Reading 2 Romans 13:8-10
Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another as fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, naming, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.
Gospel Matthew 18:15-20
Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. It he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. It he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be bound in heaven.
Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
There am I in the midst of them.
Recently we have been talking about love. This morning I would like for us to reflect on the neighborhoods we live in.
A businessman was waking down the street and he came by a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk with a cup of coffee. He looked at him, and then he walked on down the street. But as he was walking he thought, “I just can’t ignore this man.” So he walked back to the homeless man and asked, “May I have a drink of coffee from your cup?”
The homeless man said, “Sure.” And he handed the businessman the cup of coffee. The businessman took a drink and said, “Thank you.” The businessman started to walk away, but something was still bothering him, so he returned once more to the homeless man and asked, “Can I give you anything? Can I give you five dollars? What could I give you?”
And the homeless man looked up at him and said, “What I really would like from you is a hug.”
Here’s a businessman all dressed up in a snazzy suit. Here is the homeless man with a beard and dirty clothes and all he has is a cup of coffee. The businessman said, “I can do that.” He helped the homeless man get up, and he gave him a hug.
The homeless man said, “Thank you. You’ve given me more than anyone else.” The businessman walked away and his life was changed — just by a simple hug.
There was a gentleman who, when he was a young boy about 8 or 9 years old, was overweight, was, as we might say today, a nerd, and definitely not the jock of the school. All the kids at school made fun of him and called him, “Fat Freddie,” over and over again.
He was hurt by all of that and didn’t want to go to school or have anything to do with the children in that school, or that grade. As the man grew up, one person reached out to him and gave him a hug. That hug, he said later, changed his whole life.
Fat Freddie grew up, and he became the person you and I know as Mr. Rogers of
“Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” that was on television for many years. He took all of that bullying, and he took all of that loneliness, and he compacted it into something in which he could speak to children and to the world. He taught millions of children by taking off his coat, hanging it up, and then touching their hearts. He’s now in the best neighborhood of all. I understand there is another neighborhood called “Daniel The Tiger” that appears on television, all the time, in another neighborhood.
Those stories remind us of who we are. It doesn’t make any difference who we hug. I could hug someone out of a gesture of love, and it could change his or her life and I am not aware of what that gesture of love did for that person. Or someone could give me a hug at a moment in my life when I need it, and change my whole life — and that person is not aware of what that gesture of love did for me.
It’s not about running around the world hugging everybody and then making fun of it. It is about allowing us to know that the love that Jesus offers us goes way deeper, and that we need that love in our life. If we don’t need that love, something’s wrong. It doesn’t make any difference as to the color of our skin, or what religion we practice, or what neighborhood we live in. What does make a difference is that Jesus is in every person. But if Jesus is being put under the bushel basket and Jesus’s life is not allowed to shine within us, then that may be the reason we simply cannot accept each other. Or we think there are people who are better than we are, or we think we are better than them.
Jesus reminds us, “Everyone of you came into this world naked,” and you better think about that for a moment. You didn’t come into this world with a bank account, you didn’t come into this world with a degree — you came into this world absolutely naked. All you can do is ask, “Is there anybody here that loves me? Is there anybody here that will give me a hug?” Some of those naked children are the homeless on the street. Some of those naked children are billionaires in the world.
Some of those naked children have walked in the footprints of Christ.
And some of the naked children do not know who Jesus is.
But Jesus says, “If you live in my neighborhood, you should feel the love and the hugs.”
So we are being asked this morning, “What are the neighborhoods that I live in?”
We come here to church, we worship together. We may not know everyone’s birthday, but we know that everyone here does have a birthday. You don’t know if the person next to you is hurting, or is the happiest person in the world this morning.
But everyone here needs that sign of peace, and they need that smile and they need to know they are in this good neighborhood, Jesus’s neighborhood — one of the richest in the world. The taxes we pay on this neighborhood is simply to follow Christ. And sometimes the taxes go up, and sometimes the taxes go down. It just depends whether or not we are loving each other, and affirming each other, and bringing the Gospel alive.
It’s happening every day. Most of the time we take it for granted. But the one thing that we always notice is that when someone doesn’t want to belong in this neighborhood it is usually that person that gets on the Internet or television, out there somewhere, where everybody can watch something that they would just like to erase. And probably everybody that is watching is saying, “Thank God I’m not that person,” or “Thank God people haven’t seen everything I’ve done and tossed it out there.”
And that makes us realize that this neighborhood we belong to, as God’s people, is very fragile, but very, very good.
There was a young man who was very frustrated because he could not find his niche in life. He knew he had to do something to survive. He knew the one thing he had was the artistic ability to paint portraits. So he would walk around the streets and he’d walk up to somebody and say, “Would you sit for me? I’d like to sketch your portrait.”
Most people would say, “Really! What for? Are you going to sell it?” They were very skeptical thinking, “Who wants my portrait?” But he kept going around and many said “no.” But some said “yes” and he got a collection of portraits. He took them to his studio and he started to prepare a large canvass. He didn’t care what they had on from here on down. All he wanted was their faces.
He took their faces as he saw them. Some smiled, some frowned, some were very sober looking, some were happy. When he got all finished he had 30 or 40 portraits on this large canvass. Then he got permission to put his canvass of faces into an art gallery. People would come in and look for that section of the gallery where this large canvass of faces was located. Then they would gaze, and they would look, until each person could find himself or herself in the collage of portraits. The most beautiful thing was that he captured the feeling of each person.
He didn’t have 50 people laughing, or 50 people sitting on a horse, he just took every single person and painted what emotions he saw expressed on their faces.
If someone asked you as your came out of church today, “Can I paint your portrait this week?” “Well,” you’d answer. “I better get a hair cut. I need to go to the beauty shop. I will need to buy a new dress. Oh, I’m going to have surgery. I just want to make sure you are going to get the best shot of me.”
Then the artist says, “I don’t need you. I just need someone who is so comfortable being themselves that they can just sit down and let me paint their portrait.”
So for us, we need to be that person God has created us to be — a person of love. An artist may not come up and want to sketch our portrait, but someone may come up and ask, “May I have a sip of coffee from your cup? May I have a hug? Do you have five minutes to listen to me? All I really want to know is, ‘Do you care if I am dead or alive?’ All I need from you is just the gift of yourself, and I will never forget your face.”
That’s what Jesus wants all of us to remember.
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Monsignor Michael Kuse is pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Quincy, Illinois.