September 26, 2018
Wednesday, the 25thweek of Ordinary Time
I’ve had the chance to be in the Church of Cosmas and Damien in Rome, and to serve as a deacon there and to preach there, twice, and both times it’s been a wonderful thing. The thing that struck me both times is how the great mosaic above the altar and the gold figures of Jesus and the apostles and the angels are so bold and bright they seem brand new, though the mosaic was made in the eighth nor ninth centuries—and also how at the bottom of that mosaic, there’s this row of sheep being separated from the goats, and shorn, and how one of the sheep, half-shorn, looks right at us with this almost cartoon look on its face, as if to say, what’s happening?
That’s me. I’m that sheep. As always with the gospel, the gospel today convicts and indicts me.
Because unlike the disciples, I don’t travel light, not to Rome or anywhere else. I keep over-packing. I keep taking all kinds of things on my journey, my pride and my assumptions and my grievances, like the man in Thoreau’s Waldenwho walks down the street carrying all his possessions on his back, all his furniture and his pots and pans. Thoreau says that’s all of us, that’s a metaphor for who we all are, weighed down by all the things we think we need, and for me it’s not just my stuff but my envy and jealousy and pride, and maybe most of all my desire to be in control.
I’m one of those travelers who wants everything worked out in advance, the itinerary figured out down the minute. I don’t want to just go somewhere and see what happens. I don’t want to experience any kind of embarrassment or discomfort or uncertainty. I don’t want to have to ask directions. I want my bed ready and waiting at the end of the day.
But what if today I trusted in Jesus instead of myself, really believed, through grace, and set out on my journey ready for whatever comes, whatever question a student might ask, whoever might show up at my office, whatever real and good and surprising thought or feeling or impulse might surface in my mind and my heart? What if I just came to today as I am, without all my armor, my layers of protection?
Like Cosmas and Damien, doctors, tradition says, but doctors who gave themselves away, who made themselves available for whatever the community needed. Who were ready. Who served.
This is the prayer of Franciscan Friar Mychal Judge, who woke up on September 11, 2001, not knowing that he would die that day—and die trying to save others, so unburdened and open to what would happen that he could run into that burning tower, could see in the moment what needed to be done and react, respond, give himself away:
Lord, take me where you want me to go.
Let me meet the people you want me to meet.
Tell me what to say,
and keep me out of your way. Amen.