Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 21)

I recently heard one of those stories that seem to be too funny to be true but it is. It happened in Corpus Christi, Texas about three years ago. There was a contractor assigned to do repairs on the ATM machine at one of the local banks. He had to work while the bank was closed so as not to disrupt the business. He arrived at the bank, turned the alarms off and went inside.

The components to the ATM were located on the inside of the bank in a closet adjacent to the wall. He prepared his tools. It was a small confined space so he could only bring in what he needed. He opened the door and went inside. Bending down to pick up a screw driver, he accidentally dislodged the jam that was holding the door opened and it closed.

He was now locked inside the ATM machine. His phone was on the outside with his other tools. No one was in the bank so he could not get help that way. The walls were so thick that they were sound proof. The only way he could get help was if someone tried to use the ATM. Someone did. He wrote a note: “Please help. I’m stuck in here and I don’t have my phone. Please call my boss.”

At first people getting the note thought it was a prank so they did nothing. Finally, someone receiving a note on the receipt called the police. They came and also at first thought it was a prank but decided to look. They went into the bank and opened the door to find a very relieved repair man.

The story is a humorous look at the call for help. I’m glad the man was not claustrophobic or the story might not have been as funny. We all know the need for help. When difficult situations arise in life the need becomes more pronounced. The call for help turns into a plea and sometimes even a cry. Such is the case with Jeremiah in the first reading for Sunday’s Mass.

He is in a bad situation. “I hear the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him!” he says. The danger is real. So real that his life is in jeopardy. The forces against him are pressing in upon him. One gets the sense that he is being boxed in with nowhere to go. What does he do? He calls on the Lord.

“O Lord of hosts, you who test the just, who probe the mind and heart, let me witness the vengeance you take on them, for to you I have entrusted my cause. Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!”

Jeremiah turns to the Lord for help. His memory of the Lord’s goodness to Israel in the past fills him with confidence in his plea. Psalm 69 has a similar theme. The psalmist prays: “I pray to you, O Lord, for the time of your favor, O God! In your great kindness answer me with your constant help. Answer me, O Lord, for bounteous is your kindness.; in your great mercy turn toward me.” We make that prayer our own when we respond: “Lord, in your great love, answer me.”

The confidence we have in the Lord’s assistance is rooted in our memory of his mercy. This memory is stirred by St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans. He recalls the life that has been won for us through Jesus. Sin entered the world through one man, Adam. And with that sin came death. God sends his Son, Jesus to heal and save. Through his death and resurrection, the power of sin and death are broken. St. Paul writes: “But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.”

Jesus delivers us from sin and death. He is our help and our shield (cf. Psalm 33:20). So much so that he himself will say in the Gospel: “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.”

Jesus teaches us: “Fear no one.” No one or no thing or no situation can destroy the life that God has given in his mercy. Jesus reminds us that we are known by the Father and loved by him. So much so that he says: “Even all the hairs on your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

The past few months have been trying times for many in our communities in many different ways. The pandemic and all its implications, racism and all its implications, social unrest and violence and all its implications are just some of the ways in which we might feel “boxed in” like Jeremiah. Where do we turn? Where do we look? To whom do we cry for help? We turn to the Lord. He has delivered us in the past and will do so in the present.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.