September 30: Surprise & Delight (26 B)

“Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.” Mark 9:38-43.

Jesus, the great teacher, instructs his disciples in the ways of following his gentle manner, his healing message, and the very promise of reward in the “kingdom of the heart.”

So for those who wish to follow Christ, there is good news and bad news.

Our words and mostly our actions in his name must match his intent, namely to love one another carrying with it – service and healing to neighbors in need.

In Mark’s gospel selection today, we see the most positive way in which Jesus says that a cup of water in his name will be rewarded.

Followed by this shocking warning: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

Very recently I performed the wedding of friends of mine. At the rehearsal reception, I sat next to one of the groomsmen, Dan, who works for Apple Computer and deals with the marketing of Apple products.

And just a few weeks ago, I completed an essay about Steve Jobs and Apple, so Dan and I had plenty in common. Most notably, the two of us talked about how the press and the film accounts of Jobs’ life with his development of the personal computer, the smartphone among many other technologies made him into a cult figure.

Among the devices that Jobs used were the large-scale meetings for the Apple sales force — almost revival meetings to announce new products. This practice has continued with Tim Cook, his successor, and a few weeks ago, Cook launched a new line of smartphones.

And here’s where Dan’s comments were so interesting to me. He said that with each new launch of a product, Apple hopes to bring both “surprise and delight” to its customers. Products must glow to ignite sales.

On the other hand, he notes that when reviewers and customers discover a glitch or flaw in the product or the programming, the “surprise and delight” can turn immediately into “shock and disappointment.”

Not a good thing for a company like Apple. Or think of the way United Airlines had to deal with its customers when a medical doctor was forcibly removed from an airplane seat — at the same time a passenger recorded the incident on video. The friendly skies were not so friendly! Instead, it was a shocking and disappointing episode requiring immediate attention from United Airlines. Back to the gospel!

So we live in a time when Jesus inspires us with his power to influence our lives for the better. But sadly, we have to admit that we also live at a time when revelations about sex abuse in our Church and the past behavior in our society toward women and even young women of high school age can haunt our past.

Here’s when surprise, delight, and innocence can turn to shock, disappointment, and personal stories of pain and suffering.

Again, we listen to Jesus’s words: “It would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” This challenging statement followed by equally challenging commands.

In our readings, we hear both Moses in the Book of Numbers, and Jesus points to the potential healing powers of the spirit and how even in almost impossible situations, new individuals — the outsiders Eldad and Medad – bring a degree of healing, restitution, and possible reconciliation.

In the Christian context, we come to October when on Thursday, we celebrate Francis of Assisi, who was such a figure in the 13th Century. Francis was the outsider who challenged the Church.

His style of life was faithful to the simple gospel message of love, both surprises, and delights.

Take a careful look at the artist Giotto and his depiction of Francis holding up the Church while Pope Innocent III was a sound asleep.

There is a resounding political and religious significance to this 13th Century fresco. It reminds us to remain vigilant in the pursuit of the real aims of the religious and spiritual life.

So much so Francis’s legacy is based on how we treat one another, all creatures great and small as well as our physical or natural environment makes a difference and helps model the gospel message to all humanity.

This month of October, we celebrate women and men who were outsiders to the power structures of Church and state.

Tomorrow is the feast day of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, and on October 15, the Church celebrates St. Teresa of Avila – women whose lives both surprise and delight!

“Our Lord does not so much look at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them.” —- St. Therese of the Child Jesus

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA






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