Besmeared

Originally published by Ministry & Liturgy Magazine, August 2010
– PDF version –

I cringe when I notice the dirt on the door windows leading into the chapel. Our janitor cleans these windows daily and staff members occasionally wipe them spotless during business hours. However, by Sunday morning, handprints, coffee, food, body grease and makeup keep the windows smeared and dull. I often think that these greasy windows reflect on the staff and our ability to keep our chapel clean and appropriate for people to pray.

As I reflect on the Gospel passages beginning on the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time until the 29th Sunday in Ordinary time (September 19-October 17), I see through my own ego. I also see through the smears on the windows and some aspects of faith much more clearly. I see the reasons why the greasy, ugly prints show up in the first place. The grunge on the windows speak loudly about our ministry among those who sleep at our doors, the dozens and dozens of people who come to us needing our attention and the basics of life.

Luke’s Gospel reminds me that to be concerned with my own ego is to serve two masters. When the besmeared windows cast a light on our staff, we serve ourselves rather than the people we are called to befriend in the first place. We must not fritter away our property and not squander our accountability of our stewardship. However, the real property and the authentic stewardship are the people who struggle for clothing, food and a warm place to rest on weekday mornings. To see these people clearly is to become trustworthy in small things. Jesus reminds us that we will become children of light when we see through the opaque nature of our mistrust. When I see through my own foibles, insecurities, failures and moments of self-protection, I serve God and not mammon. I see then more clearly even through the dirty windows to the people who are looking back at me.

Another passage in Luke’s Gospel challenges me to see Lazarus at my door. Jesus’ story is also reflecting back to the fact of my physical safety, emotional comfort and abundant resources. Jesus tells the story of the rich man encountering the poor man at his own door. This story retells itself every day at our urban chapel. Not only Lazarus, but Ethel, Joe, Irene, Bill, Big-Feather, Isaac and Beshawn come waiting at our red steel doors. Some of these people sleep at our doors, leave food, press their greasy foreheads to the windows to peer inside and even urinate on our doors. Pet dogs provide companionship to many homeless people but they also leave their waste near the entrance to the chapel.

The parish doors remain dirty all day because of our hospitality, our welcome to the Lord’s Table. My preoccupation with having clean windows remains a deterrent to my place in the bosom of Abraham. The place in the next world is already being prepared for the staff and the people who wait at our doors. This relationship of those on the inside and those on the outside remains important to the salvation of everyone. This Gospel story reminds me again to listen to the one who has already risen from the dead, the one who will provide a place of welcome for everyone in the next world, Christ Jesus.

The apostles want to know for sure how to increase their faith. They think it will be all up to them to finish the race. Instead, Jesus tells them to put on an apron and get to work. There are more people at the door, more food to prepare, more hospitality to provide, more kindness to offer, more clothing to give away. He asks us to be servants of his Word and stewards again of his real property, the people at the door. The call to serve will always be our obligation, our way into the door of heaven.

Jesus also touches lepers and heals them. He breaks down limits, boundaries and borders to get to people in need. Jesus shows us that getting dirty, touching sores and seeking after the afflicted will provide for us a new way of life. He calls us in the meantime to be grateful. Jesus warns us to be careful whom we consider a leper. It might just be people who remain ego centered, caught in the trappings of cultural expectations, preoccupation with appearance, and people who cannot recognize the value of people.

I peer through the besmeared windows of our doors and see the dignity of dirt, the purpose of our community and the need for my own growth. As I invite people into our chapel, I see the light. In the chapel sanctuary itself there are no windows. I cherish the bright light of my relationship with real people.


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