6th Sunday of the Year Sirach 15:15–20; 1 Corinthians 2:6–10; Matthew 5:17–37
Lutz and Jesse The Christian is called to live an ordinary life in an extraordinary way, just as Jesus did.
Everyone has heard of Jesse Owens. He won four gold medals in the Berlin Olympics in 1936. But who has heard of Lutz Long?
Lutz Long was one of Germany’s top athletes in the 1936 games. He was one of Adolf Hitler’s favorites. In the long-jump trials, Lutz broke the Olympic record. Only one man could possibly beat him Jesse Owens.
Just before Jesse’s turn came to qualify, Hitler left his box and walked out. It was viewed as a snub of the black athlete, who didn’t fit Hitler’s Aryan supremacy theory. Jesse recalls how the incident made him feel:
[It made me] mad, hate-mad. I fouled my first try. On my second, I didn’t jump far enough to qualify. With just one try left, panic hit me.
Then Jesse felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked around to see Lutz Long. Lutz suggested Jesse draw a line a few inches short of the takeoff board and jump from there. It worked; Jesse qualified by a foot.
That moment marked the beginning of a brief but close friendship between Jesse and Lutz. The next couple of nights they sat up together talking late into the night. They talked about the world situation and their own young lives.
In the days ahead Jesse won three gold medals—the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes and the relay with Lutz cheering him at each event.
Then came the long-jump finals. It pitted Jesse against Lutz.
Jesse won. He recalls what happened next:
While Hitler glared, [Lutz] held up my hand and shouted to the gigantic crowd, “Jes-se Ow-ens! Jes-se Ow-ens!” The stadium picked it up. “Cha-zee Oh-wenz! Cha-zee Oh-wenz!” My hair stood on end.
Ordinary athletes don’t help their opponents. But Lutz Long was no ordinary athlete. He did for Jesse what he would have liked Jesse to do for him.
Ordinary athletes don’t celebrate their opponent’s victory. But Lutz Long was no ordinary athlete. He rejoiced in Jesse’s achievements.
Ordinary athletes are usually forgotten a few years after their career ends. Lutz Long was no ordinary athlete. He is remembered half a century later. And every four years, at Olympic time, the film clip of Lutz chanting Jes-se Ow-ens is shown worldwide on television.
All this speaks to us about the passage we just read from Matthew’s Gospel.
Matthew’s Gospel was written primarily for Jewish converts to Christianity. These converts were especially concerned with how the teaching of Jesus fitted in with the teaching of Moses and the prophets. Jesus addresses that question in today’s gospel.
First, Jesus sets down the general principle that he did not come to abolish the teaching of Moses and the prophets. Rather, he came to complete it.
In other words, the teaching of Jesus doesn’t destroy the teaching of Moses and the prophets any more than adulthood destroys childhood. Rather, the one completes the other.
Having stated this general principle, Jesus goes on to give some specific examples. Consider just one. Moses taught that it was wrong to commit adultery. Jesus now says it is even wrong to entertain thoughts of adultery.
Jesus’ teaching recognizes a simple human fact: Thoughts of adultery are the “seeds” from which “plants” of adultery grow. Stop the one and you stop the other, too.
There’s a delightful scene in James Matthew Barrie’s famous play, Peter Pan. Peter is in the children’s bedroom. They’re all jumping up and down with excitement. Peter has just flown across the room, and now the children want to fly, too.
They try to fly from the floor. They try to fly from the bed. But they can’t do it.
How did you do it? John asks Peter. Peter answers, It’s easy, John. Just think wonderful, beautiful thoughts. They will lift you off the ground and send you soaring into the air.
It’s the same way with the Christian life. The way to live a Christian life is to think wonderful, beautiful thoughts. They will lift you off the ground and send you soaring to heaven.
This brings us back to the story of Lutz Long and Jesse Owens. Lutz Long responded to Jesse Owens as he did because he was different from the other athletes of his time. He was not an ordinary athlete.
Jesus is telling his followers that they must be that way, too. He has called them to be different. He has called them to be more than ordinary people. He has called them to be like himself.
The morality that Jesus taught his followers can never entertain the question, How far can I go before I sin?
It can only entertain the question, How much more can I do because I love?
The key to living out the lofty morality that Jesus taught his followers is to do what Peter Pan did: to think wonderful, beautiful thoughts. Only by doing this can we soar aloft to heaven as Peter did. Only by doing this can we live as Jesus himself lived. Only by doing this can we live the kind of life that the world considers impossible to live.
And so the message of today’s gospel may be stated this way: Jesus has called his followers to live their ordinary lives in an extraordinary way, just as he himself did.
