Doing Good

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 — Week of Proper 22, Year One

Francis of Assisi, Friar, 1226

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 986)

Psalms [120], 121, 122, 123 (morning) // 124, 125, 126, [127] (evening)

2 Kings 22:1-13

1 Corinthians 11:2, 17-22

Matthew 9:1-8

There is a long history about religious people who do good, but their good acts provoke opposition from religious authorities. In today’s reading Jesus does two good things things, but he provokes opposition because he acts outside the conventions and customs of his religious heritage.

First, Jesus speaks words of absolution and forgiveness that free and liberate a man in bondage. Scripture and tradition held that only God could forgive sins — absolution is a divine prerogative. Therefore the religious leaders charged Jesus with blasphemy. Human beings do not have authority to forgive, they assert.

The second unorthodox aspect of this story is how freely Jesus dispenses this forgiveness. Traditionally forgiveness follows repentance. But this paralytic makes no expression of contrition or forgiveness. The only thing that has happened is that Jesus sees some people carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.'”

There is a folk saying, “One good turn deserves another.” Around Jesus it seems that goodness and compassion always unlocks abundance — healing, reunion, forgiveness, joy, hope. The kindness of some friends caring for their friend is enough faith. It becomes the catalyst that liberates the paralyzed, forgives the past, and strengthens for service — instant access to the recreative power of God.

“The crowds …were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.” The authority to heal and forgive is no longer locked up behind religious rules, but given to human beings.

Today we celebrate the feast of Francis of Assisi, another religious person who provoked opposition by doing good. His radical embrace of poverty and of the sickest and dirtiest people of his community turned the conventional sense of propriety and success on its ear. He was willing to live on scraps from garbage rather than to put another out by begging. His attention focused on the infected, unclothed, diseased and dirty people of the street. Even his devoted followers couldn’t accept and live by his embrace of total poverty and non-possession.

There is a story I like that comes from his devoted follower Brother Juniper — from the time when the once homeless, wandering friars had begun to live in modest monasteries. A beggar came by when Brother Juniper was at the gate and asked for a little money. Brother Juniper said, “There is no money in the house. But wait a minute. Last week someone gave us an altar cloth with little silver bells attached. We don’t need those. I will cut them off for you. They will be as good as money.” And he did so. When the sacristan learned what had happened, he complained to the prior, who said, “We are fortunate that he did not give away the cloth itself. But send him to me, and I will scold him.”

Brother Juniper came, and the prior scolded him until the prior was hoarse. Brother Juniper noticed that the prior was hoarse, and went to the kitchen and cooked him some mint sauce. He brought it to the prior, who had gone to bed. He said, “Father Prior, get up and eat this mint sauce. It will be good for your throat.” The prior said, “I don’t want any mint sauce. Go away and let me sleep.” Brother Juniper said, “It’s good sauce, and will be good for your throat.” The prior said, “Go away, I don’t want it.” Brother Juniper said, “Well, if you won’t eat it, how about holding the candle while I eat it?” This was too much for the prior. He got up and they both ate.

It takes only a bit of imagination to do great good. A touch of creative compassion can unlock healing, reunion, optimism, forgiveness, joy, hope. What surprising bit of love can we give away today?

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