Happenings

Strength is for service, not status

Jul 2006    

THE strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not just please themselves. Yet how often has the Christian community done the exact opposite and insisted that the weak become strong if they wanted to be accepted?

Again, the church needs to be reminded that we are a community of needy pilgrims, not a select club for those who are strong.

A biography of Francis of Assisi tells a story of a monk in Francis’s community. He was having trouble enduring a period of fasting. In the middle of the night, his spirit broke and he groaned from the pangs of hunger. Francis woke up the entire community and had all the monks break their fast (himself included) so as not to embarrass the weak brother. Although Francis called his community to a strict standard of living, he was able to show compassion to those who struggled to achieve the ideal. (“Lectionary Homiletics” Vol. 14, No. 2, p. 10). Each one of us has strengths and weaknesses. We are not perfect. We stumble in many ways. In some areas, we are the strong, while in other areas, we are the weak.

That is why we need each other. It is only by being together that we are complete in Christ.

The so-called weak can help us develop an authentic humanity, to develop our spirituality and our relationship with God. The so-called weak can help us realise our potential in Christ. They can help us be more patient and compassionate.

Henri Nouwen was a professor at Yale and Harvard universities. At the height of his career, he left to minister at the L’Arche Daybreak community in Toronto where he shared his life with people with mental disabilities.

He talked about his time with these people in the book Can You Drink the Cup? He shared about his friendship with Trevor, a handicapped man. They loved each other.

Whenever Trevor saw Henri coming, he ran up to him with a great radiant smile and presented him with some wildflowers he picked.

Once, Trevor had to spend a few months in a mental hospital. Henri decided to visit him. Since Henri was well-known, the hospital chaplain seized the opportunity to invite him for lunch with some hospital staff and ministers in the area. When Henri arrived on that day, he was surprised that Trevor was not invited for lunch with them. The chaplain explained, “You can be with him after lunch. Staff and patients cannot have lunch together. Moreover, … no patient has ever been allowed in (this) room.”

BEING COMPLETE IN CHRIST

‘Each one of us has strengths and weaknesses. We are not perfect. We stumble in many ways. In some areas, we are the strong, while in other areas, we are the weak. That is why we need each other. It is only by being together that we are complete in Christ.’

Henri replied: “I will only have lunch with you all when Trevor can be here too. Trevor and I are close friends. It is for him that I came, and I am sure he would love to join us for lunch.” After some mixed reaction and whispering, they agreed.

During the meal, people were making small talk. Many of the guests were strangers trying to get to know each other. The general atmosphere was quiet, somewhat solemn. Suddenly, Trevor stood up, took his glass of Coke, lifted it, and said with a loud voice and a big smile: “Ladies and gentlemen … a toast!”

Everyone turned to Trevor with a puzzled and somewhat anxious face. Henri could read their thoughts: “What in the heck is this patient going to do? Better be careful.” But Trevor had no worries. He looked at everybody and said: “Lift up your glasses.” Everybody obeyed.

And then, as if it were the most obvious thing to do, he started to sing: “When you’re happy and you know it … lift your glass.”

As he sang, people’s faces relaxed and started to smile. Soon a few joined Trevor in his song, and not long after, everyone was standing, singing loudly under Trevor’s direction.

Trevor’s toast radically changed the mood in the room. He had brought these strangers together and made them feel at home. His beautiful smile and his fearless joy had broken down the barriers between staff and patients and created a happy family of caring people. With his unique blessing, Trevor had set the tone for a joyful and fruitful meeting.

After nine years at the Daybreak community, Henri Nouwen had become a friend to them. Although they were still as handicapped as before, he seldom thought of them as people with handicaps.

He thought of them as brothers and sisters with whom he shared his life. He laughed with them, he cried with them, ate dinners with them, went to movies with them, prayed and celebrated with them. They truly filled him with immense joy.

Strength is for service, not status. The strong helps the weak and is in turn helped by the weak. For who can tell who is the dispenser of grace and who is the recipient of grace in the Kingdom of God where the first shall be the last and the last shall be the first?

REACH OUT

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