15th Sunday OT: Reading the Signs
Many centuries ago the Pope decided that all the Jews had to leave Rome. Naturally there was an uproar from the Jewish community. So the Pope made a deal. He would have a religious debate with a member of the Jewish community. If the Jews won, they could stay. If the Pope won, the Jews had to leave. The Jews realized that they had no choice. Problem was that no one wanted to debate the Pope. The only volunteer was a poor, simple, old man named Moishe who opened the door to the synagogue each Friday night. Not
being used to words Moishe asked for only one addition to the debate - that neither side be allowed to talk. The Pope agreed.
The day of the great debate came. Moishe and the Pope sat opposite each other. The Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers. Moishe looked back at him and raised one finger. The Pope waved his hand in a circle around his head. Moishe pointed to the ground where he sat. The Pope pulled out a wafer and a glass of wine. Moishe pulled out an apple.
The Pope stood up and said, "I give up. This man is too good. The Jews can stay."
Later, the Pope explained what happened: "I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that we believe in the same one God. Then I waved my hand around my head to show that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground, showing that God was present right here. I pulled out the bread and wine to show that God has given us the Eucharist. He pulled out an apple to remind me of original sin. He had an answer for everything. What could I do?"
Meanwhile, Moishe explained to the Jewish scholars how he won the unwinnable debate. "Well," said Moishe, "First he said that the Jews had three days to get out of Rome. I told him that not one of us was leaving. Then he told me that this whole city would be cleared of Jews. I let him know that we were staying right here." "And then what clenched the debate?" asked the Rabbi.
"I don't know," said Moishe. "It was strange. He took out his lunch, and I took out mine!"
Life always depends on how we read the signs!
In today's Gospel Jesus tells the 12 Apostles that they should embody three signs: simplicity of lifestyle; dependence on others and hospitality. These instructions are such a contrast to what most of us value today, where it is often the rich and powerful, the independent and the inhospitable who are thought be the best leaders.
For Jesus, however, the one truly sent in his name is the one who knows that another's worth comes from who they are, not what they have. It doesn't matter whether we're rich or poor. It's the way we use our money for others which reveals whether our wealth possesses us or not.
For Jesus, being "a rock and an island" was not a sign of strength but one of fear and despair. A strong Christian is the one who rejoices in our dependence on each other, and is always grateful for the interconnectedness of life.
For Jesus, making room for others, especially toward those in legitimate need and even when it makes a large claim on us, is a pre-eminent sign of his Kingdom.
The Christian life is about reading the signs of the times. May our Eucharistic signs of his presence amongst us, the bread and wine, change us today, to match it with the best in being simple in lifestyle, happily dependent and extravagantly hospitable with our time, talent and energy for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Richard Leonard, S.J.