In the classic film, Forrest Gump, Lt. Dan Taylor asks Forrest: "Have you found Jesus yet, Gump?" Forrest answers: "I didn't know I was supposed to be looking for him, sir."
The most uncomplicated and straightforward of individuals like Forrest have such pure hearts that they let their hearts lead them. In doing so they move right into the hearts of others. Forrest has a reputation for being slow, but his heart is in the right place, always for others.
In the today's gospel reading, Jesus' situation is tense. The Greeks have come to inquire of Jesus at the Passover feast. Jesus answers various questions directly: "....The hour has come.... The dying grain of wheat produces much fruit... Whoever serves must follow.... Now is the time of judgment on this world". Jesus' heart would emphasize, "I will draw everyone to myself" (Jn 12: 20 - 33).
LIving in Zimbabwe since 1982, I have found many answers to questions dealing with the good that is needed for others. The answers have been selfishly ignored over time. Whether it is education, health, resources, environment, agriculture the question comes to mind: Do people really matter? With the resignation of the President of Zimbabwe at the end of 2017, the army disciplined the police, and people were happy to see a degree of justice. The education system, where high fees widened the gap between the haves and have-nots, is one area among many that needs correction. They remind us of a clean heart...people do count.
Selected verses of Psalm 51 stress that a clean heart is full of goodness, mercy, receiving a steadfast spirit, and spreading the joy of salvation. Looking at Zimbabwe's past transgressions under a corrupt, selfish and intimidating rule had to be done. Zimbabwe fits right into Psalm 51. The dramatic and " from within " overturning this rule had been unexpected but genuinely welcomed – a truly miraculous start. The faith we struggle to hold and the hope we dare to embrace with the purest heart we can muster, takes place, so far. As one Zimbabwean friend and loyal co-worker exclaimed, " We need more rainfall, Lord have mercy," others chimed in about the need for clean water, for the "nipping" of corruption and nepotism, for affordable education, for "clean" health, for rain and crops, for consideration of the orphan and the widow, for the needs of the land and its creatures. "Cleanse my heart, Lord have mercy."
Interestingly, the weather patterns, the struggle to farm in dryland conditions, and to fight agricultural pests, are more talked about, as people look to the heavens for answers and wonder about the change in the weather that is so evident, and its effect on food production. Somehow the worldwide concerns of climate change have narrowed into the consciousness of local folks in a more direct way. Experience and how to survive are great teachers. Rooting out crop pests and rooting out corrupt leaders, what's the difference? When lack of land stewardship upsets the balance of the hawk and its prey, the black mamba, cobra, and monitor lizard are right under our feet and larger animals are the prey of game/poachers. We realize the practical truth: Political resettlement of productive lands produce dereliction and carnage, and just another item in the corruption cycle. Taking, always taking. The opposite of corruption is a clean heart.
Selflessness is a great virtue. Decompressing extreme egos is great action, where once the heart skipped a beat in fear of egomaniacs.
Do our examples fit into the psalm? "...Cleanse me of my guilt in the greatness of your compassion... Don't take your Holy Spirit from me... Give me the joy of your salvation... Teach transgressors your ways..." Using the simplest of ways to carry on with life is motivation and renewed hope.
Where do we go from here? Wherever we find ourselves, let our clean heart beat for others. The majority of our problems emanate from broken relationships. Transformation in our attempts at oneness with Jesus is challenging and humbling. Efforts to mend damaged relationships? This is a big job in Zimbabwe, but Jesus was in the business of reconciling. Strong people don't put others down. They lift them up. Going out of our comfort zone can be hard but that selflessness affects everything.
"I never saw a bird sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without having felt sorry for itself ". (A Wild Thing, D.H. Lawrence) No room for self-pity.
"No creature is superfluous, all of creation speaks of God's love... everything is, as it were, a caress of God ".(Laudato Si' 84) Let all life be respected, cared for, and nurtured from our pure heart.
As Jesus feared what was to come in the Passion of His life, He was totally for others. A well-known economist and Catholic convert late in his life, E.F. Schumacher reflected: "One thing I realized. In my own view it is a very important part of a person's spiritual development to overcome (their) own egocentricity, (their) pride." It is necessary to sort out our values of reality, to clear our minds....to have a clean heart.
Then today's gospel makes more sense. Jesus was on the cutting edge, putting His emphasis on all the right places, complete in fear and in trust....heading toward His last day, there was great work to do.
Photo: Maryknoll Sr. Mary Frances Kobets (center) with children in Zimbabwe. Read more about Sr. Fran's ministry in Zimbabwe on the Maryknoll Sisters website.