No One is an Island
Readings: 1 Kings 21:1-3, 17-21; Psalm 5:1-8; Galatians 6:7-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
John Donne writes: (No apology given for the change to inclusive language!)
No one is an island,
Entire of itself,
Everyone is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any one’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in humankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
No! I am not making a statement about Brexit, although I suspect it applies quite nicely. The theme in Donne’s poem resonates with today’s readings. They all point to our need of God’s grace and of our need to share it for the empowerment of ourselves and others. No one walks alone through life. There is an interdependency on others and on God, no matter how hard we try to make it otherwise.
That is very much the lesson that Naaman learns. Naaman is the commander of the army of the king of Aram. He is a great man, honoured in his country because of his leadership. This man who possesses great power has to learn the hard lesson that he is human and vulnerable, that he needs the help of others, and that there are other kinds of power beyond his own. He has leprosy, not the virulent disease that would have banished him into exile, more of a skin condition, but difficult all the same for a man of his position to deal with. He tries every possible cure, but nothing works. His wife’s maid, a young woman from Israel, one totally void of power, tells him about the prophet Elisha who may be able to cure him. He doesn’t take any chances. He gets the king of Aram to write a letter to the king of Israel. He sets off to Israel armed with the letter, along with lots of money and clothing. The king of Israel is mortified. What is going to happen? Is Israel about to be conquered? Elisha calms his fears. “Send him on over. I’ll look after everything!” he says.
And so Naaman arrives with all of his entourage at Elisha’s house. Elisha ignores him. He doesn’t even come out to see him. Instead he sends one of his house servants, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” What Naaman heard was ‘go jump in the lake’! He is beyond angry. After all, he wants a performance equal to his self-importance. He wants the show that he has paid for. His pride is deeply wounded. He refuses to do as Elisha has told him. After all, he wants life to be easy, but not too easy.
Once again it is one of his servants who persuades him to come to his senses. “If he had told you to do something difficult, you would have done it.” Finally he is able to hear the good sense of what the servant is saying. He does as Elisha has told him. No doubt kicking and screaming and complaining of the cold, dirty water, he immerses himself seven times in the Jordan, and he is healed.
It is a wonderful story that reminds us of the struggle most of us have in accepting help. It is a wonderful reminder that there are sources of grace other than those we know in our public lives.
Jesus’ disciples too must learn to depend on God’s grace for their needs. Jesus empowers them to go out into the society around them, to share the good news of what they have come to believe and experience. They go out trusting that God will provide. They don’t pack a lunch. They don’t take money – not even an extra pair of sandals. They stay wherever they are welcomed. And they come back filled with stories and experiences of God at work in and through them. They are happy, not because of their newfound power, but because they belong to God. They know that the glory belongs to God, not to them. They know that they are utterly dependent on God, and that they can trust God to be there in all of their needs.
But that is then, and this is now. In a period in the world’s history when terrorism seems to be all around us, isn’t it better to be an island, to become protective as a community? Our world, after all, is not so different from that of Jesus. The disciples go out, not expecting universal interest and welcome, but knowing that they may be put down.
We are meant to be thrust out, like lambs in the midst of wolves into our secular and revolutionary world. Our role is unlikely to be that of evangelist. It is more likely to be what St. Francis proposed. Preach the Gospel. Use words when necessary. We preach with our lives. We relate to people day by day.
That was the most powerful experience that I had on the Camino. True! People walking the Camino are pilgrims, open to God at work in their lives, whatever God means to them. They are looking for spiritual fulfillment. I was surprised at how many people were walking on their own, not in any group. I became a listener as I walked with strangers whom I overtook on the road. Sometimes I walked with them for only a few minutes before I moved on at my own pace. I heard their stories, their struggles, their heartaches. One time it was simply helping someone struggling up a hill to get water out of her backpack, and encouraging her to continue putting one foot in front of the other when she was tempted to give up. Other times it was pulling out my First Aid kit and offering a compeed to treat a blister. Often it was helping to discern the right path on a tricky part of the trail. And when we parted ways, I continued to pray for those I met, that God would bless them. Several times I met them again at the end of the day in a café or at the auberge. I recognized that as they shared their pains and joys with me, I was able to minister to them, not because I am a priest. For the most part they did not know that I was. If it helped to heal loneliness or to raise someone out of despair or to restore someone’s dignity, or to help them in their discernment process, or to comfort them in their pain, then I was seeing Christ in them and allowing them to see Christ in me.
No one is an island. Like the seventy Jesus sent out, we are called to seek out people who will respond. We are to listen to them, to share with them in their pain and their joy. We are to meet their needs. We are to relate to them the gospel message that God loves them and is the answer to their deepest needs. We are called to allow God to work through us. We are called to responsible action, to finding the ways and means that others can know God. We are called to live out the Gospel message in our lives. It is a call to respond in the way we live and work. May we know the urgency of that call! May we respond and live in love as God has called us. Amen.
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