There are times when I feel out of my league. When the technology committee convenes, I can follow the big picture ideas and streams of thought. But when they start talking jargon and the nitty gritty, I KNOW that I am not smart enough in this area to add anything, other than to help keep the conversation moving forward. I suspect we all have areas of our lives like that. We don’t know the field, didn’t keep up with the reading on the subject, or perhaps, simply are not good at something (like math.). That is one level of being inadequate. And that has more to do with what we know or don’t know.
But there is this other level, isn’t there – of the times when we feel like WHO we are is not enough, and will never be enough. Perhaps you know that when you leave the hospital bed or nursing home or stop by a family member’s house just after the hospice care nurse left. What could I possible say to make this situation better? How can I ‘fix’ the unfixable? I felt that this past Tuesday after lunch with my friend with ALS and his wife. Somehow you feel that you not only have nothing to give, but that who you are is not nearly enough either. Do you know that experience?
It would have been easy for Peter and John in the first reading to succumb to that. They are fishermen, a long way from home, and from their livelihood. Their ‘bank’ in terms of resources available to them is back in Galilee and they are in Jerusalem. And they are ‘accosted’ by a beggar at the gate. Not much in their pockets to give. And you know how some beggars can be – with those piercing eyes and guilt inducing glance – “DO SOMETHING to help! Anything to help! Please!” In my prayer image of the scene, he skewers them with this glance.
Watch what happens next. Neither Peter nor John shrink away from that moment and its opportunity. They are aware, perhaps painfully, of what they don’t have. Silver nor Gold – the stuff which ‘gets things done’ in the world of both those days and our day. They are out of their league in terms of making a long term difference in the life of that beggar financially. Just as we are completely not up to the task of ending hunger or disease, etc. in our time. Yet, instead of succumbing to that feeling that ‘who I am is not enough’ – they charge right into that man’s life. Not – “I got nothing for you,” but rather: “Here is what I have to give you.” And they trust that their love for Jesus will be enough in this man’s life.
Paul would have had even MORE reasons to think that who he is would never be enough. He describes himself as a “persecutor of the church BEYOND MEASURE”, and “a zealot beyond his own contemporaries.” And yet, there came that moment on the Damascus road where all of that comes crumbling down. Everything that he had defined his sense of self by – his zealousness, his religiosity, even his persecution of the way – none of it is enough. Who he thought himself and created himself to be – Paul the Jewish Pharisee and Zealot –was so, so wrong. But, like Peter and James, rather than be paralyzed into inaction, what do we hear him doing? Recreating his entire identity in the one place where he does matter. “When God, who FROM MY MOTHER’S WOMB had set me apart…was pleased to reveal his Son to me…” – then who he was was enough. ONLY from that place, from his identity in Jesus – does he know that what he is is ALWAYS enough.
As the church celebrates these two pivotal Saints who stand as the pillars of our faith, let me suggest just one way of praying and reflecting this week. Namely this – Finish the statement that Paul lived with his life and that Peter and John voiced in the first reading from Acts. “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have I give you.” What IS it that you have to give away? What is it that you give to God, to your neighbor, your spouse, your friend in need. And, like Peter and Paul, stay with that uncomfortable question until the only answer that rings true is the only answer that matters: What I have to give, is my Lord’s love of me, in me, for you….