While dusting my son Mike’s “old” room, I came across some books which he and I made together before he started school. “Zoom” is the first written word Mike recognized, likely because it was the title of his favorite television show. We built upon this milestone by writing THE ZOOM BOOK together.
As I thumbed through this eight-page chronicle of Mike and his favorite people’s ability to zoom, I plodded further down Memory Lane. Images from my teaching career and the hundreds of other potential readers I encountered filled me up. As a classroom teacher, my inability to secure assistance for all of the children who needed help with reading frustrated me. When I eventually became a reading teacher, I intended to see to it that every reluctant reader would receive assistance.
Early on, I discovered that when I collected my “remedial” students from their classrooms, some of the other children made disparaging remarks, rolled their eyes or smirked. These children who did not require help with reading seemingly decided that there was something lacking in the children who did. Sadly, I realized that even my own students defined a pecking order among themselves to eliminate any question regarding who was most needy. The greatest frustration of my teaching career -and of life in general, for that matter- has been the willingness of some of us to hurt others by designating “outcasts” among us. My students and their classmates were no exception, and I determined on the spot to do something about it.
I am forever grateful for the love of books that my Children’s Literature professor passed on to me in college. Sister Mary W. convinced me that if I could get a child to pick up a book, getting that child to read it would be a breeze. So it was that I went about convincing my students that their lives would not be complete if they failed to explore each new book I found for them.
As my students’ collections of “readable” books grew, so did their willingness to read. An unexpected outcome was that I did not have to lecture the little cohort who made fun of my students. Some of them actually asked if they could also come to my classroom to get some of those “cool” books. Though I could not invite the little imps in for lessons, I rewarded their changes of heart by reading to their entire class and leaving some of my books for them to enjoy. In the end, my students learned to read, their classmates stopped teasing them, and all concerned were excited, at least some of the time, about books.
Luke’s gospel (Luke 4:21-30) tells us that Jesus also found himself the outcast. While in the synagogue in Nazareth where he grew up, Jesus read this passage from the Prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim a year of the Lord’s favor.” When Jesus set aside the scroll, he told the people that this saying had come to fruition before them.
While Jesus’ neighbors marveled at his knowledge, they wondered why Jesus performed no good works among them. After all, those closest to Jesus certainly deserved a miracle or two. What of the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed? The locals considered themselves faithful believers who deserved far more than these wretches. However, rather than offering a miracle, Jesus responded with a lesson. Jesus insisted that ones proximity to a temple or preacher, priest or prophet, bible or scroll, has far less to do with ones relationship with God than does the generosity of ones spirit. It is in reaching out beyond the confines of our comfort zones to those who need us most that we determine just how close we are to God. Sadly, Jesus’ neighbors missed the point and failed to recognize the joy to be found in loving all whom God places in our paths. They failed to see that when we eliminate the outcasts among us, everyone is family and every place is our home.
When I convinced my students to read books, I succeeded only because they opened themselves up to my message. Because they believed me, these reluctant readers turned page after page in book after book. When they took the risk of reading for themselves, my students encountered the adventures I had promised them and they discovered just how capable they were. This is precisely the challenge Jesus offered his neighbors that day in the temple. This is also the challenge Jesus offers to us today.
If we dare to reach beyond our own comfort zones and our own painful places to our neighbors near and far, we will find amazing ways to love one another. We will also discover the absolute joy that comes with putting others before ourselves. In the midst of our reaching out, everyone will indeed become our family and every place will be our home. In the end, we will find ourselves extremely close to God which was Jesus’ intent all along.
©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved