Preachers are fond of challenging their congregations with the question of what they would do if Jesus walked into their Sunday gathering disguised as a homeless person. An Episcopal priest in a small town in Wisconsin inadvertently became a living parable along just those lines.
Father William Myrick intended to dress as the beggar Lazarus for the feast of All Saints. The result was what he appeared to be a homeless man asking for money from his own parishioners as they arrived for church services that Sunday.
According to an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, most ignored or even avoided him. They were shocked and, one hopes, chagrined, when he joined the entrance procession and sat in the priest’s chair at the altar, removing the fake hair that had effectively changed his appearance.
Later, one of his parishioners said, “Your attitude about another human being was thrown in your face. It certainly created an awareness…. It’s enlightening to know yourself, how you really react to those situations
The priest himself said, “I know when I was on the steps out there, I was getting angry seeing my friends pass me by. I realized it wouldn’t take much and I could get in that same situation, and I couldn’t count on those people anymore
In today’s Gospel, Jesus has been speaking to the people in the synagogue in his hometown of
Nazareth. While they are initially awed by his proclamation of the word, they quickly begin to resent what they see as a local boy getting too important for his good—or their comfort. They think they know all there is to know about him. How could he possibly be the fulfillment of the words of one of their greatest prophets
We’re quick to judge other people: by appearance, by background, by familiarity, by behavior. Too often we dismiss them because they don’t meet some actual or imagined standard. Or we ignore them because we tire of hearing their litany of complaints. The danger in this is that we can very easily miss the face and the voice of God speaking through unlikely prophets
Many of us will never be called to a public, prophetic ministry like that of Jeremiah or Paul or Jesus. We’ll most likely live out our Christianity as part of the gathered congregation of the faithful. The challenge for us is not so much to proclaim the word, but to recognize it when we hear it.
We learn to do this partly by knowing the word as it comes to us through the Scriptures. But we also learn by keeping ourselves open to other people from all walks of life. As difficult as it might be to learn to accept those who are strangers to us, it can be even more difficult to see our families, friends and coworkers with a deep respect. The people we think we know are often the hardest to take seriously—an elderly parent, a confused teenager, an ambitious and upwardly mobile young adult. We need to remember that all of us, like Jeremiah, are formed and called by God in the womb, and that at any time God can speak through anyone. How will you respond?