Weekly HomilyArchives

Friday, August 08, 2008

“The disciples urged Jesus, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’” (Matthew 15:23-24)

“SOUL-SURFING” – August 17, 2008
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Matthew 15:21-28)
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

Tales of the hapless victims of Albany, NY potholes have become the substance of urban legend here in the northeast. Each winter, the local press recounts the experiences of drivers who suddenly find themselves sucked beneath the road surface, and for weeks after the press run of such terror, letters to the editor add fuel to the fire of already irate citizens. Myself the victim of a few pothole-related hubcap snatchings over the years, I’ve grown weary and wary of the looming beasts. But this past winter I was blessed with a revelation I’ll dare to call divine: potholes can lead us to those invisible people who suddenly enter our lives, and very often there’s blessing to be found.

Long before dawn this past February 15th, I rounded a corner in Albany’s Washington Park nearing the hospital where I serve. And though I was driving no more than 35 MPH, darkness prevented my avoiding the hungry maw in the roadway. My front right tire was suddenly pulled under, the jolt causing the hubcap to loosen and become airborne, launched over a roadside snow bank. It still too dark to attempt retrieval, I drove on to the hospital thinking to return later in the morning in hopes of finding the hubcap.

In the course of morning rounds among patients, families and staff members, I shamelessly whined about my hubcap loss to any who would listen. When asked, “How are you today?” I provided a generous earful of pitiful whimpering. While discovering many a companion victim of pothole thievery, all agreed that it would be a miracle if I was really able to retrieve my hubcap, for it was common knowledge that Albany’s indigent regularly patrolled Washington Park in the winter time, pushing before them shopping carts filled mostly with hubcaps lost to potholes. Were I truly lucky, a hospital security officer suggested, I’d be able to buy my hubcap back from one of these peddlers for about $25.

By 11 AM, able to stand the suspense no longer, I left the hospital for the park, praying all the way that I’d beat the hubcap peddler to the treasure. And my prayer was heard! Easily locating the offending pothole by daylight, I parked, climbed over a 3-foot snow bank and spotted the hubcap lying atop the snow about 15 feet away. And, indeed, it was mine, the Toyota logo visible even from a distance. Exuberantly popping the hubcap back onto my right front tire, I bounded for home with newfound energy. But what was until that moment just plain luck was transformed next morning into a revelation: potholes can lead us to those invisible people who suddenly enter our lives offering blessing.

First thing next morning making rounds through the ER, I came upon the same hospital security officer who the day before warned me that I’d probably have to buy back my lost hubcap from a peddler. Wide smile on his face, the officer stunned me with his news. “Your hubcap was retrieved from the park, and we have it in our office right now for you to pick up.” I told him that could not possibly be true, for I found the hubcap myself, and it was, in fact, already back on the tire. “No,” the officer assured me, “Jared, one of the ER clerks, rode his bike over to the park and got it for you. He left it with us to return to you.” Thinking to humor the confusion of the officer, I went to the security office to see for myself. And sure enough, there was a Toyota hubcap identical to the one I’d already retrieved. Now in possession of 5 hubcaps, I mused aloud in the presence of several security officers that I was going to return to the park and toss the extra hubcap over the snow bank near the pothole, for surely someone would be looking for it. “Can’t do that,” ominously intoned a veteran officer. “That’s littering, and you’ll be fined. Just keep the extra one. Anyway, you’re going to need it before the city ever repairs those potholes.”

Two days later I discovered Jared working quietly at his desk in the ER. Approaching him with a combination of amazement and adoration, I thanked him profusely for his kindness. Embarrassed by the attention, the self-effacing clerk explained that he’d overheard my whining days before. Since he was, by his own admission, nearly as poor as Washington Park’s indigent peddlers, Jared didn’t have a car, a bicycle his only means of transportation between home and work, even on the coldest winter days. Daily traversing the park, he said it was no big deal to stop near the gaping pothole to look for my hubcap. And finding it easily, he returned to the hospital and left it for me with the security department. “No big deal,” Jared asserted. But it truly was a big deal for me, more at the stunning thoughtfulness of this young man than at now having 5 matching hubcaps.

In the gospel passage we hear today, we find the disciples trying to spare Jesus the annoyance of a woman who begs and pesters for healing for her daughter. From Canaan and a Gentile outsider to observant Jews, she refuses to be put off by the reproaches of the disciples. “The disciples urged Jesus, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’” (Matthew 15:23-24) Indeed, Jesus’ words seem a rejoinder to the disciples who would separate Jew from Gentile. All humankind is of God’s creation, all are dear sheep of his flock. And so it was that Jesus answered the prayer of the woman.

Indeed, we are often just like those disciples, our circle of familiars so narrow as to render invisible all those outside of it. But comes that prophetic day when a holy truth is revealed. In our darkness we fall into a pothole, and God sends a stranger to touch our lives with blessing. A self-effacing ER clerk peddles his bike through winter’s snow, bestowing upon me a 5th hubcap. Truly, my cup runneth over.

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