Jesus sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
“If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
Taking a child, he placed it in their midst,
And putting his arms around it, he said to them,
“Whoever receives on child such as this in my name, receives me;
And whoever receives me,
Receives not me but the one who sent me.”
Elie Wiesel (Jewish writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner) tells a very disturbing story in one of his books. Once after delivering a lecture in New York he met a man who looked vaguely familiar. He began to wonder who he was and where they had met before. Then he remembered. He had known him in Auschwitz. Suddenly an incident involving this man came back to him.
As soon as children arrived by train at Auschwitz, together with the elderly and the sick, they were immediately selected for the gas-chamber. On one occasion a group of children were left to wait by themselves for the next day. This man asked the guards if he could stay with the children during their last night on earth. Surprisingly his request was granted.
How did they spend that last night? He started off by telling the children stories in an effort to cheer them up. However, instead of cheering them up, he succeeded only in making them cry. So what did they do? They cried together until daybreak. Then he accompanied the little ones to the gas chamber. Afterwards he returned to the prison yard to report for work. When the guards saw him, they burst out laughing.
The man’s heroic act of service towards the little ones shines out all the brighter because of the darkness of the background. In Auschwitz all that was good and decent was trampled into the ground. There, self-interest was the name of the game. Compassion was as rare as a flower in winter.
Yet this man rose above all that. He risked his life to befriend the little ones. He had no answers to give them, no salvation to offer them. All he could do was accompany them during their last hours so that they would not suffer alone.
He is a Christ-like figure. He would not participate in evil. Neither would he stand idly by and watch others suffer without trying to alleviate their sufferings.
Even though he was just an ordinary prisoner, with no rank or status of any kind, he was undoubtedly the greatest person in that sad place on that sad occasion. What made him great was his goodness.
This week show your greatness. There will be an opportunity to care for a little one (whatever their age may be). Show them your goodness.
I am grateful to the men and women who came to the parish house last Saturday and worked on the outside on a hot day. It looks so much better. Thank you for showing me your goodness. You are great.