The last will be first, and the first will be last. A children’s homily about Mortimer the farmer.

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Is it better to be first or to be last?  What does it mean to be first?  What does it mean to be last?

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Once upon a time, there was a land, rich and fertile, full of growth.  There were farms bursting with fruit and vegetables and all was well… for both the farmers who had large and successful farms… and for the smaller and more modest farms as well.

But then one year, a drought came over the land as the rain stopped falling and the ground grew dry and no longer bountiful.  The fruit and vegetable crops began to fail, the plants began to die and all was not well in this once happy place.  The farmers and their families could not sell their fruits and vegetables and so hard times came upon them.  They could not fully feed their families and it was a time of much sadness and despair.

But not for Mortimer the farmer.  He was lucky because his, and only his, farm was located next to a large lake and he determined a manner of irrigating water from the lake and out onto  his fields.  While all of the farms around his were brown and barren, Mortimer’s farm was rich in color and abundant.

Times were good for Mortimer the farmer.

One by one, the other farmers came to Mortimer’s farm and asked:

“Mortimer, will you share your water with us?”

“Mortimer, if we come with our wagons and barrels and carry the water ourselves, can we have some of your water?”

And: “Mortimer, one day the rains will return.  Can you please help us keep our fruits and vegetables growing until that time?  We will do anything to repay you for your kindness.”

But Mortimer’s heart was hardened and he took no sympathy on the other farmers.   He wanted all of the water for himself.  Every time he was asked one of these questions, he answered: “No!

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Crossing the street and forgiving

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“Little Miss Sunshine”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “The Way”, “The Lord of the Rings”, “Into the Wild”, “Rain Man”, “The Grapes of Wrath”, “Tracks”, heck, even… “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”…

I love a great road trip story.  A character or characters hit the open road, experience new places, encounter challenges, make important discoveries about the life… about themselves… and change in the process – often for the better, sometimes for the worse.  The road is a metaphor for life.

Today’s gospel is not about the Good Samaritan but I mention it because it is, in a way, a road trip story.  But unlike the ones I mentioned… in which you see the plot develop across a landscape, between a beginning and end point, the story of the Good Samaritan takes place on one small strip of road, on a known treacherous tract between Jerusalem and Jericho.  Because it’s a dangerous road, the people who pass on it tend to keep to themselves… to avoid danger.

The characters in Jesus’ parable pass by this one spot.  A man is beaten nearly to death and two walk by him who surely would have known the law – a priest and a Levite.  But they don’t cross to the other side to help him.  They keep their distance.  They are separated.  Finally, a lowly Samaritan, someone who would not likely know or probably care much about the Jewish law, stopped to help.  He reached across.  He closed the divide.

Today’s gospel is about forgiveness.  It is about mercy.  Peter is told to forgive not seven times, but seventy seven times.

Our heavenly father forgives our wrongs, he heals our wounds, he shows us boundless mercy.  And though it can be difficult, maybe even incredibly difficult, he calls us to do the same to others.

I’d like to suggest that the spot on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho is also a metaphor for life.  Despite the dangers, we all pass though it.  Some of us without incident, some of us with great hardship.  Many of us keep to ourselves.  There are separations between us on this road.  Gulfs that divide us.

We are reminded too often of all these gulfs that divide us.  Especially lately it seems.  And we are reminded that these divisions can often bubble up into hatred.  This includes when protestors at rallies seek violence against each other, when bombs are thrown into concert halls, when trucks are driven into crowds along the side of a street, when those in authority abuse their power, when people are mistreated because of the color of their skin.  This past week, we marked the 16th anniversary of one of the most dramatic and awful demonstrations of division and hatred in our country’s history.

But history shows us that meeting violence with more violence does not soften hearts.  That confronting hatred with more hatred never creates peace.

Only forgiveness does that.  Only healing.  Only mercy.

Jesus calls us to cross the street, to close the divide, to reach across and to connect, to forgive others, to seek forgiveness from others.  And yes, sometimes this can be incredibly difficult.

But sometimes the best way to start a road trip is with baby steps.  What do you say we take a baby step?

Is there someone you need to forgive?  Is there someone from whom you need to seek forgiveness?

Let’s open that door and head out…

Who’s up for a little road trip?

And in a Moment, the Smile Returned

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She remembers being just two miles from the beach, a well worn 40 minute walk away with friends.  These were the days of her youth.

Decades and decisions removed her from the salt and sand, from oceanside memories with now departed brothers and sisters and friends.  She had many… but they are gone.  All now are gone.

I was with her on this day, before others joined us.  When they arrived, she was herself, smiling, joking.  But for a few minutes before, when it was just the two of us, I could see her look at the sand, survey the surf, and recall.  She stared out and said simply but in a broken tone, a tear-filled one: “I’m at the beach”.  I asked her to repeat and she said: “oh… nothing… it’s beautiful here.”  And in a moment, the smile returned.

This image is of that very moment.