I told you from time to time I like to invite a guest speaker to come and spend some time with us. I happened to have met someone who I thought might interest us all and so invited him to speak to us today.
My name is JOSEPH, but most people just call me Joe.
I am twelve years old and my family lives right outside the town of Tab-gha — which is on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee.
It’s just a small place — even now – and certainly would have been long forgotten had it not been for something that happened there – but I am getting ahead of myself.
I go to the local school at our synagogue, but like many of you listening today – IT’S SUMMER – so I am as free as a bird. Well, almost.
While my older brother, Saul, helps my dad, a stonemason, while we are off from school – I help my mom – mostly by running errands for her —- like today – when she sent me into town to buy a few things for dinner: five barley loaves and two fish. . .
as you can guess from that menu – we aren’t the wealthiest people in the world, hence the barley loaves rather than wheat. . .
As I was making my way home today, I saw a crowd gathered on the hillside – and just like my cat, Phoebe, curiosity got the best of me.
The crowd was listening to a man talking … And as I began to listen to him – it hit me – this must be that man Jesus, from Nazareth – that everyone’s been talking about.
He was certainly captivating to listen to… And the longer I listened – the later it got – and the hungrier the crowd became.
At one point – this Jesus asked one of his followers to feed the crowd – and what a response that drew: “two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough” . . . Wow, was the crowd that big – or had he just become that cynical??
I had my five loaves and two fish – or I should say, I had OUR five loaves and two fish – since they were for my family. Should I or shouldn’t I —offer them to the man? I mean – obviously they weren’t going to be enough – but the rabbi at our synagogue always said that miracles only happen in times of scarcity and need – for where there is abundance, there’s no need for miracles. . .
And mom and dad always taught me to be generous – because after all, everything I have – is a gift from God — and so almost without thinking — I said, “Here – take these!”
The man Jesus took them and did something very important first – he gave thanks to God —
and then by golly, he fed that whole crowd – and there was even left overs – 12 baskets full – and Jesus gave one of them to me to take home – won’t mom and dad be surprised! Enough food for us to last a whole week!
I could not understand why the adults with Jesus were reluctant to do something. . . maybe they had lost their sense of awe and wonder – their sense of trying the impossible, their ability to dream —- like the adults in my family have done.
Like the day I was going to dig a hole to the middle of the earth – and dad said – can’t be done – well that just made me try even harder!
I mean, sure I found out it couldn’t be done – but what an adventure I had trying!
Or the time I was going to give Phoebe a bath – and mom said – it can’t be done – cats don’t like water — and of course it couldn’t be done —
but what fun I had trying – even if I did have a few scratches afterwards!
Don’t tell me it’s just a wooden crate – for me it can become Elijah’s chariot! A pile of dirt? For me it’s Mount Sinai and I am Moses. . .
I know I’m just a 12 year old kid and nobody wants to listen to me —- but how do you have faith if you lose your sense of awe and wonder or your ability to dream?
What happens when rainbows and sunsets and rain and the purr of a cat — become so ordinary – that we don’t even pay attention to them???
And isn’t having faith all about believing the impossible can become possible?
Like how God led our ancestor through the Red Sea without any of them getting their feet wet. . . Impossible? You would think – but God can find a way when there is no way – because all things are possible with God!
Or how God fed our ancestors in the desert with mana and quails. Impossible? You would think – but with God all things are possible!
And feeding five thousand people on a hillside in Tab-gha? Impossible? You would think –
but with a freely offered gift of five loaves and two fish – God did it— because with God all things are possible!
Ironically my name Joseph – means “increase” in Hebrew – and that’s what happened that day – there was an increase in the gifts I gave away. . . and maybe that’s the ultimate lesson for you: if you want a miracle in your life – give something away to make room for one.
Impossible? Better become a kid again and rediscover, or discover for the first time, a sense of awe and wonder in your life and your ability to dream.
– Recapture, or develop for the first time –
your sense of the impossible becoming possible — because all things are possible with God. . . that’s what faith is all about. . .
Maybe that’s what this Jesus means when he says, “Unless you become like little children, you will not inherit the kingdom of God. . .”
Smart man, this Jesus!
So, gotta go. Mom needs me to run some soup over to Miss Ruth, our neighbor who is a bit under the weather. Mom never tires of trying to teach me to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. Seems like Jesus says something about that too. . . So take the advice of a 12 year old kid – you would be wise to listen to Jesus. . .
So, back to reality – and back to a Matthew moment — after teaching a year here at St. Pat’s – I knew I could be happy just teaching for the rest of my life – and yet, something was missing.
So I met with Bishop Boland and we decided that perhaps a parish assignment would help me to do some additional discernment – so I went to St. Mark’s in Independence as an associate pastor where Fr. Jim Healy was the pastor.
It was only years later that I found out Bishop Boland thought this would be a good assignment for me – because if I could survive Jim Healy – I could survive anything!
Bishop Boland took a liking to me because within a year he asked me to also take care of coordinating the continuing education of priests for the diocese – a position Fr. Justin Hoye currently has. I must have been good at it—- because I did it for 11 years for Bishop Boland.
He also gave me my first pastorate – which was St. Patrick’s in St. Joseph and St. Joseph parish in Easton.
I learned a lot from Fr. Healy and learned a lot in those 8 years I spent in St. Joe – and then Bishop Boland asked me to go to Holy Family – an assignment I absolutely loved for 9 years. . .
And then there arose a Bishop who did not have a liking for Matthew. . . Within a year of Bishop Finn’s arrival, I resigned my position of continuing education director – since I found out I just could not have a healthy working relationship with him.
And this was about the time Bishop Finn decided to send me to St. George parish in Odessa and St. Jude parish in Oak Grove. And even though they were much smaller parishes, I kind of liked the slower pace – and actually did not realize how physically tired I was after the 9 years at Holy Family, until I had a chance to slow down. “Come away to a deserted place and rest for a while” I was truly living those words of Jesus from last week.
So while I think that assignment was supposed to be a punishment of sorts — I thoroughly enjoyed it — and again – learned a lot.
And just about the time I was getting super comfortable, and perhaps a bit too content – Bishop Johnston asked me to come to St. Patrick’s. And I was thrilled to accept the invitation.
So I will see you next week! And in the meantime — take the advice of the 12 year old kid, Joe —- work on your sense of awe and wonder, your ability to dream this week.