Saturday, March 26, 2011

Third Sunday of Lent



- Ryan G. Duns, SJ


As many of you know, I am in my second year of teaching at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy. As I read today's readings - each one rich with meaning - I recalled a somewhat trivial event that, when examined, indicates what I think is so special about our school.

As moderator of the Student Senate, I have a pretty cool office on the "garden level" of the school, right off of the Student Commons. Depending on the day, I can have anywhere from between five and twenty students taking up space on the couches, chairs, rockers, and even the floor. I rather enjoy the company and I always marvel at the cross-section of students who seem to stop by: I recently described the typical scene as being that of the "Mos Eisley Cantina" (Star Wars reference) as guys from all over the universe seem to gather there!
A few weeks ago, a group of students were in my office, including several freshmen, one of whom realized - all too late - that his ride had gone home early, leaving him stranded. The kid began to panic and fret, as he did not yet know many of the upperclassmen and had no idea how he'd manage to get home. One of the seniors overheard the student's dilemma and sprang into action: "Where do you live? Hold on....let me get someone." The senior called one of his friends who had just left and told him to come back and take the freshman home, as they probably lived not far from each other.

What impressed me so much is this: it strikes me that, in many schools, the classes are pretty well divided and seniors and freshmen do not mix. In my office, however, students do mingle and even though these two guys didn't know each other, the senior's attentiveness and generosity saved the day and made a huge impression on 9th grader. That night, I received an email from the boy's mother who couldn't believe how kind the seniors had been in taking her son home, concluding that she knew they had picked the right school for her son.

I mention this because I think that today's Gospel speaks to how Jesus' ministry and God's Kingdom break through those boundaries that too frequently separate us. Simply note the incredulity of the woman when Jesus approaches her: "How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?" This sort of behavior is unthinkable, transgressing what is socially acceptable. Yet Jesus is re-drawing the lines of the Kingdom: he breaks past our own too-limited notions of right and wrong and brings us into a new way of seeing one another. 

Perhaps the conclusion of the Gospel will be ignored by many in the homilies today. But, to my mind, it expresses a refreshingly anti-American value. By this I mean that it is not patriotic, but it does go against our typical work ethic that "You get what you work for" or "Reap only what you sow."  Jesus tells us that others have come before, others have scattered the seed, and now it our job to begin the harvest. If the United States bishops fail in the role as teachers, I think it because they are too occupied trying inventory the granaries and have become blind to the fact that the seeds of the Kingdom are sprouting up into the world. I sort of wish more of the clergy would cast aside the clipboards and abandon their fretful calculations and rush, instead, to call others to join them in the harvest. Here we find the nature of God's gracious love: He has done all of the work for us, He has sown where He so desired, and now we have only to take up our tools and call our neighbors that we might collect in what we did not scatter, that we might prepare a meal of thanksgiving, a eucharist, of the Lord's bounty.  

These aren't easy days to be members of the Catholic Church. This has been a pretty pathetic decade. As one who grew into adulthood in the tumult of the sexual abuse scandal (beginning at age 22 and now I'm 31), I have daily faced the limitations of the Church. While my faith has never wavered, my frustration has only increased as I see the bishops and clergy frequently engage in polemical attacks and retrenchment rather than finding the strength to bring the liberating and revolutionary Good News, the Gospel, into a world that is sorely in need of hearing it. May this Lent be a time when we listen carefully to the One who tells us all things, the One who reveals to us the shape and nature of God's Kingdom, and proclaim with the Samaritans:

"...we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world."
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