About three years ago, Jerry was sitting in the pew where you are now – and he heard the exact same readings we just heard. Like most of us – most of it just went over his head. I mean – Jesus just dumped the mother-load on us today – there is SO MUCH in these readings, I could give a thousand homilies…but don’t worry, I’ll only give one. Well – Jerry remembered to pray that prayer, “God show me one way in this Mass I can be a better person this week"….and because he did that, one phrase really stuck with him: “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother.”
So, he thought – what if Jesus is serious? So he raised a quick prayer to God – is there somebody I need to ask for forgiveness? Just that quick, a pine tree flashed into his thoughts – a small one, only a foot tall. That’s when he remembered Mrs. Murphy.
As a kid, he would often cross Mrs. Murphy’s yard on his way to school or to visit friends. One day he noticed about a dozen freshly planted pine trees where he’d not noticed them before. He thought – those are pretty cool – I’d like to havesome trees like that in my yard– so that night, he snuck over there and since they were freshly planted, he was able to simply pull them out of the ground. He took them home and hid them behind the garage – since it was dark. He thought he’d plant them the next day. Well, the next day was Saturday, so he got up late and got busy playing…Sometime after noon, he noticed the trees… they were laying in the sun and wind – roots exposed – so needless to say, they were dead. No big deal, he thought – he shrugged his shoulders and went on playing – and didn’t think more about those trees…
Until Monday monring… he was on his way to school and Mrs. Murphy called out to him from the back porch. My husband bought me some pine trees for our anniversary and we planted them Friday, but when we came out Saturday, they were gone. I know you come through here all the time – did you happen to notice anybody digging up my trees or know somebody who would do something like that?
Jerry swallowed hard – thinking fast – he said – “No I hadn’t even noticed the trees. But, you might check with Randy down the road – I wouldn’t be surprised if he did something like that.”
He went home and threw all of those little trees in the trash can to hide them….. After than, he avoided walking across Mrs. Murphy’s yard – and he forgot completely about those trees.
Until today – in Mass – “if your brother has anything against you, go first and be reconciled”. He thought – OK God, so –what am I supposed to do about it? Surely I’m not supposed to get up in the middle of Mass and go ask for forgiveness…I mean – that would be silly. - but he just couldn’t shake the thought. Finally, he stood up and acted like he was heading to the rest room – and he kept walking – right out the back door.
As he drove the 30 miles to his old hometown, he kept telling himself how crazy this was. Mrs. Murphy probably doesn’t even live there anymore – heck – she may not even be alive! But he kept driving. He drove past the Murphy house and saw a light on in the front room, so he knew somebody was home. He drove around the block like 4 times – each time thinking how stupid this was….but finally he got up the nerve to pull in the driveway. An old lady hobbled to the door and squinted at him through thick glasses.
Hi, are you Mrs. Murphy? Why yes, do I know you?
Mrs. Murphy – you may not remember me, but I’m Jerry – I used to live just a few doors down on the block behind you – remember – I used to cross through your yard on my way to school. Oh – Jerry – yes, I remember now, come on in – would you like some lemonade?– what brings you back home?
Well, Mrs. Murphy – do you remember about 30 years ago you had some little pine trees planted in the back yard and they disappeared? Well – I …. I was the one who took them… and you’re not going to believe this, but well, I was in church this morning and felt like Jesus was telling me I needed to come clean with you and ask forgiveness. So – I’ve got 118 dollars on me and I’m hoping that’s enough to pay for those trees.
Mrs. Murphy had to pick her jaw up off the floor – which means she also probably had to pick her dentures up off the floor. She hollered out – Roger, get in here!
An old man with a walker hobbled into the room to see what the excitement was about. Mrs. Murphy excitedly explained – Roger – you remember Jerry? The little red-head kid who used to cross through our yard? Well he says that Jesus told him to come here today to confess to us that he stole those trees you gave me on our anniversary 30 years ago… can you believe it?! And, he wants to pay us $118 to make up for it. Roger said, Jerry – I really appreciate your honesty – but that was 30 years ago – you just keep your money.
Jerry said – look – I’m only doing what God told me to do. This is your money – whether you want it or not. I don’t care if you give away or what – but it’s your money.
They talked for what seemed like hours – about those trees, about old times and old friends, about what had happened in the old neighborhood, AND about their common faith in Jesus.
As Jerry headed back to his car, there was a definite spring in his step and a feeling of peace…and finally he understood why God had planted that little tree in his thoughts that morning at church. Not only had he uprooted those trees all those years ago, but he had hurt that friendship with the Murphy’s. Had he not come back here, he never would have felt this peace, and the relationship would still be dead.
What trees have you and I uprooted? What relationships have we uprooted? Every time we cause someone else pain, it’s like exposing the roots of our relationship…not just their roots, but our roots too. A tree with bare roots cannot grow and will soon wither and die.
Jesus wants to plant himself in our hearts today in the Eucharist, but he knows that if we have exposed roots, we cannot grow. Our relationship with Jesus cannot grow either – because our relationship with Jesus grows through relationship with other people That’s why forgiveness HAS to come BEFORE the altar.
Like Jerry - you and I can experience the joy that comes from reaching out to those we’ve hurt. It won’t always go that well, because some people just aren’t ready to forgive. But when they are – wow – look out. And here’s the exciting part: Think about what happened AFTER Jerry left that house. For the past three years, Mr. and Mrs. Murphy have told that story a thousand times about how Jesus told Jerry to come back and pay for those trees. Every time they told the story, somebody new had to stop and think about what past hurts THEY had caused, and what relationships they had uprooted. Not only that, but they were inspired by hearing about somebody who actually LIVED an authentic Christian life. We are all awed whenever we come across somebody who actually DOES what Jesus told us to do. Think what would happen if every one of us really lived these teachings that Jesus gave us. We would change the world! Literally, we would CHANGE THE WORLD!
…And, I think that’s what Jesus had in mind all along.