Weird Wally’s Treasure
February 23, 2003
Mark was late, very late, for an important meeting. He had become tied up in traffic on the freeway and now he was certain that one of his most important clients was waiting for him, as he made his way through the crowded city streets from his parking garage to his office building. As he approached the building he saw in the crowd of people in front of him a familiar character. It was Weird Wally. At least that was the name that many of the people in Mark’s office had given to the homeless, emotionally unstable, man who frequented the area outside their building. Weird Wally was always trying to get people’s attention, trying to engage them in conversation. “Do you want to see my treasure?” he would say to anyone who would listen. It seemed that Wally’s treasure was located in the college notebook that he held very close to his dirty clothing. Although there had been some conversations in the office building about what was in that notebook, what exactly it was that Wally considered his treasure, no one took him up on the invitation to look at it, because they simply did not want to get involved.
“Oh no,” said Mark to himself as he saw Wally coming towards him. “I really don’t need this today.” But Wally came right up. “Do you want to see my treasure?” he said. Mark did not respond. “Perhaps he’ll just go away,” he thought. Wally insisted, “Do you want to see my treasure?” Mark had to stop at the curb to wait for the light, and Wally walked right up behind him. “Do you want to see my treasure?” he said. Still Mark did not respond. So Wally shifted his strategy. “What’s your name?” he said. Mark again held his breath. He didn’t want to get involved. “What’s your name?” said Wally. “What’s your name?”
Then perhaps out of frustration, or a little compassion, but clearly with a certain amount of surprise, Mark found himself answering. “Mark, my name is Mark, Mark Fillmore.” “Hello Mark.” Said Wally. “Do you want to see my treasure?” Now that the conversation was begun, it seemed inappropriate for Mark to break it off. “No Wally, I can’t see your treasure today. I have an important meeting. Maybe later. Maybe next time.” With that the light changed and Mark dashed across the street into the office building with Wally calling behind him, “Goodbye Mark. Maybe later.”
That was the last that Mark saw or even thought about Wally for several months. But one day as he came to work and turned the corner, he saw an ambulance with a number of police cars in front of his building. Running into a fellow worker he asked, “What’s this about?” “Oh it’s Weird Wally,” said one of the workers. “He seems to have rushed out in the midst of the traffic and was hit by a car and killed.”
Mark was surprised by how deeply this news affected him. He stood in silence and watched as the ambulance pulled away. When he turned to go into the building, he saw in the gutter a college notebook. It was Wally’s. Mark picked it up and saw that on the cover was written in an uneven hand, “My Treasure.” Mark opened the notebook and inside was a single page. At the top of the page it was written “My Friends,” and under that heading there was one entry, one name. It was “Mark Fillmore.”
How much power does one simple action of kindness carry? How much does it cost us to offer it? Each day we have hundreds of opportunities to give ourselves to others and most of those opportunities cost us hardly anything: a few minutes to listen, to advise, to support, to care. Perhaps, because these opportunities cost us so little, we conclude that they do not mean very much. But that would be an error. Because sometimes a simple action of kindness that costs us very little can have a profound effect on another person.
That is the experience that is relayed in today’s gospel. Indeed the four friends of the paralytic did take some time to carry him to Jesus. And when they could not get to Jesus, they opened the roof so that they could lower their friend down. But the cost of their action was insignificant compared to the result which came from it. It cost those friends a few hours of their time. But their friend, because of their kindness, was able to walk again.
Today’s gospel reminds us that every action of generosity and kindness has a power and sometimes a power greater than we can imagine. The gospel, therefore, invites us to take the time to listen to a friend, to read to our children, to make a phone call to a relative who is struggling, to write a note to someone in grief. For a few words can dispel loneliness. An ounce of patience can prevent an argument. A few minutes of time can speak hours of love. So whether it is a stranger who we meet on the street or someone in our own family, we need to remember that our most simple actions do have power, the power to carry others into the presence of Christ. And that is no small achievement. Because, in the presence of Christ, we can find healing, we can accept reconciliation, we can discover life itself.
