Late Bloomers II

“Jesus came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them, And he was amazed at their unbelief.”

Mark 6:1-6

Let me start with a personal admission—my first impressions of other people have repeatedly turned out to be not just mistaken but embarrassingly off the mark.

How often, based on the scantiest of evidence, I have leaped to a conclusion about someone and privately pronounced a judgment on his or her character only to discover a week later or a year later that I was about 175 degrees wrong!

And even when we have known someone for some time, our judgments about what that person is capable of or not capable of can be shockingly inaccurate.

Our initial impression of someone may turn out to be either too complimentary or too disparaging—but the misjudgment that is most troubling to me is when my original, often hastily arrived at critical and dismissive opinion of someone proves to be grossly unjust.

Actually, what is most embarrassing is when someone whose significance I”ve tended to ignore or discount does something at a critical moment on my behalf that is exceedingly considerate and helpful or suddenly reveals a degree of generosity toward others that puts me to shame —this has happened more times than I would care to admit.

Remember those fellow students in high school or college who were completely inconspicuous, who didn’t make a splash of any kind, who showed very little promise or talent, who faded into the woodwork—and then who stunned us later on with some sterling accomplishment like winning a Pulitzer Prize for journalism or getting national acclaim for teaching innovations in an urban high school and we can only shake our heads and say, “Who would have believed it?!”

We typically refer to these individuals as “late bloomers.”

In today’s gospel, the villagers of Nazareth are dumbfounded by their own local “late bloomer,” Jesus of Nazareth, who, after a number of years, has returned to his home town.

When Jesus holds forth in the synagogue, the townsfolk are both astonished and disturbed.

They are in awe of him for they have never heard someone speak with such force—but they are also offended that someone who grew up among them, who didn’t seem at all remarkable as a youngster, who did carpentry in their midst, who seemed so ordinary, would have the audacity to take on the role of being their teacher.

Their problem is they remember him when—in other words, they resent his trying to get above his raisin’.

They can’t get their minds around how an ordinary kid down the block could have turned into someone with such extraordinary gifts.

How could an ordinary, run of the mill, gawky teen-ager who seemed to have as much trouble getting his act together as the other youngsters have become this extraordinary prophet?

But the gospel is all about the ordinary becoming extraordinary.

The gospel is all about ordinary, simple, everyday things becoming sacramental revealers of the Divine mystery—taking a plunge in the pool, eating a peach, sitting down to lunch with a friend, schmoosing at coffee hour.

The gospel is all about ordinary people suddenly becoming extraordinary in ways that even surprise them, a process of transformation that defies explanation and that we call the operation of grace.

The gospel is all about ordinary people who have been written off, and who perhaps have even written themselves off, becoming luminous examples of the redeeming power of grace.

A fellow I’ll call Ben grew up in a cracker box of a house on the east side of Dayton—he told me his dad drank up most of the money from his railroad job and he and his siblings often went to school hungry—he was ridiculed by the other kids for his shabby clothes, had more fights than he could count, and was regularly sent to the principal’s office for a whacking.

Even though his grades were miserable, he somehow got passed along from one grade to another—one day his 8th grade teacher took him by the arm and pointed to a garbage truck passing by the school—the teacher said, “You see that truck—the best thing you could do is join those guys hanging on the back end ‘cause that’s the only job you’ll ever qualify for.”

Ben eventually became a well-paid GM employee who was in charge of a continuing education program for workers—but the achievement that meant the most to him was being awarded his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Wright State University.

He said, “I still can’t believe I did it—I don’t know how I did it—what really helped was that there was one professor who kept telling me I had the ability—and I always remembered that 8th grade teacher’s comment and I was determined to get that piece of paper come hell or high water.”

Audrey Hepburn once said, “People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.”

We never know when a person we have written off as a hopeless case and lost cause can suddenly bloom into someone extraordinary right before our eyes.

A woman named Mary Ashby Brown recounts this experience.

“At the….post office, there is often a man holding the door open for customers as they come and go, asking politely for change.

On this particular day inside the post office, I noticed an elderly woman who appeared to be having a lot of difficulty walking. After leaving the post office, I crossed Seventh Avenue, glanced back, and saw that the woman I’d seen in the post office had made it only a third of the way across the crosswalk. Oncoming traffic began to zoom down Seventh Avenue, and the woman was trapped in the middle of the street.

She screamed, and the pedestrians on my side of the avenue were frozen—we didn’t know what to do—when the man in front of the post office, without hesitation, raced in front of the woman, his hand out signaling ‘Stop!’ to oncoming traffic, and slowly guided her across the street, fending off and stopping traffic at each step.

I would say a majority of us witnessing this were in tears when the pair reached the other side.

So may we ever be open and ready to be startled by all kinds of late bloomers, by the miraculous transformation of the ordinary into the extraordinary.

And here’s a wrap up thought—maybe each of us, regardless of what we’ve been or haven’t been, regardless of what we’ve done or haven’t done, should aspire every day to be a late bloomer who, by the grace of God, is able to do something new, surprising, and life-giving we didn’t know we were capable of. Amen.

The Rev. Robert Dwight
5 Pentecost
Christ Episcopal Church
Dayton, Ohio
7/5/09