TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR B
“We’ve done a few hundred so far, but it’s just starting.” Those are the words of George Ruiz who spent 20 years in the Coast Guard as a rescue boat driver, and who now runs a rescue service that specializes in saving people who through bad judgment or physical disabilities stay behind in hurricanes such as Florence. The other day, George drove for fours hours from his home in Alabama to North Carolina, cutting down trees that blocked his path. Among the few hundred rescues to date are an elderly man in a wheelchair trapped in rising waters, and a 90-year-old woman afraid to leave her home.
“They are saviors,” says James Green, rescued with his wheelchair, about Mr. Ruiz and his crew. “Thank God they came… they are wonderful,” added another woman by the name of Moore. As for George Ruiz, all he has to say for himself is, “I just want to drive boats and help.” As the storm passes, more and more stories such as George Ruiz’s will emerge: stories about daring rescues and heroism and just plain old neighborliness, hospitality, compassion and generosity.
The liturgy today on this Sunday, as Hurricane Florence still rages in the Carolinas and as Catholics all over the United States celebrate Catechetical Sunday, is about having our ears open to a call from God and the readiness to respond to that call with God’s help.
“The Lord God opens my ears that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back.” In the passage from Isaiah, the mysterious figure whom we have come to know as the Suffering Servant faces an ordeal that is an uncannily accurate prediction of Jesus’ Passion. He proclaims that he can remain faithful to his mission because God has opened his ears to take in the message that he preaches. More than that, God has opened his ears to hear assurances that no matter what opposition he must face, God will never abandon him. “The Lord God is my help therefore I am not disgraced…See, the Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?”
In the Gospel today, Jesus expresses extreme frustration that St. Peter cannot hear what he is saying about his future. Being the Christ does not mean immediate glory and power and adulation. It means rejection and freely parting with his life on the cross so that he can once and for all put an end to death for everyone. Jesus reminds his disciples that we only really possess our lives when we are willing to part with them for Jesus’ sake and the sake of the Gospel.
George Ruiz and the rescuers, who like fire fighters and police officers and first responders, put their lives on the line to protect total strangers are examples to us of people who have heard Jesus’ challenge and are answering it, while declaring, “I have set my face like flint. See, the Lord God is my help.”
St. James reminds us that we do not necessarily have to do anything dramatic in order to demonstrate our hearing of God’s word. When we attend generously to people who are without food or clothing or the necessities of life, we are demonstrating our faith. In a couple of weeks, we will have an opportunity to contribute to the relief efforts for the people of Kerala who are suffering from catastrophic flooding. And, no doubt, there will be opportunities to assist the victims of the hurricanes here and in the Philippines.
Today, we acknowledge and recommission our parish catechists who bring the Word of God to the young people in our Faith Formation Program. And we call down God’s blessing on the volunteers and the youngsters, themselves, asking that we will all find the inspiration to say together with the Psalmist, “Gracious is the Lord and just; yes, our God is merciful… I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”