What Friends Do
February 19, 2006
Two friends were hiking in the mountains when one of them was suddenly bit by a rattlesnake. The other said, “Just be calm, I’ll run back to the town and find a doctor.” So he ran back a couple miles to a little village where he found the only doctor, who was in the process of assisting a woman with childbirth. “Look,” the doctor said, “I can’t go with you now, but here’s what you have to do. Go back to your friend and then take your knife and cut a small X over the place where the snake bit. Then put your mouth over the cut and suck out the poison and spit it on the ground. Do you understand this?” The man nodded and ran back to his companion, who by his time was rolling in pain. “What did the doctor say?” the victim cried out. “What did the doctor say?” His friend knelt down next to his friend with tears in his eyes and said, “The doctor says you’re gonna die.”
Sometimes our friends disappoint us in our time of need. Sometimes they are unable or unwilling to do what it takes to help us. This is clearly not the case in today’s gospel. The paralyzed man whom Jesus heals is brought forward by four of his friends. When they cannot reach Jesus because of the crowd, they open the roof above him and lower down their friend into the Lord’s presence. The gospel is very clear that the faith that Jesus recognizes is not the faith of the man who is paralyzed, but the faith of his friends. This then is real friendship: physically carrying your friend to the Lord, overcoming every obstacle to healing for the one you love.
This gospel story emphasizes is our connection to one another and challenges us to support those we love in their need. But it has a very specific need in mind. It challenges us to support those we love in their need to forgive and to be forgiven. This story, like many in the gospels, connects physical healing with spiritual healing. Jesus heals the man physically by forgiving his sins. It is the man’s friends who recognize the need: the healing and the forgiveness of Jesus. Here then is the question for us: how do we support those we love in their need to forgive and to be forgiven? It is a big question, but allow me to suggest two answers. We listen. We pray.
Whenever anyone is hurt, that hurt wounds a person, and that wound will remain until it is addressed. Such wounds can fester and give birth to anger, to depression, to the desire for revenge. All of us probably know someone who is carrying such a hurt. Some people have carried anger for years. Some people have carried depression so long that it has become second nature. What the gospel suggests is that if we are close enough to such a person, if there is trust between us, we could choose to listen. We could say to that person, “Frank, what’s bothering you?” “Sally, why are you so angry?” If we find the right moment to pose such a question, it could provide an opportunity for our friend to let the pain out. If that begins to happen, our job is to listen. Not to judge, not to give advice, but simply listen to the pain. To be honest, if you ask an angry people why they are angry, some of that anger can spill on to you. But friends are willing to take that anger. They are willing to suck the poison out so that healing can begin.
This leads then to the second action we can undertake for those who need to forgive or be forgiven. We can pray. If the relationship allows it, we could say, “I will pray for you, that you might let your anger go.” If the person is a believer, we might even say. “I’m going to pray that you might hand over your hurt to the Lord.” Even if it doesn’t seem wise to make that statement to the person directly, we are always able to pray for the person in our hearts. We can always bring the hurt to the Lord on their behalf.
This week in our GIFT program we are discussing the sacrament of penance and preparing for the communal celebration of that sacrament on March 14th here in our parish. I am sharing with those who come in the adult session that they could participate in the communal penance service even if they have no sins they wished to confess. They could participate by praying with and for those who do come to confess their sins. In other words, they could come to pray for others. In this sense, what happens in today’s gospel might be seen as the first communal penance service. The friends come to Jesus, not because they need healing, not because they need forgiveness, but because their friend does. Therefore you may even choose to come to our communal penance service and pray for someone who is not yet ready to confess their sins. You can come to pray for a member of your family whose hurt is so deep that he or she will not admit it or let anyone touch it. Your role in the communal penance service need not be to receive the sacrament yourself but to pray for all of those who confess their sins, and those who need to confess their sins.
Of course, it is not always easy to listen and to pray for another, it requires effort and patience. It involves risk. But those who hear the gospel know that they are called to such service. They know that listening to and praying for others is not only following the command of Christ. It is also what friends do.
