Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
Most of you are probably aware of the tragic events that took place in a department store in Long Island, New York on Friday. In case you hadn’t, on the day after Thanksgiving, a day that is almost synonymous with shopping in this country, a scenario of pandemonium erupted as approximately 2000 people waited to enter one of those discount mega-shopping stores. The crowd eventually ran out of patience for the employees to open the doors so they decided to break them down instead. When an employee tried to control them, they simply pushed him down and, literally, walked all over him. The mob of people that stepped on him eventually killed him. Now, I’m sure that there were more terrible things that happened that day in the world. All we have to do is look at Mumbai, India and the terrorist activities that happened there to see one example. To be honest, there was probably even more tragic things that happened in New York that day. What is it about this particular news item that merited the full coverage of every nation-wide news network in this country?
I have a feeling that, at part, it has to do with the sympathy effect. In other words, we can all pretty much sympathize with this poor employee getting trampled. So many of us shop on that day that store accountants hope it will make their books go from being in debt, or being in the red, to being profitable, or black. That’s why they call it Black Friday. And, I imagine that another reason why this is such a universally covered story is because it’s similar but not quite the same as you experienced. I imagine that, if you were one of the people who woke up at 5:00 in the morning to stand in line, you experienced some rude, pushy people that had to get that bargain. But, hopefully, no one was so rude and no mob so unruly that anyone got hurt. That’s the way most people deal with having to wait. We might not like it, but, still, we keep our passions in check as we grit out teeth and wait. That’s what keeps us waiting at that light at the corner of Lincoln Way and Ash, even though no one is coming and it seems to take forever to change. That’s what keeps us from pushing everyone out of the way when we’re standing in the back of a long line at a movie theater five minutes before the movie starts. For some things, we can be patient. The trouble comes when our patience runs out and we feel pressed to do something.
That’s the way Isaiah the prophet is feeling today. In our first reading, the prophet expresses frustration at the seeming absence of God. “Return of the sake of your servant! Cut open the heavens and come down. Do mighty things that our ancestors didn’t see you do. There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt.” The prophet feels frustrated and doesn’t know how to feel close to God again. You can almost hear the stages of grief as he goes through this…or at least the first four of them. One has to wonder what would cause a prophet to despair, a man whose job was to tell the people that they have gone too far from God and need to turn from their sin and return to God’s love. Has the pressure just become too much for him? Have the people forgotten God completely, so much so that they have forfeited salvation? The message of the prophet is clear, “RETURN! Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage.” Come back God, We miss you and the longer you are gone, the less your people miss you. Come back before they don’t care anymore.
The answer to this comes in the gospel, a gospel that is translated on bumper stickers as, “God is coming! Look busy!” But, it’s much more profound than that. This gospel shouldn’t be a fear-based message as some preachers have made it. It should be an incredibly hopeful message about patience in waiting. In some ways, Jesus is explaining what this world is all about, waiting for something better. Waiting for a place in which suffering, pain and death have been destroyed. Waiting for a leader that will put the folks who are in charge now to shame. Waiting for the fulfillment of the grace we receive by being part of the church; in her sacraments and the other spiritual gifts that St. Paul talked about in the second reading.
Today, we begin this season of waiting, a season that tests our patience and forces us to sit still. As I said before, we know we can do it. That’s not the issue. The question is: “Are we willing”. Are we patient enough to wait to watch our favorite show because mom or dad wants to talk to us? Are we patient enough to sit down and give ourselves some quiet time to reflect on the person we are becoming? Are we patient enough to wait in line to experience the sacrament of reconciliation and learn again about God’s forgiveness? We know we can do it. The question is: Will we do it? Or are we not patient enough?