Reflections on the readings for Sunday, June 16 from Fr. George Berendt, PIME
PIME’s Headquarters is located pretty much in the middle of the city of Detroit. I wonder, if Jesus was actually living here at our house today, what would His reaction be to the ‘flora and fauna’ of our neighborhood? What do I mean by this question?
This is what I mean. If Jesus were taking a walk from our community house towards Woodward Avenue, the first interesting place Jesus would come across is a gay nightclub and bar on the corner of McNichols and Ponchatrain Boulevard. Every weekend and every holiday it’s a hopping and active watering and meeting place. Now if that didn’t scare Jesus off, He would soon walk past a methadone clinic where every morning a long line of recovering drug addicts line up outside to receive their daily dose of legal drugs given out by the government. The people in the line outside the clinic don’t look like the shakers and movers of an industrial giant that is Detroit. Actually, the people in line look pretty shady and beaten down, if you know what I mean. They are not the brand one sits next to in a five star restaurant. If Jesus still had the courage to walk on, He would walk pass a porno theater and its store that is always busy. Of course, let us not forget all those working girls sprinkled here and there on the corners with their lascivious glances, tight shorts, and even tighter blouses waving to passersby and looking to hook an eager customer to whom they can vend their carnal delights.
When I drive down McNichols in the morning to go to the hospital where I work this is a daily sight from my car’s window. Now I have to admit that many times I react like Simon the Pharisee in today’s Gospel and judge these people pretty severely.
How often as I drive pass and look outside the car I say inside my head, “My God, what a bunch of losers they are. Boy, have they ever screwed up their lives. What a bunch of lowlifes. Don’t they see what a mess they have made of their lives?” or something similar. But then, I catch myself and ask myself, “WWJD?” What would be Jesus’ reaction to these hurt, wounded, and less than perfect people that occupy the same street as me? WWJD? Would he blow them off as I have done when I’m in a coarse mood on the way to the hospital?
Now, Simon was a Pharisee. That means he was a very pious and religious lay person who attempted to live his live in a radical, religious way. As a Pharisee, Simon made every effort to obey the Torah in its entire minutia. He obeyed all the 613 laws found in the Torah, he prayed, went to the synagogue, made the pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem, tithed, and lived as if his eternal salvation depended on it. In a word, he was a ‘good guy.’ But all this goodness did something else to him. It made him self-righteous. Simon became like the Pharisee who went to the Temple to pray and addressed God by reminding God: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity… (Lk 18:11.) Oh yeah! Simon’s struggles in his spiritual life made him prideful, intolerant and caused him to look down his nose on those whose lives might have been unsavory.
I don’t know why it is but I have a fascination with the Big Blue Book published by Alcoholics Anonymous. I myself am not an alcoholic but I love the spirituality that this book teaches. In Chapter 5 I found this axiom that I just love: “We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.”
I think I have embraced this axiom because it reminds us that none of us are perfect. Only God is perfect. Simon the Pharisee was a darn nice guy but still imperfect. Simon the Pharisee lived his life better than most perhaps but he still had his flaws. Simon the Pharisee still had to have his debt of 50 forgiven even those it was less than the debt of 500 of “…a sinful woman in the city.”
Jesus in this Gospel didn’t deny that the woman was a sinner and that her debt was greater than that of Simon. But unlike Simon, she was able to recognize who her creditor is: Jesus! Because she could do this Jesus could say to her, “‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
When Jesus accepted his cross and spread his arms he said something that always gives me tremendous consolation. In his agony Jesus turned to His and our Father and interceded for us saying, “‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Lk 23:34).
In the end I have to expel the Simon the Pharisee from my heart and soul and admit that I too am a sinner. I need Jesus’ forgiveness like all the rest of humanity. Having done this I then can react differently when I see a woman, a man, a druggie, an swindler, a cheat, or a “lowlife.” I can admit I too am just one of the crowd and then turn to Jesus and say, “Thank you for what you did for me!”
I’m so accustomed to seeing this life in the part of Detroit where I live I don’t even give it a second thought. For me it’s just the ‘flora and fauna’ of a once great city that has surely fallen on hard times. I just drive by, go to the hospital and minister to the sick that I meet that day and celebrate Mass with some of the medical staff and others who come to participate in our liturgy.
WWJD? My siblings will not come to the city to visit me. I have to drive out to the suburbs to visit them. They are afraid of the violence they hear about in the news and the ‘flora and fauna’ of the local area bothers them. They, as so many others, see the people I see and share the same space with every day as “less worthy.” These are people who they do not care about. To put it in kind terms – they are the duds, the losers, the worthless, those we don’t need to worry about. They made their bed so let them sleep in it. It’s not my problem. But, WWJD?
I have no doubt that most of us would find it difficult to pony up to a bar and share a beer with a gay guy from our local club. Sharing a coffee and donut with the methadone user is unthinkable and don’t those street girls know how to dress better? None of these people measure up to ‘social or spiritual standards of behavior’ that we have accepted. Perhaps we even put them in hell.
These reflections are based on the readings for Sunday, June 16, 2013.
2 Sm 12: 7-1`3
Lk 7: 36- 8:3