Reflection on the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Recently, on CNN, I watched an interview with a man named Aaron Stark, who said that when he was in his late teens he could very easily become a mass murderer. In fact, he was ready to do something terrible. He was depressed, friendless, lonely, angry at the world and ignored by everyone. His parents didn’t care what happened to him – they were drunk and fighting most of the time. He changed schools multiple times, and in each one, classmates bullied and made fun of him. He was dirty, wore old torn clothes and eventually was thrown out of his own home and lived in an old shack. He stole, sold drugs, lied and cheated. He was a loner, a nobody, a very angry person ready to explode. “When you have nothing to do, you do anything.” He said that it didn’t matter who he might have killed; in his own mind he was killing his parents.
Like the good Samaritan that we reflected on in last week’s Gospel, one person befriended this young man, invited him to share a meal or go to a movie, listened to him, allowed him to express his anger and hurt without judging him and in the process, changed the whole direction of his life. Aaron said “he looked at me like I was a person.” Because of these experiences in his own life, Aaron understands the mind of a killer and what it takes to change the direction of that person’s life.
In order to help other people understand the lives of those who may be in that same place of hurt and despair, Aaron gives Ted Talks and speaks to various groups of people. He hopes to help them see why some of these horrific actions happen and how, one on one, with genuine care and concern, another killing spree might be prevented. He doesn’t condone the behavior but understands the mindset of the potential killer and tries to help other people see it. If only one person was changed thanks to his efforts, that would be a wonderful thing. Reach out to a lonely, hurting individual with care and compassion before they reach the point of no return is his message. His final statement on his Ted Talk is: “We have to give love to the people who we think deserve it least.”
Today’s readings are about welcoming the stranger, the odd person, the nobody,” or good persons and accepting them. It is easy to look at someone and just because of their appearance or mannerisms, turn away from them. Abraham welcomed the three total strangers, gave them a place to rest and fed them. (Though I have never understood how they got that steer slaughtered and cooked in time for supper.)
In the second reading it is the Gentiles who have been welcomed into the newly formed Christian faith. For the Jewish people who had cherished their designation as “God’s chosen people” and considered Gentiles second class citizens in this world, it must have been difficult to now accept them as brothers and sisters.
In the Gospel, Martha and Marv were cherished friends of Jesus. They welcome him into their home. He was on his way to Jerusalem where he knew he would not be welcome. Stopping off to spend time with good friends was probably a nice break from the worry of what lay ahead of him.
Living up to her Jewish tradition of welcoming guests, Martha immediately set about making sure that Jesus had all he needed and busied herself preparing food for him and his disciples. Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to what he had to say. Martha was upset that Mary didn’t come to the kitchen to help her. I can understand that.
Jesus appears to scold Martha and defend Mary but I think it was more a gentle reminder that prayer and action go together. Action is important but it isn’t the only thing. Taking time to sit with God grounds us for the work we will undertake.
Aaron Stark had obviously spent time reflecting on all that had happened to him, and it fueled his desire to help others who might be hurting the same way and in need of a friend. He then found ways to help make other people aware that their befriending someone who is lonely and lost can change that person forever.
To welcome the stranger, to see others as human, to comfort lonely and hurting people is what we are asked to do. Who is lonely and hurting in our midst? To love as Jesus loved is our challenge.