Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time C
I recently heard a great story—a true story—on the radio, told by a young man from New Mexico. He was traveling in rural India, in a tribal area in the northeast of the country—a region of mountains, jungles, and wild animals. He found the local people fascinating and exotic, and eventually realized they must find him a bit exotic, too, since very few Westerners ever visited.
The young man had been traveling for an extended period of time—more than a year. He had lost some weight. While normally dark complected, his skin was even darker than usual from all the time he’d spent in the sun. And he’d given up on shaving or cutting his hair, growing a bushy beard and hair down to his shoulders.
While hitchhiking one day, his driver told him about an incredible place: the most religious, most pious village in the region, which he simply had to see. (The area had once been frequented by Christian missionaries.) So, after having been dropped off, the young man headed right for the main square of this town. Normally, the first ones to see him walking into a village were the children and the pets—and, on seeing a stranger, they would scamper off and hide. In this village, some children were out playing in the square, as usual, but when they looked up and saw him, they instead fell to their knees and held hands. One of the little boys pulled out a small picture; he’d look at the picture, then at the young man—back and forth again and again. When the young man got close enough, he could see that it was a picture of Jesus.
“They think I’m Jesus Christ!” he realized.
So the young man decided to have a little fun. He crossed his ankles, held his arms straight out from his sides, and hung his head. It had the desired effect: the children gasped. But the next thing he knew, the young man was writhing in pain on the ground. As he gathered his wits about him, he realized that one of the little boys had gotten up off his knees, formed a fist, and punched him as hard as he could in—let's just say—a place that would really, really hurt. As the young man began to get up, a woman from the village came running toward him. “My son,” she said in her broken English. “My son angry. My son loved his grandmother. When she died, we told him Jesus took her away….”
The moral of the story, said the young man: “If you’re going to impersonate Jesus, then you better be willing to pay the price.” (WeekendEdition Saturday, NPR, 7/2/16)
As St. Paul concludes his letter to the Galatians, he writes: “I bear the marks of Jesus on my body” (Gal 6:17). For Paul, faith in Jesus was much more than an idea in his head or a feeling in his heart; it was something he experienced in a physical way, leaving its mark on his body. For Paul, those marks came from beatings and stonings, from being shackled and nearly drowned, from being left for dead. It was no figure of speech when he wrote, “I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.” Following Jesus was written into his flesh for all to see.
What does it look like today to bear the marks of Jesus on our bodies? It looks like the dirt lodged deep under a man’s fingernails because, instead of going golfing, he gave up a Saturday afternoon to do yard work for an elderly neighbor. It looks like the dark circles around a young mother’s eyes as her three little kids climb onto to and off of her lap—she and her husband recognizing that children are not a burden, but a blessing. It looks like the priest in a tattered clerical shirt, who realized a parishioner needed new clothes more than he did. It looks like the woman who, despite the pain, always leaves chemotherapy smiling because any day lived with and in and for Jesus is the very best day of her life.
It’s good for us to reflect, “How might I bear the marks of Jesus on my body?” But let’s do so, not in some hypothetical way, but specifically and concretely—and not about something we might eventually get to, but something that we can do today, tomorrow, or this week. Just remember: if you’re going to imitate Jesus, then you’d better be willing to pay the price.