"Amen, Amen I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me." John 13:20
I am very aware that I have been sent by Jesus by reason of my priesthood, my vocation in this life. I have truly been blest because I feel that I have been received with great hospitality in all of the places I’ve been sent, whether it has been in the Philippines, where I am now, or in Vietnam or Korea or Venezuela, to only name a few countries I’ve visited. No matter whether I speak the language or not, I am welcomed into homes, Churches and assemblies and feel that I am being welcomed as Jesus is welcomed.
When I started praying the Scriptures that we read for today’s Mass, I began to ask myself how welcoming am I of other people, those people who enter into my life for some reason or another? I am not so sure that I always welcome all the people who come into my life as I welcome Jesus. And more importantly, I question, sometimes, whether it is Jesus who is really sending these people into my life. Some of these people are truly offensive. I have sat down next to individuals on long flights that were so smelly that I had to turn my face in another direction in order to breathe some fresh air. I’ve had people approach me in the street that demanded that I give them something in ways of alms. I’ve been at some meetings (very few) where the ones attending were so irritated and upset with the Church or with the Passionists that they raised their voices in anger to make their point. These are just some examples of when I have felt that I didn’t welcome people as if they were sent by Jesus.
When I reflect upon those moments, I can reason that Jesus really doesn’t send people into my life to make my life more uncomfortable or miserable. An easy way to deal with these kinds of people is to dehumanize them, to say that they are not really human beings, they are really not my brothers and sisters in the Lord. I can create within my Spiritual frame of reference an image of the type of people who Jesus should send into my life. They will always be clean-cut, they will always be respectful and courteous, they will always obey the law, they will always behave like "proper" human beings. If they do not conform to my understanding of the kind of person who Jesus sends my way, then I don’t have to receive them, I don’t have to pay attention to them.
Unfortunately for me, the Scriptures do not leave me much choice. I either believe that everyone that God has given life to is sent by Jesus or else, I can believe that there are two kinds of people in this world, the ones I can accept and the ones I can reject. I can reason that Jesus was using a metaphor, a figure of speech, or else truly believe that He laid down his life for all people, for those who accepted Him and for those who rejected Him and offered each one of us redemption, that is, Everlasting Life.
Alas, I also have to come to terms with something else that Jesus said in today’s Gospel: "Amen, Amen I say to you, no salve is greater than his master or any messenger greater than the one who sent him." Please, Lord, give me the grace to receive you in all those you send into my life.
Fr. Clemente Barron, C.P. is a member of the General Council of the Passionist Congregation and is stationed in Rome.