“Jesus said to them: ’A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and his kin and his own house.’ So, he could not perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.” Mark 6:1-6.
After his journey of teaching and healing with the amazement of his followers, in Chapter 6 of Mark’s gospel, Jesus returns home, where he meets rejection. It’s a pivotal moment.
So, “No good deed goes unpunished,” here, this sardonic comment applies to the reaction to Jesus’s kindness and apparent success.
Such a sentiment finds its way into the lives of the prophet Ezekiel, the disillusionment of Job, and into the very fabric of martyrs awaiting death, like Paul.
We read Saint Paul is content with “his weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” If there is a more potent sentiment in all the gospels, I don’t know one.
On July 4, the similar line could be that of Patrick Henry when in March of 1775, in a speech to the Second Virginia Convention, he shouted: “Give me liberty or give me death!” As you may suspect, to blend today’s readings with the July 4th holiday is a stretch, but here’s a possible opening.
The idea and the story come from Jesuit Father Greg Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles.
Here’s his quote: “Each of us attempts to find that mystical dignity within ourselves. Often, we search for it outside of ourselves. Instead, it’s inside ourselves, after all.”
What Father Boyle is getting at – is the very thing that Jesus’s neighbors missed in their hometown boy – that mystical dignity that Jesus confers on us – to teach and to heal us. Let me explain.
Two years ago, I was in Anaheim, but I did not go to Disneyland. Instead, I attended the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress that yearly gathers thousands of Catholics and Christians at the Anaheim Convention Center to hear and learn from some of our most inspiring teachers, speakers, and thinkers.
One of whom, Jesuit Father Greg Boyle, is a truly remarkable and gifted figure whose ministry in Los Angeles is a true blessing. Father Greg conveyed a vital life lesson about those changes in our lives worth the struggle and within our grasp.
He tells the story of Herbie, one of the reforming gang members of Homeboy Industries, the non-profit group in East LA and now the most extensive gang reentry program in the United States. Their work of job training, counseling, and even tattoo removal touch the lives of so many young men and boys.
One day, in July of 2014, Father Boyle received a telephone call from the White House. The presidential scheduler told him that President Barak Obama would be in Los Angeles and stay overnight. The White House request was simple; the President wanted to meet four of the Homeboy residents/workers, those young people who had been gang members and, in some cases, had lived on the streets.
Among those that Father Greg selected was an African-American teenager, Herbie, who was working in the Homeboy offices.
Before this encounter with the President of the United States, however, Herbie needed a transformation. He needed a suit, tie and shirt, new shoes, and mostly a haircut.
According to Father Boyle, Herbie’s Afro needed a trim. Perhaps his bad hair day was an outward sign of an inner condition that Herbie knew well. At least, that’s what Father Greg may have figured.
So, he asked his secretary to get Herbie suited up, and they purchased his new clothing at Sears, but the hair became Herbie’s dividing line. This teen did not want to get a hairstyle or beard altered and insisted no barbershop! This became Herbie’s signature demand with or without meeting Barak Obama.
In the excitement of meeting the President, somehow the hair issue got lost. They arrived on time at the hotel suite; this was not a press event and not listed on the President’s calendar.
Of course, several days later, the news got out, and a brief account appeared in the Los Angeles Times. The President talked about how he had been raised by a single mother who gave birth to him when she was eighteen and how he had gotten into trouble as a youth but was good at not getting caught.
Father Greg says this brief encounter with the President was more than a “pep talk,” instead, the President told them how he admired them and encouraged them to “keep it going!”
For these young men, there was an immediate connection, almost a sense of belonging; afterward, one of the boys said: “He’s one of us!”
In taking photographs with each young man, President Obama smiled at Herbie and said that he (Obama) had always wanted to grow out his hair like Herbie’s. After all that fuss, what an irony! With a glint in his eye, the President asked Herbie what he was doing?
Herbie replied: “Well, I work in the office for Father Boyle, but mostly I’m working on myself.”
Father Boyle reports the President had tears in his eyes when he said: “Herbie, that’s commendable!”
Barak Obama got the point. All of these transformations are more than buying a new suit coat, dressing up, or getting a haircut. They are the result of the overwhelming struggle to turn around our lives. Turning one’s life around from drugs, alcohol, crime, racial insensitivity, or gang violence – is no easy task!
More importantly, such a transition requires going to the mountain top or the spiritual core of our being — and listening and knowing deeply how beloved each of us – is in the eyes of God.
Of course, this personal observation by Father Boyle was not reported in the media accounts. Father Boyle concluded his Anaheim talk with this:
“Each of us attempts to find that mystical dignity within ourselves. Often, we search for it outside of ourselves. Instead, it’s inside ourselves, after all.” Recall Herbie’s words: “I’m working on myself!”
As a citizen and as a nation, let’s make this July 4 an occasion to make those inner transformations that might adjust our attitudes and behaviors for the better of everyone in our country. Let us live more in line with the very struggle that is Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem and his life and death on the cross.
Let’s end and consider these words from Saint Paul: “Beloved: Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”
Saint Angela Merici Catholic Church, Pacific Grove, CA.