Carrying Our Friends to the Lord
Feb. 22, 2009
What a vivid and rich healing story we have in today’s gospel. It comes from the gospel of Mark. Mark is famous for his vivid detail and story telling. He sets before us quite a scene. Jesus, after a journey of healing and teaching, returns to Capernaum, and the whole town turns out. They surround the house where he is staying. You cannot even get in or out through the door. In the midst of all this crowd and confusion, four people come forward carrying their paralyzed friend. They intend to have Jesus heal him but they cannot do so because of the crowd. So they climb up on the roof (and drag their friend up with them) and dig a hole through the roof. The buildings in that part of the world are much like the adobe huts of the Southwest United States. They are made out of clay and soil. So you can dig through the roof. They lowered down their friend on the mat in front of Jesus. You can imagine the shock of the people in the house as Jesus is teaching. Suddenly the roof opens and down comes this paralyzed man. But Jesus sees their faith and heals the man. He takes up his mat and walks out.
In such a rich narrative there are many things upon which we could concentrate. But I want to focus on the friends of the paralyzed man. In many ways this story is their story. It is because of them that the healing takes place. The paralyzed man is dependent on them to come to Jesus and it is only because of their persistence and creativity that they are able to lower their friend down into Jesus’ presence. Moreover, it is their faith that makes the miracle possible. In most of the healing stories of the gospels, the sick person is required to have faith. But here in this story, the miracle happens because of the faith of the sick person’s friends. The text is very clear. It says that Jesus seeing their faith, said to the man, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”
The friends of the paralyzed man are an example to us. We are invited, just like the friends in the gospel, to bring people that we love to Jesus. Who are the people in our lives who we want to bring to Jesus? Maybe there is a member of our family, a son or daughter, a sister or a brother, who has no religious faith. We want to take them to the Lord because we know that if they come to believe in Jesus they will experience his presence and his love. Perhaps there is someone we know who is sick, mentally, emotionally, or physically. We want to carry that person before the Lord because we believe that Christ can offer them healing. Maybe there is somebody that we know who is struggling with doubt or failure or guilt or unworthiness. We want to be able to take that person to the Lord so that they might have Christ’s peace. Whenever there is someone we love and that person is in need, we as people of faith want to bring them to the Lord so that they can experience Christ’s love, healing, and peace.
So how do we do that today? Jesus is no longer teaching down the street. What does it mean to bring someone we love to the Lord? There are a variety of ways. We can do it by the love and care we show the person. We can do it through our prayers. We can do it through suggestions we make. We are always making suggestions: read this book, talk to this person, see this doctor. All of us try to reach out to the people we love and try to bring them towards the healing, the loving presence of Christ. As we bring those we love to Jesus, there are two more details in the gospel that are important to keep in mind: faith and numbers.
The friends in the gospel are motivated by faith. They do plenty of actions: carrying, digging, lowering. Yet for all those things that they do, the thing that sets the friends apart is their faith. They believe that Jesus cares for their friend and that Jesus will help him. It is their faith that motivates them and causes them to keep moving forward. We, as we try to bring people to the Lord must have a similar kind of faith. We must believe that the efforts we make are not wasted. We need to believe that Christ sees in our efforts, our love, and our desire to help. So even when it seems that our actions are not having any effect, when the people we are trying to bring to the Lord are not believing, are not being healed, are not finding peace. Even then we continue on with the faith that our attempts are recognized by Christ. We believe that Christ will use whatever efforts we offer to care for the person we love. Faith moves forward even when it’s difficult, even when it seems like no progress is being made.
So faith is primary. But numbers are also important. It was not one friend who brought the paralyzed man to Jesus, but four of them. There is strength in numbers. As we try to bring the people we love to Christ, we should ask for help. We should turn to other people who care about us and share our concerns, ask for their prayers, ask for their advice. We are stronger when we are a community. We are stronger when we depend upon one another. As we try to bring the people we love to the Lord, having others to help us is important. As we carry the people we love before the Lord it is important not to be carrying them alone.
All of us have in our life, people we want to bring before the Lord. We want the people that we care about to experience Christ’s love, Christ’s healing, Christ’s peace. Today’s gospel encourages us to do just that. It calls us to ask other people to help us, and it tells us that we should move always forward in faith. We must believe that our efforts to help others are not wasted. We must believe that as much as we love the person we are carrying to the Lord, Christ loves that person even more.