Listening, Withdrawing, Caring
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 22, 2018
A story is told about Abraham Lincoln during his early career as a lawyer in Springfield, Illinois. One day Lincoln was walking down a street with his two young boys, both of whom were crying. “Why Mr. Lincoln,” exclaimed a passerby, “what is the matter with the children?”
The same thing that’s wrong with the rest of the world,” replied Lincoln, “I’ve got three walnuts and each boy wants two.”
We are not told how Lincoln resolved the problem of the two sons and the three walnuts, but given his reputation as a wise leader and a good parent, we presume he arrive at an acceptable compromise.
In today’s gospel Jesus is also torn between seemingly impossible demands from at least two different sides. His disciples need him, yet the crowds are also insistent.
This is a dilemma familiar to many of us, especially if we are in a position of leadership, which would include being a parent. Today’s gospel offers us some practical hints for living in a world that pulls us in many different directions at the same time.
Jesus models three qualities: 1. patient listening, 2. prudent withdrawing, and 3.constant caring.
1. The wise leader, parent or teacher listens patiently and attentively. The good listener suppresses the desire to blurt out, “I’ve been through all that. I know exactly what you mean.” In the Gospel the apostles are returning from their first missionary trip and they are bursting with news about what they had done and taught. They can’t wait to share with Jesus their successes and failures.
Jesus no doubt smiled at their enthusiasm, remembering that he had warned them about what was out there. But he will hear them out as if all this were news to him. A good listener does that, even if he or she knows in advance what the other is going to say.
2. A good leader, parent, or teacher knows the wisdom of prudent withdrawing. Jesus seems to be attuned to the importance of withdrawing. He was very much aware of the need to retreat from the pressures and concerns of the world in order in order to reorient himself to his mission. Thomas Merton, who knew much about solitude, once remarked, “Solitude is to be preserved, not as a luxury but as a necessity; not for ‘perfection’ so much as for simple ‘survival’ in the life God has given you.” Our Gospel reminds us that we need an out of the way place where we can relax and renew ourselves.
3. A good leader, parent or teacher must constantly care. Jesus offers himself as someone who continually cares even when weariness and pressure make him want to run and hide. Parents know the feeling. When that three year old comes up to you for the hundredth time that day and says, “Mommy, I need...” or Daddy, I need…”, it’s all you can do to keep from screaming. For Jesus compassion had become “second nature”. As disciples of Jesus, we need to have that same reservoir of compassion that can be tapped even when we feel we are running on empty.
In conclusion, we have taken time out of our busy schedule to come here to Church and gather together around this altar. Now nourished by Word and Sacrament, we go back into the world fortified to be more Christ like in our leadership, parenting, and teaching. Amen.
Fr. Terry Hazel
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the flock.
For he is our peace, he who made both one.
[Jesus'] heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.