It was one of the best homilies I’ve ever heard. I still remember it almost word for word more than 40 years after I experienced it.
My priest friend John and I were conducting a retreat for young adults. The occasion was Palm Sunday, and Luke’s Gospel was read for the procession of palms. In it, Jesus gives two of his disciples this instruction.
Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this, “The Lord needs it.” (Luke 19:30-31)
Father John’s homily was just a few words lasting less than a minute.
I invite you to identify with the beast of burden in today’s Gospel. It needed to be untied because the Lord needed it. My prayer is for each of you to be untied because the Lord has need of you.
For more than forty years, I’ve reflected on the ways I need to be untied and on the ways the Lord has need of me. Father John’s words have provided me with helpful guidance on my spiritual journey.
All too often, I experience being tied up by anxiety and fear, by self-centered behavior, and by wounds that cripple me. Although each of us experiences these in different ways, they affect us all. They are part of the human condition. We all need to be untied – freed from whatever is holding us back.
We need to be freed from the ways anxiety and fear turn us inward. In their grip, we can become preoccupied with our own safety and security. Anxiety and fear trigger self-protective behavior and trap us in our comfort zones. They allow us to ignore what we don’t want to see and turn a blind eye to those in need.
We need to be freed from the ego-centric selfishness that is “all about me.” Selfishness is easy to see in others. We recognize it in the arrogance of the Pharisee’s prayer. (Luke 18:9-14) We see it in the rich young man’s inability to give up his possessions in order to follow Jesus. (Matt. 19:16-22) Such self-centered behavior is harder to detect in ourselves. It’s all too easy to overlook the effort we make to promote our own agenda, cling to attachments, and rationalize our misbehavior.
We need to be freed from the wounds that cripple us. We are all wounded. It is an inevitable consequence of being human. Our wounds range from not getting what we needed to being the victim of serious abuse and violence. They may cut deep – impacting us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. However deep the wound and whatever the cause, we need to be healed. As long as we are defined by the wound, it will hold us back.
The experiences of fear, selfishness, and being wounded turn our energy inward. They create a kind of personal energy crisis that limits our initiative and stunts our growth. We need to be untied – freed from all that holds us back. Being “freed from” all that ties us up, however, is not enough. Father John’s homily has a second point. We also need to be “freed for” the ways in which the Lord has need of us.
Being untied frees us from anxiety and fear and frees us for trusting the presence and love of God.
When the disciples’ boat is being tossed about by a storm, they are scared to death. “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” (Matt. 8:25) After calming the storm, Jesus chides them: “Why are you afraid, you of little faith.” (Matt. 8:26) Jesus makes clear that fear – not doubt – is the opposite of faith. Being united frees us to place our ultimate trust in God. It allows us to live with confidence that God is with us no matter what comes. Paul puts it this way: “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31) Cultivating a deep trust in God frees us to be mission-ready – open to the ways in which the Lord has need of us.
Being untied frees us from our selfish inclinations and frees us for reaching out to serve others.
Being untied turns us inside out. It shifts our energy from focusing on ourselves to serving those in need. Jesus’ teaching calls us to this: Those who wish to be the greatest must serve the least. (Matt. 23:11-12) He models it by washing the feet of his disciples. (John 13:1-15) He makes a dramatic point that the way we respond to the hungry, the naked, and all those in need is the way we respond to him. (Matt. 25:31-46) Being untied frees us to respond to the needs of others. It empowers us to “do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5)
Being untied frees us from our wounds and frees us for living with compassion and love.
Being untied involves healing. The healing process has the potential to gift us with compassion for all who suffer. Compassion is the deep, gut-level response that Jesus has for those in need. He is moved with compassion when a leper falls to his knees in front of him. (Mark 1:40-43) Jesus has compassion for the crowd, and he heals all those who are brought to him. (Matt. 14:14). He responds with compassion when he encounters a widow burying her only son. (Luke 7:11-15) The hidden gift of being wounded and experiencing healing is the invitation to grow in compassion and love. They invite us to live in solidarity with all who suffer. In the midst of the ever-mounting forces that threaten to divide us, compassion and love provide a powerful energy of connection that unites us as sisters and brothers.
Yes, Father John’s homily is one of the best I ever heard. That said, a homily – even a great one – is only words until we begin to live it. The greatness of this homily began with a few simple words. Its powerful impact, however, has come from the traction it gained in my life. For more than four decades, I’ve tried to embrace the process of being untied. Doing so has opened my heart and my life to the many ways the Lord has need of me. I hope these same words will find traction in your lives and give guidance and encouragement. As Father John said so well: “My prayer is for each of you to be untied because the Lord has need of you.”
Questions to Ponder
Here are some questions to help you reflect on Father John’s words.
- In what ways do you need to be untied?
- Freed from anxiety and fear?
- Freed from selfish tendencies?
- Freed from wounds that cripple you?
- In what ways do you need to be freed for?
- Placing your trust and confidence in God?
- Reaching out to serve others?
- Living with compassion and love?
- In what ways can Father John’s words find traction in your life – today?