HOMILY THEME: “Jesus called the twelve and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all
and servant of all.’” (Mark 9:35)

BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC



Mark 9:30-37

Always something of a challenge, wondering which story might encourage the patients to look inward at their lives and then perhaps offer some insight to the other group members huddled together in the circle of chairs, I skimmed the stories in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series in search of a selection that might stir the hearts and minds of the patients on the psychiatric unit circled in chairs for the weekly Thursday afternoon spirituality group. On this particular day, only six patients opted to attend, four of them medicated to the extent that they were barely able to keep their eyes open as they shuffled through the door and slumped into their chairs. Tossing a silent prayer heavenward, I invited those in the circle to listen as I read a story entitled “The Magic Pebbles”.

“One night a group of cowboys was riding across a streambed when suddenly they were surrounded by a great white light. They knew they were in the presence of a celestial being. With anticipation, they awaited a heavenly message of great importance that they knew must be especially for them. Finally, the voice spoke. 'Stop and gather as many pebbles as you can. Put them in your saddlebags. Travel a day's journey, and tomorrow night will find you glad and it will find you sad.' With that, the great white light suddenly dissipated, and the cowboys shared with each other their bitter disappointment. They had expected the revelation of a great universal truth that would enable them to create wealth, health and renewed purpose for the world. But instead they were given a menial task that made no sense to them at all. However, the memory of the brilliance of their visitor caused each one to pick up a few pebbles and deposit them in his saddlebags even while they continued voicing their displeasure. They dutifully traveled a day's journey, and that night, while making camp, they reached into their saddlebags and discovered every pebble they had gathered had become a diamond. They were glad they had these diamonds. But they were sad they had not gathered more pebbles.” (John Wayne Schlatter) Story ended, I gently asked around the circle if anyone had had the experience of pebbles becoming diamonds, of something that seemed of little value suddenly revealing itself as a great treasure. Three chairs down, Mike, medicated and drowsy, the patient I’d deemed least likely to participate, slowly raised his head to speak in slurred, halting words. “I’ve treated my family like pebbles most of my life, but now, since I’ve been here in the hospital, I realize that they’re really like diamonds.” His offering finished, his head drooped back onto his chest as, all around, wide silent eyes looked his way, eyes that seemed to be searching into their own lives for pebbles become diamonds.

Attempting to draw him out more, I coaxed, “Mike, how did you discover that the pebbles in your saddlebags were really diamonds? Can you tell us more?” Again raising his heavy head while struggling to open his closed eyes, he continued. “Well, for years I thought I was the normal one and they were all crazy. But finally my life got so out of control that I had to admit to myself that it was really me who was crazy, not them. And they still care about me, still call me every day here in the hospital. And they said I can come back home to live with them when I get out of here.”

The others, hearing his words, slowly began to realize that they, too, had great diamonds in their saddlebags they’d long dismissed as pebbles. Some spoke of friendships long taken for granted, others of challenging careers to which they hoped to return. One quiet, withdrawn woman spoke of her dog, Missy, whose exuberant canine kisses reminded her of God’s ever-present love.

The allotted time for our gathering having transpired, I tapped my wristwatch to indicate the end of group. With a shared exclamation —“Amen”—we stood to leave the circle. As the six who’d come through the door trudged out much the way they had entered, now they knew that the weight they bore held a few diamonds, and that was reason for hope.

In today’s gospel passage, Jesus, hearing his disciples arguing among themselves about greatness, patiently instructs them in the ways of heavenly wisdom. “Jesus called the twelve and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’” (Mark 9:35) As Jesus turns worldly wisdom upside down and inside out, espousing values so foreign to the ears of his listeners, so that Thursday afternoon Mike, God’s messenger of grace, told of burdens birthing hope, pebbles revealed as diamonds.



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