In the Gospel of Luke, there is a curious little scene shortly after Jesus began his public ministry. He had proclaimed that the “Spirit of the Lord” was upon him in the synagogue in Nazareth (Lk 4:18). Then his first real healing miracle took place at the home of Peter, whose mother-in-law had been afflicted with a debilitating fever (Lk 4:38). We are told that Jesus stood over her, rebuked the fever and healed her. In fact, she was healed so thoroughly that she immediately got up to prepare food for Jesus and her guests.
This healing was not exactly the kind that would make much of a splash. We might think that Luke ought to have started Jesus’ healing ministry with something more dramatic: healing a paralyzed man, even raising someone from the dead. It seems to me, however, that Luke begins with this simple healing, witnessed by only a few people, to make some important points. A basic premise of his Gospel is “Little things mean a lot.”
Isn’t it true that we often place emphasis on the spectacular events in our lives? There are indeed many wonderful things in our lives that powerfully influence us. But there are as many or more times when a brief moment or event touches us just as deeply.
Luke does the same thing at the end of Jesus’ ministry, just days before his passion and death. Again, we would expect Luke to record some truly startling moment in Jesus’ ministry. But instead, he uses the simplest person to bring home a most important point to his disciples and to us. A poor widow has only two almost worthless copper coins, but in faith she places them in a 15-gallon container as her donation for the upkeep of the Temple. And here Jesus says, “Look, my brothers, this widow gave more than all the others combined” (Lk 21:1ff). Amazing, isn’t it?
What’s the lesson here? Keep everything in perspective. Little things mean a lot.
I’ve painted transparent watercolors for over 20 years now. In most of my paintings, I use a large one-and-one-half inch brush for most of the painting. You can imagine how large the strokes are. Yet by turning the brush in various angles, I can make a variety of small strokes.
There is also a very thin and slender brush called a “rigger brush” that I use at the end of a painting to place some very small strokes. It would seem these strokes are almost insignificant, but they are essential for the painting. They may add weeds, grasses or a slender tree branch. They may put in a telephone line or a piece of rope hanging from a barn. Without these very small strokes, you would inevitably sense that something is missing. In portrait painting, the face appears dead unless you put a dot of white paint to image the light in the eye. One dot in each eye makes the portrait come alive.
Jesus taught so much using seemingly unimportant and simple images. He taught in paradoxical images. “Unless you become a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” What? Does that make sense? Most of us have been working all our lives to become more and more mature and smart. And here Jesus is saying we should become like children. Of course, he is referring to the heart of a child, who sees what seems to be hidden. A child looks at reality with faith and trust because of what others have told him. When we struggle with hurt, loss or pain, we pray, “Lord, help me to understand this so that I can believe.” But Jesus replies, “No, believe and then you will understand.”
In the classic movie, The Song of Bernadette, about St. Bernadette and Our Lady’s mysterious appearances to her,the last words on the screen address the question many people asked at the time: “Were those appearances that only Bernadette could see real or just her imagination?” The audience was left with this statement: “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.” The Gospel of Luke is full of these mysteries.
Both Peter’s mother-in-law and the widow were women. In Jesus’ time, women were second-class citizens. They could not be witnesses in a trial because they were seen as untrustworthy. In Luke’s Gospel, we see that Jesus is acquainted with many women and counts many women among his friends. Luke alone describes Jesus raising the dead son of the widow of Naim back to life. (Lk 7:11-16) and healing the woman, who had been bent over for 18 years, on the Sabbath (Lk 13:10ff). He describes the women followers (disciples) of Jesus, including Mary Magdalene and others who had been cured of evil spirits.
Heaven’s Revelation: Little Things Are Important
I think one of the most fascinating aspects of heaven (our union with God) is that, in an instant, we will know the total truth about our lives and our journey on earth. For the first time in our lives, we will finally see everything in proper perspective. We will discover that many of the most important things and people in our lives were those that seemed to us the least important, almost insignificant. We will discover that holiness was often made up of the simplest and most ordinary things we did: not miracles, not walking on water or doing great healings, but rather giving ourselves to the Lord in the most simple way by saying, “Lord, you take over.”
Think of some of the simplest moments in your life. Are you surprised that now they seem so powerful and wonderful? Seeing God face to face will bring us total understanding of every moment of our lives.
Dear Friar Jack: Thank you for explaining the Franciscan Coat of Arms. I knew what the hands represented but didn’t know what the two symbols above the cross signified. Also, why are the hands in what appears to be water? I look forward to receiving your e-mail messages. They always give me joy. Much peace, Lita, SFO
A: Dear Lita: Several readers shared your curiosity about the other symbols on the coat of arms. This particular Coat of Arms was created especially for the Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist of Cincinnati, Ohio. This is the province I belong to, and the one that runs St. Anthony Messenger Press.
The water the hands are rising from, as well as the waves in the upper right corner, symbolize the baptismal water associated with St. John the Baptist, the patron of our province. The image in the upper left corner is a plowshare (which cuts furrows in the earth). The city of Cincinnati is named after a 5th-century Roman patriot named Cincinnatus, who left his farm to lead the city of Rome to victory over its enemies. The plowshare is a symbol of this farmer-hero and of the city of Cincinnati. I hope this helps you and other readers who had similar questions. Friar Jack