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Let the Ice Cream Melt!

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The disciples of Jesus are at sea in today’s Gospel (John 21:1-19).  But they are confused and lost. They are still shocked at the cruel death of Jesus. They don’t know what to do with themselves. So they go off to do what they know best – fishing.

But their whole night of fishing proves to be unprofitable. “Have you caught anything?” asks a voice on the shoreline. 

Their answer: “We have labored all night and have caught nothing.” Aren’t those so often our words? How often have we, in one form or another, spoken them? Maybe we are trying to pick up the pieces of our life after a death, a setback, a loss, an illness, a divorce or the pandemic. And our nets are empty!

I recall feeling this way some years ago after a diverticulitis attack where they had to remove a foot of my colon. I then had to wear the bag for six months. I found myself picking up the pieces as I recovered – piles of mail and magazines everywhere, people to call or email, and projects to get started on again. 

I needed to find the energy to get going again. As far as energy – I found nothing, just like the disciples in the boat. My wheels were spinning, but I was going nowhere. So I tried my best at familiar tasks – pay the bills and try to stay busy. But all day long and all night long – my net was empty!

But then, as so often happens in life, a stranger appears with an important message…..

I had my regular appointment with my cardiologist and on the way home I stopped to get some ice cream that was on sale. “Buy one quart and get one quart free”Not a bad idea after the cardiologist just gave me a good report on my heart.

I got in my car, put down the two quarts of ice cream on a hot summer day and began backing out of my parking space. Then I heard a knock on my car window. I turned and encountered a woman in her 50’s. Her attire looked like it had come from Target or maybe a thrift store. She was carrying an oversized purse. 

“You’ve got to help me,” she pleaded. “I need to get somewhere and I’ve missed the bus.” I thought to myself, “Here comes the pitch for money. What does she want, $10 or $20?” She pulled out a folder from her purse. “I must be at Calvary Chapel on Cypress Creek Road by 6:30 and it’s already 5:30. I’ll never make it. Would you please take me? I’d be happy to pay you!”

I was not wearing any clerical attire. How did she pick ME to be the one to take her to church? These were the days before Uber or Lyft were around for her to use.

My immediate thoughts were: “No, no, no….I have two quarts of ice cream in the car. It is rush hour. Calvary Chapel is at least 45 minutes away. How do I know that once in the car you won’t pull a knife or a gun on me?”

Her voice was pleading: “I finally found a church where the Lord is speaking to me. I need his message tonight to keep going. Things have been rough.”

Besides all the reasons I had for not letting this stranger into my car, I could almost hear what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel, “Cast your net over on the other side, Laz, and you will find something.”  There was no doubt that this was the other side, but I was unsure about what I would find.  

“Come on, get in,” I said. As she did, I got ready to dump on her for intruding on my schedule. No free rides in this car, I thought. 

As we took off, I got ready to say, “Look, it’s rush hour. Do you know how far away Calvary Chapel is? I have ice cream melting in the back seat.” Then I caught myself. She did not need to hear how I was being a hero by getting her to church on time. So I shut my mouth and listened for a change.

Her name was Nancy. She had recently arrived from California. Her husband of 34 years had died a year ago after a cruel and lingering death. Her relationship with Jesus had kept her going. She was looking for work and was starting a new life. 

Nancy kept talking about wanting to find ways of giving back to others. This was a big reason why she wanted to get to church tonight. The message, the music, the fellowship meant everything to her. She said that Jesus had been carrying her and her husband for so long, now it was time for her to carry Jesus and others.

I really started listening to this stranger and what she said. All I had been worrying about was my ice cream melting in the back seat. 

I wouldn’t take any money from her for the ride, so she offered to cook me a meal or come and clean my house. I declined her offer. I was just happy to have gotten her to church on time. As I dropped her off at the church I told her all I wanted was for her to say a few prayers for me. It was obvious how close she was to Jesus.

Soon after she had gotten into my car I realized that this was a ride for me to do nothing but listen. The Lord had a lot to say to me and Nancy was his spokesperson. I never told her I was a priest. I felt the Lord wanted to talk to me as a person and not as a priest. Nancy was most thankful as she left my car. It was then I realized that it was Jesus who had been sitting next to me for the last hour.

All the way home, I had such a warm and wonderful feeling inside of me. Not just for having done a good deed, but because I had met a stranger who had helped me to see that my net and my life were not as empty as I had thoughtThe Lord not only had more for me to do, the Lord wanted a much closer relationship right next to me. “If you did it to one of the least of my sisters or brothers, you did it to me.”

Today’s Gospel also contains the episode of the second chance.The men in the boat were the disciples of Jesus – the disciples who fell asleep on him, the ones who ran away and abandoned him when the going got rough. 

Peter, the leader, denied even knowing him. It was to these men that the stranger appears. He has a question to ask. It is important to realize what the question is NOT: “Do you remember what you did to me?….Why did you abandon me while I was hanging on the cross?….Have you changed your ways and reformed your lives?”

Jesus’ question has nothing to do with the past and everything to do with the present: “Here and now, do you love me?” Let sins be forgotten. Let mistakes be put aside. Let stupidities be buried. Let hurts go by the boards. Let betrayals go unmentioned. All that matters is: “Here and now, do you love me?”

Jesus is asking you and me, possibly through the voice of a stranger“Here and now, do you love me? Will you let me in, not just into your car and your home. Will you let me into your heart?”

Think of a time when the Lord used a stranger to send YOU a message. Did YOU listen? Have YOU let Jesus into YOUR heart? 


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