June 17, 2018 – Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Mark 4: 26-35 talks about “how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.”

We’ve all talked about this parable many times and how the smallest seeds can produce the largest harvest. We’ve talked about it, but have we actually thought about how it relates to our own lives? What are the seeds we plant? How do they actually grow and what does our involvement really mean?

We are asked by Jesus to help Him by being His hands and feet to those we meet. In the encounters we have, we are called to allow something we’ve shared, provided or offered others to truly take root within them and make their lives better… as well as our own because of that encounter as well. Planting seeds is a way to take care of others by our actions. We shouldn’t only give someone something to eat, but also show them how to plant and harvest themselves, in all aspects of their lives. I had an opportunity like that a few nights ago, an opportunity to plant seeds through an encounter.

I was going to run over to Dunkin Donuts and grab a coffee to help me work late into the night recently. On the way, my low fuel light came on. I pulled into the gas station and stopped at the pump, immediately noticing a man that is obviously not from this area and down on his luck. He was asking folks walking into the Dailey’s gas station for money. It was raining pretty steadily and had been most of the day.

I watched for a few minutes and then remembered having two umbrellas in the back of my SUV, and a seed a friend of mine had planted in my head recently began to sprout. I kept thinking of my good friend Chris Haidon running across University Ave. in Jacksonville, FL to give an umbrella to a woman and her child as we stood in silent protest at the abortion clinic a few months back. This seed caused me to run over to the stranger and asked if he’d like an umbrella. He said, “No man but, I could use a few bucks for food.” I told the man I’d finish pumping my gas and then take him to Wendy’s for a burger. He jumped up so quick I thought he was going to run to Wendy’s! He said, “That’d be awesome! I haven’t eaten in 3 days!”

We loaded up his sleeping bag and backpack and drove across the parking lot to Wendy’s from the gas station. I must admit, the smell was horrible and almost gagged me. Days without facilities to clean himself or wash his clothes had obviously taken its toll on this man.

He ordered a Baconator, large fries and a milkshake, but only after I had to tell him that the single he ordered was not enough. He said, “I don’t wanna burden you man.” I told him it wasn’t a burden but a blessing. He looked curiously at me and then placed the order for the above.

After sitting down, he told me his name was “Joel.” I told him mine was Joe and he thought that was pretty cool. I asked him about himself and he said, “I’m from Kansas City, MO. I was born and raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools through the 10 grade and then finished in a public school. My dad wasn’t very good to me, my brother and sister. Don’t have a relationship with him now. Because of that, I really don’t have a faith or belief either. I’m 34 years old and have nothing. I’ve been walking for a year and a half and just made it here and don’t know where I’m going, hopefully Miami.” He continued by saying, “I hate police officers and my brother is now one and I haven’t been able to talk to him for 2 years now. I’ve been mistreated by cops many times and I can’t stand to look at him in that uniform or think about him. They are all alike and now he’s what I hate. I’m just struggling along, not sure what’s next. None of my family even know I’m alive. What about you?”

I said, “You really want to know?” He said, “Well, I’ve told you my story so I’d like to hear yours.” I said, “Well, I was born and raised Catholic, my wife is a Catholic Youth Minister and I volunteer in that Ministry, my daughter is a teacher at a Catholic school, my son’s a Pharmacist, I have 3 grandkids and one on the way and, I’m a former police officer.” His jaw about hit the floor and he turned white as a ghost.

He said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by what I said.” I told him no offense taken and I’m just blessed to share in this encounter. He said, “Why man? Everything you just said you are is everything I said I hated.” I thought: “Time to plant some seeds and help Joel harvest a bit!” I told him that maybe it’s an opportunity to see things through a different light. I offered to him that maybe it’s a way for him to see that you can’t judge a person by what they are, but how they are. I encouraged him to love his brother because of just that, not because of what he does for a living. To embrace each encounter for what it is, not what we preconceive it to be. To allow each person and the encounter to speak for itself, not be lumped together and pre-judged. I really don’t know why that message came to light, but I know God wanted the two of us to hear it.

I offered him my phone and asked if he’d like to let his parents and brother know that he’s at least alive and ok. He called his folks first and left a message for them saying he was alive, well and in Florida. He then called his brother and told him the same thing. His brother told him, “Regardless of where you go, I’ll always love you.” Joel smiled and said, “I love you too.”

There wasn’t a big farewell. He didn’t want to stay in a shelter or receive anything special. I gave him a ride to the beach, handed him all the cash I had, not much but, you’d have thought that $22.00 was $100,000.00. He said, “Thanks Joe.” I said, “I’ll be praying for you Joel.” He said, “I know.” He walked away and I drove off. Both better men by the encounter.

Embrace the opportunities God gives you. I’m thankful for them.

The seeds we plant are the acts of kindness, reflection of Christ and the encounters we have. It’s up to each of us to plant those seeds wherever and whenever possible and pray that where they land, they bloom. Some may, some may not. Regardless, we continue planting if we truly desire to enter the gates of Heaven and help the Father populate His Kingdom.

Go be planters!

Peace be with each of you.

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