Sunday, February 15, 2015

Transforming our brokenness

In 1981, violinist Peter Cropper, was invited to Finland to play a special concert. The Royal Academy of Music in London had loaned him their priceless 285-year-old Stradivarius violin for use in the concert. The violin takes its name from its maker, Antonio Stradivari, who made it from over 80 pieces of special wood and covered with 30 coats of special varnish. The special sound of a Stradivarius has never been duplicated.

Peter arrived in Finland with the rare and beautiful instrument for his concert, however, as he was walking on stage for the performance, he tripped and fell, landing on top of the priceless treasure, breaking it into several pieces. He flew back to London in a state of shock.

However, his good fortune was a master craftsman named Charles Beare who worked successfully for well over a month to repair the violin. Once he had it back together, came the dreaded moment of truth – what would the violin sound like?

Beare handed the violin to Cropper, who’s heart was pounding inside his chest as he picked up his bow to play. Those present could hardly believe their ears. Not only was the violin’s sound excellent, it even sounded better than before. In the months ahead Cropper took the violin on a worldwide tour, beginning here in New York at Carnegie Hall and the precious violin that everyone thought ruined drew standing ovations, once again, everywhere it went.

The story of this violin is a helpful in understanding what is going on in our Scriptures today. Both our First Reading and Gospel passage talk about something that is not really a part of our daily lives anymore – the scourge of leprosy. It was, however, something more commonly seen in ancient times and even just a century ago – we recall saints like Franciscan sister, Saint Marianne Cope and Saint Damian of Molokai who cared for lepers in Hawaii about 100 years ago – but in our own world today, encountering people with this difficult disease is not a part of our regular life. But, in ancient times, people were terribly afraid of encountering a leper; afraid that they themselves might catch the disease from them. The lepers life was difficult to say the least. People turned away at their sight and even Psalm 31 tells us from the lepers perspective, “Those who know me are afraid of me; when they see me in the street, they run away. I am like something thrown away.”

To this tragic figure, Jesus responds lovingly and with compassion, not turning or running away, but moving close touching the man with love and healing him. The story of the leper, like the story of the violin, both serve as metaphors for our contemporary experience. They remind us of something that happens over and over in life. Too frequently tragedy strikes our lives – perhaps a loved one dies, or a friend betrays us, or an accident leaves someone disabled, or we or someone we know loses their job, or we know people suffering from the challenge of addiction. The list can go on.

When struggle, challenge and even tragedy strike our lives, we can be overwhelmed and crushed, just like the leper must have been when he realized the disease he had contracted. We can be plunged into shock, like Peter Cropper when he broke the precious violin. But, both of these stories remind us that, with Jesus, there is nothing that we can’t survive; there is nothing that we can’t recover from; that there is no moment from which we can’t pick up the pieces and begin again.

Like the craftsman who fixed the violin – Jesus is always waiting to repair whatever is broken in our lives. That and more. Jesus can take our brokenness and transform it into something better and more beautiful than it was before.

In 1917, an explosion burned the legs of 8 year old Glenn Cunningham so badly that the doctors were considering amputation. The managed to save his legs, but thought he would be an invalid for life. Two years later, Glenn was off his crutches and was not only walking but running. Eventually he became a college runner and intercollegiate records were soon crumbling literally beneath his feet. By the Berlin Olympics, Glenn not only qualified for the 1,500 meter dash – he broke the Olympic record for it. A year later, he’d break the indoor mile and soon was considered the world’s fastest runner. The boy whose life was broken by a tragic explosion came back stronger and better than he was before.

St. Paul sums it up this way in Second Corinthians, “We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…Therefore, we are not discouraged.”

This, my friends, is the Good News of our Scriptures today – that even the bad news can be transformed through faith. That Jesus can transform our challenge and suffering into something beautiful and more precious if we surrender it to Him and invite Him into the midst of it.

Let me conclude with an old prayer that you may have heard before:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for but got everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all people, most richly blessed.

May the Lord give you peace.

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