Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Theme: “Jesus said, ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’” (Matthew 18:20)
By: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Homily for Sunday September 6 2020
In the gospel passage we hear today, Jesus reminds his disciples that life is a communal endeavor, that we all bear responsibility for others. While his words focus more specifically on correcting the sinner and bringing him or her back into the fold of the faithful, yet is there the inference that, as followers of Jesus, we must continually build up one another, providing others daily encouragement to continue the challenging course on the heavenward journey. And when such a caring dynamic is evident, be it correcting or encouraging, Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20) Let a story, reportedly true, serve to illustrate:
“One day a teacher asked each of her students to list the names of all the other students in the class on a sheet of paper, leaving a space between each name. Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and then to write it down on the paper. It took the entire forty-minute period for the students to finish their assignment, and as they left the room, each handed in a paper. The next day, Saturday, the teacher compiled the many lists she’d been given, writing down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper and listing what everyone else had said about that individual. On Monday she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. ‘Really?’ she heard whispered. ‘I never knew that I meant anything to anyone!’ And, ‘I didn’t know others liked me so much.’ After heads nodded in enlightenment around the room and rarely seen smiles came to faces more often sullen, no one ever mentioned those papers in class again. She never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn’t matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another.
“Several years later, one of her former students was killed in Vietnam, and his teacher attended the funeral. She had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before, he appearing yet so handsome, looking so mature. The church was packed with his friends, and one by one those who loved him took a last walk by the coffin. The teacher was the last to approach, and as she stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer asked her, ‘Were you Mark’s math teacher?’ She nodded affirmatively. Then he said, ‘Mark talked about you a lot.’ At the conclusion of the service, while Mark’s former classmates gathered at the luncheon, Mark’s parents searched anxiously for his teacher, they wanting so much to have a word with her. When, finally, they spotted her in the crowd, they approached, each parent taking one of her hands. ‘We want to show you something,’ his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. ‘They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.’ Opening the billfold, he carefully removed a worn piece of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. The teacher knew at once that the paper was the one on which she had listed all the good things each of Mark’s classmates had said about him. ‘Thank you so much for doing that,’ Mark’s mother said. ‘As you can see, our son treasured it.’ Even as the three talked quietly in a corner of the room, all of Mark’s former classmates started to gather around them. Chuck smiled rather sheepishly and said, ‘I still have my list. It’s in the top drawer of my desk at home.’ His wife said, ‘Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album.’ ‘I have mine, too,’ Marilyn said. ‘It’s in my diary.’ Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. ‘I carry this with me all the time,’ she said, continuing, ‘I think we all saved our lists.’
“Stunned beyond words at what that simple classroom exercise had meant for her students, their teacher asked the group to excuse her for just a moment. Then, finding a solitary place in a nearby corridor, she sat and sobbed, wet grief pouring into her lap, for Mark, surely, but also because she had experienced once again, and now more forcefully than years before, how much these young people hungered for the simple support and encouragement that she’d enabled them to provide one another as insecure teenagers. Now, as each faced the challenges of an adult world, those simple words from a long-ago math classroom were more powerful than they’d ever been.” (Original source unknown)