6th Sunday of Easter (A)
Bearing Joy on Broken Legs
Bearing Joy on Broken Legs
Readings: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; Psalm 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21
Sisters and brothers, I think that by now at least some of us have seen the news report that has been making the rounds on the internet. It tells the story of how a little puppy–a terrier mix by the name of Mason–recently brought great joy to the hearts of his family. Mason lives in the town of North Smithfield, in Alabama. On the 27th of April, Mason had gone missing. A tornado had struck his home and carried him off. After searching in vain for days, his owners had given up hope of ever finding him alive. Then, a couple of weeks later, the family returned to their destroyed house, to see if there was anything they could salvage, only to find their faithful pet sitting on what was left of their front porch, waiting for them. Both of Mason’s front legs were broken. Yet the little guy had somehow managed to crawl through the rubble and get back home.
Carried off by a tornado. Suffering from the pain of two broken legs. And yet, he was still able to bring joy to the hearts of his family. From where did this little puppy find the strength and the courage to do what he did? What was the reason for his bravery? We can’t say for sure. Mason can’t tell us. He is, after all, only a dog.
But it’s not just puppies who can be bearers of joy even after having their legs broken. We Christians are called to do the same. Isn’t this what we find in our readings today? In the first reading, we’re told that Philip brought great joy to the people of Samaria when he proclaimed Christ to them. He healed the sick. He cured the crippled. He freed those who were possessed by unclean spirits. And notice too the circumstances that led Philip to do all these things. As you know, our reading today is taken from the Acts of the Apostles. It begins from verse 5 of chapter 8. Chapter 7 had ended with the brutal killing of Stephen, one of Philip’s companions. The religious authorities had stoned Stephen to death. And then, in the first four verses of chapter 8, we’re told that, after Stephen’s execution, there broke out a severe persecution of the church in Jerusalem. As a result of which, the Christians were scattered. So Philip’s ministry among the Samaritans was a direct result of the attacks on Christians that arose after Stephen was killed.
Swept away by a tornado of persecution. Suffering from the pain of a friend’s death by stoning. Yet Philip still managed to bring the joy of the Risen Christ to the people of Samaria. Clearly, the experience of Philip the Christian bears a striking resemblance to that of Mason the dog. Except for two important differences. For one thing, Mason brought joy to his own family–those who loved him, who fed and cared for him, those who were his friends. Philip, on the other hand, ministered to Samaritans–people who were traditionally treated by the Jews as enemies.
There is another difference. Mason is only a dog, unable to speak. But Philip is both a human being and a follower of Christ. And as such he is both able and duty-bound to give an account of his actions. As the second reading reminds us, this is what Christians are called to do. Just like Philip’s community, the Christians in the second reading are also undergoing persecution. And, in the midst of their trials, they are being asked to respond in a very specific way. Not only are they not to retaliate but, quite incredibly, they are asked to share the joy of their faith even with their enemies. Always be ready, they are told, to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.
But what exactly is the reason for a Christian’s hope? What is the source of our strength? We find the answer in the gospel. Here, as Jesus continues his farewell speech at the Last Supper, he tells his disciples what they should do after he is gone. Jesus tells them how they can continue to enjoy his presence even after he has been cruelly swept away from them by the hatred of his enemies. If you love me, Jesus tells them, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth.... (who) remains with you, and will be in you.
What we find here in our readings today, sisters and brothers, is an important reminder. As followers of Christ, when our legs are broken by the tornadoes of life, not only are we called to continue to bring joy to others, but we are also expected to be ready to somehow share with them the reason for our hope, to impart to them the source of our strength. And this is a most timely reminder for us, especially in these days when it is becoming ever more tempting to react very differently to the trials and tribulations of life. Instead of bringing joy to others on broken legs, there are those who would prefer to snatch security and happiness from out of the barrel of a smoking gun.
We all know, for example, what happened when recently the news broke about the killing of a notorious master terrorist. In some parts of this country, people were dancing in the streets. It is, of course, quite understandable why some might react in this way–especially those who might have lost loved ones at Ground Zero, when the Twin Towers fell, or in the War on Terror in Iraq or Afghanistan. And, especially on this Memorial Day weekend, it is only appropriate that we remember the bravery of the many veterans, who have exposed themselves to danger and made the ultimate sacrifice, so that we might be kept safe. Indeed, we can hardly deny the importance of taking steps to defend ourselves and our families against external threats.
And yet, especially on this Memorial Day weekend, perhaps it is also important for us to keep another memory alive. Perhaps it is important to remember the examples of Mason the dog and of Philip the Christian. Perhaps it is important to recall that there are other possible responses to the storms of life. That, as Christians, baptized in water and the Holy Spirit, we have access to a power that allows us to bring joy to others even on broken legs.
Sisters and brothers, what is our reaction to the tornadoes of life today?