Belonging to the Lord
Today’s reading begin with Moses telling the people to follow the Laws of God so closely that they are bound on their wrists, and set as pendants on their foreheads. “Be careful to follow all the statutes and decrees that I set before you today,” Moses says. But then we read in Romans that the righteousness of God has been manifested outside of the law. So what is it that we should do, follow Moses or look for God outside of the law?
In the Gospel Jesus says that we need to take our directions from Him.
Fr. Bill Bausch included a wonderful story to help direct our thoughts in his book, A World of Stories. Fr. Bausch credits Ted Loder for the story from his book Wrestling the Light. The story is about a man who wasn’t all that able to follow a whole lot of Church laws and was therefore convinced that he wasn’t a very good Catholic. However he was a man who, in the long run, embraced Christianity. It’s the story of Murph and someone named Sam Who Am.
Let me shorten this rather long story. Check one of the books I mentioned to read the whole version. It is extremely well written.
Murph was an elderly man who owned a tavern in a large city. The tavern was pretty run down. It was small. It stunk. Murph closed his tavern every night at 9 because he didn’t want the few customers he had walking on the streets late at night. He was more concerned with the people then with making money. In the same way, if someone came in spending too much on the booze, he would send him home to take care of his family.
So Murph’s tavern was mostly empty, except in the afternoons from twelve to two. That’s when Murph cooked up hamburgers and cheese sandwiches for the homeless of the area. He started when a fellow told him he hadn’t eaten in 24 hours and just kept doing it. The numbers kept growing, but Murph kept cooking. His little tavern came into prominence when a developer tried to buy it and called in the Board of Health to close Murph down. The local TV news showed up and the reporter asked Murph, “Why are you doing this, serving this food?” “Because I can, that’s why,” said Murph. “Everybody talks about the government and doing stuff and what they would do, but that’s all useless talk. I can’t do anything about Washington, but I can get a sandwich into a hungry guy. It’s no big deal, but it’s all I can do.” The developer left, tail between legs.
A few months later a special person came to the tavern. This person had a heavy coat under which there was a bulky sweater, a plaid dress, jogging pants, one rubber boot, one jogging sneaker, and a ski cap. Murph held out a sandwich and watched the pile of rags with a person inside sit down on the floor. After a while, Murph walked over and sat down next to him. “What’s your name?” asked Murph. “Sam Who Am” was the reply. “That’s a funny name for a woman,” said Murph. “Who said I was a woman?” said Sam. “Sorry,” said Murph, “I didn’t think a man would wear that dress.” “Who said I was a man?” said Sam Who Am. “Now listen,” said Murph, “Either your a man, or a woman. What are you, anyway?” “I’m a burning bush,” said Sam Who Am. “I’m a messenger from God, an angel.” “Yeah, right,” said Murph, “and I’m the Pope.”
Murph went to get up, but he just felt too tired to stand. In fact, he had felt real tired the whole day. He tried to ignore it and continue the conversation, “Well, I guess you must be big on Church stuff,” Murph said. “Yeah, I am,” said Sam Who Am, “how come you don’t go to Church anymore?” “How do you know that?” asked Murph. “I just do,” said Sam Who Am. Now Murph didn’t have the strength to go anywhere, so he had stay and chat. “I used to think about the people in Church being pretty good folk. Then I thought that I weren’t nearly as good as them. So I felt I didn’t belong. That’s when I stopped goin’.”
“Is it as simple as that?” asked Sam Who Am. A tear made its way down Murph’s cheek. He tried to catch himself, but he said, “It’s lonely not belonging. I act like it ain’t, but it is. I guess that’s why I feeds all these homeless people. For an hour or so, we all belong together, right here. None of us are homeless. Sometimes, in the morning or in the evening I go over to Saint Madelines and just sit there in that beautiful Church. I think that if only the people there and the people here could get together, nobody would feel alone. But, what are you goin to do. Those are two different worlds.”
“Those worlds aren’t so far apart,” said Sam Who Am. In fact there is a sister there at St. Madelines, sister Mary Martha, who always says hello to you. You might not know it, but she prays for you every day.” “Now, how do you know that?” asked Murph. “What are you, a sister in disguise?” Then Murph settled down and said softly, “what good it’s going to do, her praying for me?” Sam Who Am said to Murph, “And Murph, what good does it do for Sister Mary Martha that you feed the homeless?”
“Well,” said Murph, “maybe if one of these people were her brother or sister it would be good for her.”
“You see it,” said Sam Who Am, “they are her brothers and sisters, and she’s your sister. People do belong, they belong to each other. Heaven and earth belong to each other. You see it. Food, prayers, caring for people, its all the same. You see it,” exclaimed Sam Who Am. “I don’t see much of anything, right now,” said Murph, “nothing but people standing around me and crying and praying.” “It’s OK,” said, Sam Whom Am, “they just realize how much you mean to them and miss you. I’ve come to take you to the place where you have always belonged.”
The homeless and the sisters from St. Madeline got together and took over the tavern. They turned it into food shelter. They buried Murph in the local cemetary. On his grave someone put, “This is Murph. He belongs to God.”
Murph did not belong to God because he followed laws. He belonged to God because he followed the reason for the laws. The Sabbath is not made for man, man is made for the Sabbath. Belonging to God cannot be reduced to the observance of law. Belonging to God means living his life.
Perhaps there are many people in the St. Madeline’s of the world who call out “Lord, Lord,” but never lift a finger for those who were hurting. Sadly, the Lord might say, “I never knew you.” Hopefully, there are many Murphs in this world and among us who have the law of Christ written in their hearts. Their/our very way of life is built on the rock of the Lord’s love. When we care about others, we all belong to the Lord.