Let’s close with the Prayer of Saint Francis, which typifies the spirit of Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive; is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Series II 6th Sunday of the Year Sirach 15:15–20; 1 Corinthians 2:6–10; Matthew 5:17–37
Highway to heaven If we took the energy we use on anger and used it on kindness, we could bring joy to our lives and the lives of others. The late actor Michael Landon was driving home one Friday afternoon on a Los Angeles freeway. It was hot, and the traffic was horrendous. Horns were blaring, tempers were flaring, and people were hurling insults at one another from open car windows.
Landon asked himself why there is so much anger everywhere. Why do people hate one another so much? Why is so much energy wasted on rage? What would happen if we’d expend that energy on kindness rather than on rage?
His mind went back to his own childhood and the anger that often raged between his Catholic mother and his Jewish father.
Suddenly a thought flashed across his mind. Why couldn’t there be a television series dedicated to the idea that kindness, not anger, is the real answer to life’s problems? And at that moment, he conceived the idea for the television show “Highway to Heaven.”
The point of each episode of “Highway to Heaven” is the same point Jesus makes in his Sermon on the Mount, from which today’s gospel is taken. Jesus urged the people to show kindness to one another, even to the point of “turning the other cheek” when someone treated them unkindly.
Warning those who treated others with anger, Jesus says in today’s gospel:
“You have heard that people were told in the past, ‘Do not commit murder; anyone who does will be brought to trial.’ But now I tell you: if you are angry with your brother you will be brought to trial.” Jesus himself lived this message, showing kindness to sinners, showing compassion to the sick, showing mercy to his enemies.
Kindness blesses the person to whom we are kind, but it also blesses us. Michael Landon makes this point in the same article in which he tells how he got the idea for “Highway to Heaven.”*
He describes an episode that happened when he was 19 years old. He had just been paid $260 for his first acting job in a TV show called “John Nesbitt’s Passing Parade.” He writes:
I felt so rich and famous that I decided to go to Beverly Hills, where I almost never went, and look at the fancy store windows.
At a toy store he saw a couple of little boys with their noses pressed against a window, looking at the toys inside.
Landon asked the boys which of the toys they liked best. One boy pointed excitedly to a wagon; the other pointed to a model airplane.
Landon then took the boys inside the store and bought the toys for them. The kids went out of their minds with joy.
But what surprised the 19-year-old Landon most was the thrill that he got from his act of kindness. He says:
[It was] deeper and more satisfying than anything I had experienced before. And more lasting. As you can see, here I am telling you about it 30 years later. ______ * Michael Landon, “A Bit of Heaven on Earth,” Guideposts (December 1986), pp. 2–5. This brings us to an even more important point about kindness. It not only brings happiness to those involved, but can even work miracles in their lives.
One of the shows in the “Highway to Heaven” series dealt with child cancer victims. Landon and his staff got the idea to have real-life victims play the parts.
One victim was a boy named Josh Wood. His case was especially tragic because he had already lost a leg to cancer.
But what bothered little Josh even more was the fact that he had a speech defect that caused him to stammer badly. People avoided talking to him. And the more they avoided talking to him, the more he stammered.
Landon surprised everybody by asking Josh to audition for one of the parts, saying to the boy:
The important thing about acting is to be a good actor. [If you stammer, that’s okay.] You’re just a good actor who stammers.
To everyone’s amazement, when the boy read for the part, his stammer disappeared completely.
Years later Josh’s cancer is in remission, and his stammer has never come back.
Josh Wood is an example of the tremendous power that kindness has. He is an example of the tremendous power that is contained in a little assurance, a little affirmation. He is an example of how kindness can work miracles.
Today’s readings invite us to take a look at our own lives and to ask ourselves how much kindness is present in them.
They invite us to take a look at our own lives and our love and to ask ourselves how they compare to the life and the love Jesus describes in his Sermon on the Mount.
They invite us to take a look at our own lives and to ask ourselves what would happen if we took the energy we now expend on anger and expended it on kindness.
How would our lives and the lives of those around us change and become happier?
What miracle might even result if we took seriously Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount?
In the final analysis, kindness is a power greater than nuclear power itself. And it’s not the resource of just a single nation or a single person. It’s a resource that is at the disposal of every person in every nation, no matter how insignificant or how poor.
And what is more, our supply of kindness is not limited. It is unlimited. The more we give of it, the more there is to give.
Let’s close with a prayer:
Lord! Help us realize the power of kindness.
Help us use this power the way you intended us to use it when you created us.
Help us use it to bring happiness to those around us.
Help us use it to work miracles, healing people in our time, just as you healed them through kindness in your time. M.L.
