It was late afternoon when we boarded the Regional Line Train from Köln, Germany. Mike, our cousins and I had spent the day touring this beautiful city and we were most grateful to settle into our seats. Sightseeing had filled us up with much to contemplate. Our daylong walk had taken its toll, leaving us completely exhausted. While Mike, Stjepan and Josip nodded off, I focused on the view beyond my window. Tired as I was, I fought the urge to nap because there was so much to see as the train carried us out of the city. In the midst of my revelry, I turned away from the window in response to a yelping dog in the back of the car. Pets are welcomed by the German railways. Nonetheless, in spite of the Regional Line’s hospitality, this excitable pup wasn’t dealing well with the trip. Two women seated near the unhappy canine decided to seek refuge in the empty seats across from me. Though the show outside my window continued, something compelled me to attend to my new neighbors.
As I watched, I saw that one of the women spoke with great effort as her companion encouraged her to express what she wanted to say. I couldn’t tell if this companion was a family member or a caregiver, and it didn’t matter. It became evident very soon that her palpable kindness drew tangible joy from the special woman in her care. While many of our fellow commuters napped, this companion made the most of these moments shared. Though the special woman’s language was extremely difficult to understand, she listened carefully. She must have understood perfectly because her replies always elicited a smile from her special friend. After talking a while, the companion traced a sign on the special woman’s palm. From my vantage point, this sign seemed to be a smiling face. The special woman carefully traced her companion’s invisible strokes. She giggled happily when she realized that she’d imitated her companion perfectly. The companion went on to demonstrate a few more signs that her friend traced with equal precision, smiling happily after each one. Eventually, the pair settled back and gazed out the window. The special woman smiled most of the time, seemingly as entertained as I had been with the show outside of our windows. For perhaps a minute, she became quite pensive and then returned to her contented smile. I wondered if God took advantage of those quiet moments to assure this special friend that her smile was irresistible.
As I turned back to my own window, I considered the precious gift of this special woman’s simple heart. Many of the complications of this life escaped her. She invested her time and energy in only the most important task at hand –appreciating those in her company by listening and by expressing herself as best she could. It occurred to me that her gentle and patient companion must have seen a glimpse of what God saw in this special woman. No matter how difficult it might have been for others to understand, this companion always seemed to understand the special woman’s messages. Every syllable, sign, facial expression and shrug of the shoulders spoke volumes to this most attentive listener who never seemed to tire of her special friend’s company. Though I saw many beautiful and amazing sites in Köln, nothing touched me quite as deeply as the two women I observed on the train that day.
In today’s gospel (Matthew 23:1-12), Jesus expresses great displeasure with the scribes and Pharisees. Their arrogance blinds them to the beauty that lies in the hearts of the people they are meant to serve. They busy themselves with holding those beneath them to the letter of the law regardless of the cost, while obtaining every fringe benefit and honor that their status in the temple affords them. Though they’re in a position to serve their brothers and sisters as Jesus does, they choose to embrace the world’s fleeting riches instead. You and I don’t enjoy the scribes’ and Pharisees’ far-reaching authority over others. Still, we do control what it is that our hearts and our hands attend to. Today, God invites us to take a lesson from Jesus and from the two women I met on the train in Germany. God asks us to tune in a bit less to the world’s demands and to tune in a bit more to the people we’ve been given to love. Our purpose isn’t to secure our positions in this world. Our purpose is to secure the hearts of those around us with the certainly that they are loved.
©2011 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved