June 28, 2020; Matthew 10:37-42; 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A number of years ago Seattle, Washington, hosted a Special Olympics event. Young people with a variety of physical and mental challenges gathered to participate from around the country. The 100-yard dash had nine contestants. All of them were disabled in some way. At the sound of the starter’s gun, they all got off to a good start except for one boy who tripped, fell to the ground, scratched his arm, and began to cry. Hearing this, the other eight contestants stopped, turned around, and walked back to the boy who had fallen. One girl who had Down Syndrome bent down and kissed his arm, saying, “This will make you feel better.” Then all nine of them joined hands and walked to the finish line.
The Special Olympics argues that special needs children can compete like the rest of us. But special needs children show the rest of us how it is the most basic things that are most important. It would be great to cross over the finish line in glory, but it is more important to stand with the one who has fallen and end the race together.
This insight is very important to us as we face the two great crises of our day: a health pandemic that continues to spread and the growing awareness of racism in our society. Neither of these two problems will be solved by the heroic effort of one person. It is only when more and more of us recognize that these issues are our issues and work together that we will be able to defeat these threats to us and the people we love. Beginning that effort does not involve a huge action. Jesus says in the gospel today that whoever gives a cup of cold water to someone so that they can drink will not lose his or her reward. Offering a cup of cold water is a small thing, similar to kissing the arm of someone who has fallen. Yet, these small gestures can speak eloquently that we belong to one another.
So making a small decision, such as wearing a face mask when you go out into a public gathering, is a genuine sign of our commitment to work with others to defeat this virus that is attacking so many people among us. Stopping a friend or family member who begins to tell a racist joke doesn’t seem like much. But it is a clear declaration of where we stand and how we are committed to oppose both large and small forces that foster racial preference in our society.
Defeating the coronavirus and ending racism will require large and significant actions by many of us. But that does not mean that small gestures are unimportant. Such gestures allow us to declare what we believe. They also acknowledge our need to work with one another. And that is a beginning, a beginning as simple as offering a cup of cold water.