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October, 2 2016

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Rev. Jim Schmitmeyer

Faith: the size of a mustard seed.

 

Author and preacher Max Lucado

relates the following story in his latest book:

 

            Dirt carpeted the floor. Rats scurried beneath the grated vent. Roaches roamed the walls and crawled over sleeping prisoners. The only source of light peeked through three holes near the fifteen-foot ceiling. The cell offered no bunk, no chair, no table, and no way out for American General Robbi Risner. For seven and one-half years, North Vietnamese soldiers held him and dozens of other soldiers in the Zoo, a POW camp in Hanoi.

            Misery came standard issue. Solitary confinement, starvation, torture, and beatings were routine. Interrogators twisted broken legs, sliced skin with bayonets, crammed sticks up nostrils and paper in mouths. Screams echoed throughout the camp, chilling the blood of the other prisoners….

            How do you survive seven and one-half years in such a hole? Cut off from family. No news from the United States. What do you do? Here is what Risner did. He stared at a blade of grass. Several days into his incarceration he wrestled the grate off a floor vent, stretched out on his belly, lowered his head into the opening, and peered through a pencil-sized hole in the brick and mortar at a singular blade of grass. Aside from this stem his world had no color. So he began his days with head in vent, heart in prayer, staring at the green blade of grass. (Everyday Deserves a Chance, Thomas Nelson Publications, 2007)

 

Faith: slender as a blade of grass.

 Memories of Hanoi.

The bombing of Hiroshima.

Blank stares of the homeless.

The words of Habbabkuk.

 

Harsh testimonies

to devastation and despair:

 

How long, O Lord? I cry for help

but you do not listen.

I cry out to you, “Violence!”

but you do not intervene.

 

The anguished prophet receives a message in reply.

 

The vision still has its time [says the Lord]…

If it delays, wait for it;

it will surely come,

it will not be late.

 

Hope in a time of despair

is more than any mustard seed

or blade of grass can alone provide.

 

Yet, the value of “the vision” or an object that symbolizes “the vision” is essential.

 

Robbi Risner kept his eye on the green leaf

in the way that St. Peter exhorts us to keep our eyes fixed

on God’s promise of salvation:

We have the prophetic message as something completely reliable…

Pay attention to it,

as to a light shining in a dark place,

 until the day dawns

and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:18-20)

 

A tiny seed.

A blade of grass.

A flickering flame.

 

The vision arrives in various forms.

Most of them small.

Many unlikely.

All of them unexpected.

 

I recall the first months of my father’s residency in a nursing home.

A yeoman farmer who cleared trees and worked the land,

now confined to a single room and a wheelchair.

I struggled to get through my visits with him:

his fading memory,

his growing confusion,

the slouch of his once strong back.

 

No flame.

No seed.

No blade of grass.

 

Then, one day, as I pushed Dad down the corridor in his wheelchair,

another chair-bound resident appeared.

She screamed and screeched and clamored for dinner.

 

I’d heard Bertha’s cries before.

Each day she roamed the hallways,

her cantankerous commotion largely ignored.

 

Except by my father.

 

When we drew near her chair, he motioned me to stop.

He reached over and patted her hand.

For a moment her screaming subsided.

When it resumed, Dad and I continued down the hall.

Bank inside his room, he looked at me, his expression as calm and steady

as the days he plowed the fields.

“She can’t help it,” he said.

 

From that day on, I began to view the nursing home in a new way.

I noted the dedication on the part of the staff.

I witnessed the heartfelt care the residents held for one another.

Dad’s neighbor, a man named Bob, sought him at mealtimes

and guided him to the dining room.

High school students helped him play bingo on Wednesday afternoons.

Old neighbors gathered in the sitting room

to reminisce about threshing wheat

and butchering hogs.

 

Smiles sprouted.

Laughter grew as common as grass.

 

Still, it took effort to maintain the vision of hope.

Dad’s memory continued to fade

and Bertha’s screams continued to echo down the hall.

 

Like any other crop, mustard requires tending.

And we, like hired hands whose work continues
even after the field work is done, we must tend our tasks.

 

Though the vision delays, it will not disappoint.

 

The seed sprouts.

The grass grows.

Through it all, salvation takes root.

 

 ©  Fr. Jim Schmitmeyer

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