. One side claims the TRUTH and the other side “sees through a glass but darkly.” Oddly enough those doctrinal conundrums, problems, serve as metaphors for how difficult it is often to know what to do and what is the right thing. Often it is the smallest act, the simple instinctive act of compassion and charity that is a vehicle for the Holy Spirit to act and to care for one. Often it is not the strategic plans and mission statements, but how we treat one another in the name of Christ (we used to call it “charity”) that brings us closer to our reward of “living in Him and He in us.”
` Now I am going to tell you one of my favorite stories. It is a favorite not because it builds me up, but because it brought such a feeling of humility that it practically bowelled me over. For twenty years I made daily calls at Stamford Hospital. Now I go intermittently. I have looked at the various questions that confront medical ethics and at the policies and procedures for counseling and helping those who are sick or injured. Each case is so complex that it is daunting even to try to deal with it. Sometimes I just sit and cry. Other times I act on instinct and pray that my faith and the Holy Spirit will help, because I am really “an earthen vessel.” But, in the last analysis, so are we all. As we act and sacrifice and live out our faith we have to reach out in trust for the hidden hand of God and pray that we not cause harm but do the right thing.
Here is the story:
She was black, and I was white. She was a woman, and I was a man. She was twenty-five and I was sixty-five.
I was stopped by the head nurse. “Would you please go in and see the young woman in the next room? She is a recovering drug addict, was pregnant, and has just lost her baby.”
I thought, “Good Lord, deliver me.”
The young woman’s gaze met mine as I entered the room. Her eyes were filled with anger. Not apprehension, just plain rage. I introduced my self as a priest from a local parish. After a moment or so, I told her that I was very sorry about her loss. I sat with her for a few minutes, while she glared at me. Words failed me. What could I possibly say?
She was poor, and I was well off.
She was an addict, and I was not.
She worked the streets, and I had a nice office.
She was uneducated, and I had three university degrees.
She was at the bottom of the social order, and I was way up.
She was marginalized, and I represented “the system.”
She was “girl,” and I was “the man.”
She had lost her baby, and I had two healthy adult sons.
The gulf between us was huge. I realized that in spite of my education, training, and experience, there was nothing I could say.
The hostility in her eyes was unrelenting. Finally she rolled over and faced the wall. I left. That afternoon, evening, night and the next morning I thought and prayed about that young woman. I knew I must stop in and see her when I made my rounds, but I hadn’t a clue as what to do or say. The next day on impulse, as I entered Stamford Hospital, I went into the gift shop and made a purchase. Then I walked up to the young woman’s room, knocked and entered. She looked up. There was less anger now but a lot of apprehension. I walked over to her and said, “Here. This is for you.” She reached out, and I handed her one, long stemmed red rose. She nodded and I left.
One week later, through the chaplain’s office, I received a letter. There was one sentence. It simply said, “No one ever gave me a flower before.” Jesus said, “And whosoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” (Matt.10:42 RSV). I wondered, “Does a rose count?”
Bear your cross. Sacrifice. Be diligent. Tithe. But also try a random act of intentional kindness. It just might be in God’s eyes a cup of water.
–Amen- Fr. Gage