Series III 6th Sunday of the Year Sirach 15:15–20; 1 Corinthians 2:6–10; Matthew 5:17–37
Teaching by example People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do. Lewis Cass
Unless your holiness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees you shall not enter the kingdom of God. Matthew 5:20
Not many people remember the name Juan Romero. But millions of people remember his photograph, which has appeared in thousands of magazines, TV clips, and newspapers the world over.
Juan Romero was the 17-year-old busboy in the white coat kneeling on the floor cushioning the head of Robert Kennedy, just after the senator was shot in 1968.
In Kennedy’s hand was a rosary. Juan took it from his own pocket and placed it there as he knelt beside him on the floor.
Thirty years later, on the anniversary of Kennedy’s death in 1998, both Time and Newsweek magazines printed the photograph again and retold Juan’s story.
The night before Juan had picked up dirty trays all night, for the privilege of taking a room-service call to Kennedy’s suite.
When Juan entered the suite, Kennedy took his hand and shook it. Juan said later, “I didn’t feel like a busboy. . . . I didn’t feel like I was 17. I just felt like a person.” Juan had always admired Kennedy. He even placed a photograph of him on the wall of his bedroom next to a crucifix.
Juan admired Kennedy as a Catholic, a family man, and someone who called Hispanics hardworking.
How did Juan happen to be next to Kennedy when he was shot?
He had heard that after the presidential rally at the hotel was over, Kennedy, his wife Ethel, close friends, and body guards would be leaving by the hotel’s kitchen exit.
Hoping to shake the hand of his hero one more time, Juan positioned himself along the exit route in the kitchen.
When Kennedy passed by, Juan shook his hand once more. As he did, Juan felt a hot flash near his own head. It was from the gun that killed Kennedy.
The next day the photo of Juan kneeling on the floor holding Kennedy’s head appeared on TV news clips and in practically every major newspaper in the country. Readers everywhere were moved by it. Reporters tracked Juan down to let them tell his story. One even offered him college tuition in exchange for the exclusive story.
But Juan refused. He said that his stepfather told him that no honorable man profits from another’s tragedy. So Juan dropped out of the limelight and resolved to emulate his hero by working hard, honoring God, and taking care of his own family.
Today Juan has four children and four grandchildren. He works for a paving company, driving trucks and raking asphalt.
He and his family share their home with immigrant families from Mexico who need help getting a start.
This brings us back to today’s Gospel and the promise Jesus makes there:
Whoever fulfills and teaches my commandments to others shall be great in the Kingdom of God.
Juan Romero kept the commandments and, by his example, he taught other people to do so, also.
Before illustrating how he did this, we should say a word about Kennedy. Like all of us, he had his beautiful side and his shadow side.
One facet of his beautiful side was his ability to motivate and inspire young people of all backgrounds.
For example, shortly before he was shot, Kennedy went out of his way to speak to high school students at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. After visiting with them a teenage, Native American girl said:
He made us feel proud of our race, not ashamed. There were faraway looks in the eyes of the kids around me. Some were looking at him in awe, others with hope, others with faith. . . . We knew he cared.
It was this facet of Kennedy that inspired Juan.
Let’s look briefly at how, through his example, Juan, in turn, inspired others. One source of inspiration to others was the crucifix and photo of Kennedy on the wall of Juan’s bedroom.
How many Catholics today have a crucifix on the wall of their room to remind them of what Jesus did for them?
I realize that many will probably say, “Well, Catholics did that 30 years ago, but they don’t do it today.”
I would’ve said the same thing a year ago. Then one day, a father of a single-parent home came up and said,
Father, I’d like to share a story with you. I visited my son last week. As you know, he won a full scholarship to a prestigious eastern, secular school. I was so proud of him for being elected president of his class. But I was deeply moved, and even prouder of him, when I walked into his room. There on the wall above his bed was a crucifix. And next to it was a photograph of Pope John Paul II, which he had cut from a newspaper.
When the father told me that story, I couldn’t help think of the example of Juan Romero. But let’s go on to other examples.
Many followers of Jesus today carry a rosary in their pocket, as Juan did. And if they do, how many would have the spiritual presence of mind to place it into the hand of a dying man at a moment he needed it most?
How many followers of Jesus turn down opportunities, as Juan did, for legitimate publicity and money, because they didn’t want to profit from another man’s tragedy?
Finally, how many followers of Jesus make it a practice to share their homes with immigrant families, who need help getting started as Juan does today? I think it’s clear how Juan teaches others by his example.
Let’s close with these words of the poet. They explain how we can apply the point of all this to our own lives.
It is all in vain to preach the truth, To the eager ears of trusting youth. . . . Fine words may grace the advice you give, But youth will learn from the way you live. Author Unknown