ach Sunday morning on my drive to church the radio station I listen to plays a short segment called “Lives of the Saints: Who am I?” The narrator reads a short bio of a holy person and then poses the question “Who am I?” before revealing the identity. It was one of these saints that came to mind for me in today’s Gospel.
In the third century AD there was a Canaanite named Reprobus who was in service to his king. He got the idea that it would greatly benefit him to be in service of not just his king or any old king, but the most powerful king on earth. He set out on his quest to serve the most powerful. He eventually found a monarch, reputed to be the greatest in the world, and offered him his service. The king accepted and Reprobus entered his court. During a feast a minstrel sang a song that mentioned the name of the devil. The king being Christian crossed himself upon hearing the devil’s name. Reprobus took notice of this. How could any name cause the greatest king to make such a sign? Who was this king afraid of? Reprobus inquired and reluctantly the king explained.
Reprobus, believing that there was one greater than this king, sought out to find this devil and offer his service to him; he found the devil and as the legend says “bound himself to the devil perpetually”.
However, it was not long after this as Reprobus was traveling with the devil, his knights and angels, the company came upon a cross on the roadside. The devil took great pains to lead the band in a great detour around the cross thereby avoiding it. Much like with the previous king, he took notice and asked the devil why take such measures to avoid this cross. And like the king, the devil reluctantly explained.
Aha! Reprobus thought, there is indeed one greater. He left the service of the devil and sought out to find Christ.
Reprobus’ journey then led him to a hermit. The hermit patiently and thoughtfully instructed Reprobus in the faith and eventually explained the service that Christ required of him.
“God requires of you Reprobus to fast”
The legend indicates that Reprobus was over 7 feet tall and quite powerful. A fast would just not do, it would take away his strength.
“OK” says the hermit “God requires you to pray.”
It is pretty clear that Reprobus isn’t quite the meditative and reflective type. That won’t do either.
“Alright, how about this…”
Reprobus was charged by God to go to a nearby river where many had perished attempting to cross. He was to stay there and use his height and strength to carry others across the river. He was tasked to serve others if he wished to serve his Christ, or perhaps more to the point he must serve others as though he was serving Christ.
In today’s Gospel reading we can think of approaching Jesus like Reprobus seeking what it takes to serve Him. We may find ourselves hearing Jesus’ words as an analogy and walking away with the sense that if we do these things – feed the poor, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick and prisoner – we will have done good and will be rewarded. Essentially boil it down to “do good and go to heaven”.
But we must be careful. Like the motive for Reprobus’ search we can find ourselves falling into a trap. Our motives can end up staying centered on what ultimately benefits us. Whatever benefit we seek whether immediate and tangible or divine and eternal, our focus doesn’t get past “what’s in it for me”
This makes it easy to lose the important message found in today’s Gospel. If we get caught up on “do good and go to heaven” we end up missing the other half of doing what is right. The other half is recognizing those moments when God is right in front of us, those glimpses into the kingdom that are right there. Oh how different it becomes when we realize Jesus is present in the hungry, the outcast, the sick, and the prisoner; and by serving those in need the mystical body of Christ – Jesus himself and all of God’s people – we find ourselves standing squarely in God’s kingdom.
We meet God when we stand with the poor as though we are poor, with the homeless as though we are homeless, with the prisoner as though we are a prisoner. There is an amazing and blessed unity in God’s kingdom! The ultimate goal isn’t to be rewarded, but to find those moments when the veil is lifted and God’s kingdom shines through. When we raise those that have fallen, serve one another as though we are serving Christ, and through faith and prayer are sustained through the Holy Spirit God’s kingdom becomes real, present and now.
Your inheritance from God is no less important than mine, in fact we are divinely linked together as members of God’s kingdom. We do not reach heaven on the backs of those we serve, quite the contrary; by living out our Baptismal covenant to “respect the dignity of all people” we serve Christ in them and in turn raise them and ourselves closer to God.
We left our friend Reprobus by the river helping others cross, quite literally serving Christ by carrying others on his back. He wasn’t concerned with who they were, where they came from or where they were going. To be sure there were some trips that put him in great peril. And I’m certain he more than once questioned how he was serving the greatest king.
One day as he was in service at the river a young boy came up and asked for his help in crossing. Reprobus agreed and put the boy on his back and began the journey. The boy, considering his small size, seemed to weigh far more than he should. The water began to rise as they were crossing and the weight of the boy seemed to increase. Eventually the weight of the boy bear down on Reprobus like lead, until his head was nearly underwater and he feared he would drown. Eventually, with great struggle, he made it across and set the boy down on the ground. He said to the boy “You have put me in great danger; you weigh almost as though I had all the world upon me” The boy replied “You have not only born all the world upon you, but you have born him that created the world upon your shoulders. I am Jesus Christ the king, the one whom you serve.” Shortly after that, the boy vanished.
In that encounter Reprobus’ life was forever changed. He took on a new name, common when one has such a close encounter with God. His new name, the one we now know him by, was Christopher – the Christ Bearer.
The truth of the legend is of course often debated, but it gives us a wonderful image of how we can live out today’s Gospel reading.
First, Christopher served all that came seeking assistance to cross the river. As he understood it, this is how he served the greatest king, by serving others. Each one received safe passage through the gifts Christopher was given – strength, courage, fortitude. No one received less than Christopher’s best.
Second, Christopher accepted the sacrifice that came with service to God. He could have been serving an earthly king and would have enjoyed all the trappings of life in the court. He could have stayed in service to the devil and would have benefited through fear. He sought to follow God and this meant serving at the river even if it put his own life at risk, as it did on that final crossing.
And third, his heart was open so the encounter with Christ could transform him. In his later years Christopher went on to a life of prayer and service, he visited prisoners, he preached the Gospel, and he suffered martyrdom for the sake of Christ. Through Christ he found a well of strength of faith that he never knew before.
We serve a living and loving God, and because of that, life is full of kingdom moments. They may not have the excitement and epic qualities of St. Christopher’s encounter with Christ, but they are there.
We play a part in making God’s kingdom known to us and others when we serve all as though we are serving Christ. Or to paraphrase the Golden Rule, do unto others as though they are Jesus. Sacrifice is a part of service to God; we serve others not for our own reward but for the glory and honor of God. As we serve others as though they are Christ, fully recognizing the Holy within them, and let go of our own selfish desires we find ourselves at a point when our souls are transformed and we can see ourselves and others in God’s Holy kingdom.
We recently wrapped up our stewardship campaign, so the concept of time, talent and treasure are definitely in our minds. These are the bricks and mortar of God’s kingdom. Each day Jesus is there in opportunities to carve out a little time for someone who is alone. We all have been richly blessed by God with unique gifts, those gifts aren’t intended for our enrichment, but God’s. Use your talent to build up the kingdom. Each day Jesus is there in moments when a few dollars can be the difference between a child having a meal or going hungry. The work to build up God’s kingdom is all around us, because we are builders for the kingdom of God.
Preached by Mike Corey