FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 6th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 16, 2020:
Everyone has heard of Jesse Owens, famous for winning four gold medals in the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Not so many, though, have heard of Lutz Long. Lutz was one of Germany’s top athletes in the 1936 games and one of Adolph Hitler’s favorites. In the long jump trials, Lutz broke the Olympic record. There was only one man who could possibly beat him – Jesse Owens.
Just before Jesse’s turn to qualify, Hitler infamously left his box and walked out of the games. This was viewed as a snub of the black athlete who didn’t fit into Hitler’s ideal. Jesse said of that moment, “It made me mad as anyone can be. Then, I fouled on my first try and didn’t jump far enough to qualify on my second. With only one try left, I began to panic.” But, then, Jesse felt a hand on his shoulder and it belonged to Lutz Long. Lutz suggested that Jesse draw a line a few inches short of the takeoff board and jump from there. And it worked. Jesse qualified by a foot.
That moment of heroic kindness sparked the beginning of a close friendship between the two. In the days ahead, Jesse won three gold medals with Lutz cheering him on at every event. Then came the long jump finals pitting Jesse against Lutz. Again, Jesse won. He recalled what happened next, “While Hitler glared, Lutz held up my hand and shouted to the gigantic crowd, ‘Jes-se Ow-ens!’ Then the stadium picked up the chant. My hair stood on end.”
Ordinarily athletes don’t help their opponents, but Lutz Long showed Jesse an heroic kindness that was truly miraculous. Ordinarily athletes don’t celebrate an opponent’s victory. But Lutz Long was no ordinary athlete. He rejoiced in Jesse’s achievement in a way that spoke truth, and love, and hope to the watching world.
In today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is reminding us that we too are called to offer acts of heroic kindness. He reminds us of the incredible power that showing kindness can have in our lives and in our world. Jesus urged His followers to show kindness to one another, even to the point of “turning the other cheek” when someone treated them unkindly. He warns those who treat others with anger, “You have heard that it was said…’Whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother or sister will be liable to judgment.” Jesus lived this message Himself showing kindness to sinners, compassion to the sick, mercy to His enemies. And so should we.
Kindness blesses the person to whom we are kind and it also blesses us when we extend that kindness. Today’s readings invite us to take a look at our own lives and ask ourselves how they compare to the life that Jesus calls us to in the Sermon on the Mount. The invite us to ask ourselves what could happen in our world and in our lives if the energy we expend on anger, or even apathy, were instead expended on kindness? How would our lives and those around us change if instead of mimicking the anger and division we hear around us, we embraced heroic kindness as our mission and our daily focus? The pattern of anger begetting anger is too ordinary in our world. We give in to it often without even noticing. We’re called to something bigger, something better, something stronger.
Kindness is a power greater than any other on earth. And it is at the disposal of every person in every nation; at the disposal of each and every one of us here today. What’s more, it has no limit. In fact, the more kindness that we give, the more there is to receive, the more it changes our world.
When we feel the desire to respond to the challenges of our world with anger or even hatred, let’s remember Lutz Long and face that anger with heroic kindness. Let us live the lives of extraordinary kindness that Jesus Himself lived and that He calls forth from each one of us, His followers. Let us engage in heroic acts of kindness as though it were the only thing we were called to do.
Let me end with the Prayer of St. Francis, which exemplifies the lives of kindness that we are called to live:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
May the Lord give you peace.