Just after World War II Army Surplus Stores were rich quarries for lads like Peter and me! They were real treasure-troves in which we could rummage through what other people had rejected. For us this was a real adventure -a journey of discovery. We delighted in using our ingenuity to see if we could find the components for making something useful out of what had been discarded. We relished the challenge -we still do.
From the shop near our home in Birmingham we found all we needed for making a 'cat's whisker' radio crystal set. Imagine our excitement when it produced its first sound, which was remarkably clear. From the same source we also made a photographic enlarger. And in the same spirit I later cannibalized two old cameras and made a zoom lens. In an earlier blog posting Peter has shown how eagerly we rose to the challenge of solving a problem by putting a familiar object, such as a flower support, to a new use -organizing his pens.
I suppose this instinct to throw away nothing and re-cycle everything was developed during wartime austerity. Since new materials and objects were scarce the motto was, "Make do and mend." Delight in responding to this challenge has stuck with us. And not only with Peter and me. A fellow Dominican student far surpassed us in his creative scavenging. He took great pride in showing us the bicycle, which he'd put together from parts he gleaned from a scrap yard. What's more it worked! To do something like that is much more satisfying than going to a shop and buying a brand new bike, radio or lens.
True, my refined and well-organized brethren mock me for being an incurable and somewhat chaotic hoarder, who believes that everything will eventually become useful. But they don't hesitate to come to me when they need something, such as a piece of string, a nail or a tool. Usually I've got it, and smugly I would give it to them!
While Peter and I have made an exciting hobby out of rescuing rejects from the scrapheap, this, precisely, is God's speciality. His focus is not on material objects, but on people. In this He seems to go out of His way to stack the odds against Himself. He chooses the most unlikely people to do His work -the weak and foolish of this world, So St.Paul tells us,
"God chose what is foolish in the world in order to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong," (1 Cor. 1. 27).
Thus, the prophet Ezekiel likens God's Chosen People to a baby girl, abandoned in the desert to die. He found her, took her into His home, bestowed His riches on her and made her His queen and bride, (cf. Ezekiel ch. 16). In similar vein God chose Gideon -the least from the weakest of the tribes of Israel -to defeat their powerful enemy. David, a shepherd boy, not a powerful warrior, was chosen to slay the giant, Goliath. And Jesus selected a small group of fishermen to become the foundation stones of the New People of God, with the responsibility of spreading the Gospel throughout the world.
Jesus reached out to those who were in any way marginalized as social rejects. He had a special affection for those whom others dismissed as worthless. He mixed with lepers, who would have made Him ritually unclean. He made time to welcome those whom the self-important brushed aside -young children or the blind beggar, Bartimaeus. He drew attention to the generosity of a poor widow, who gave all that she had. Jesus held such despised people up as having the qualities required of a true disciple.
Above all, Jesus welcomed sinners, whom the self-righteous dismissed as worthless no-hopers. As He forgave them He welcomed them into a loving relationship with God. He gave them back their self respect, and removed their crushing burden of guilt. God's love and mercy gives even the greatest of sinners another chance. When they -we -have fallen, He gets us back onto our feet so that, with His help, we can move forward.
Not only does God rescue those who have been confined to the scrapheap of life. Through the power of His loving mercy they receive the dignity of becoming the children of God. They begin to share His divine life and happiness. And no matter how limited our powers, and however weak and frail we may be, God has a special role for each one of us to play. No one need feel useless or worthless.
By reflecting on my delight at the way other people's rejects can become treasures for Peter and me I've come to realize something of God's joy at rescuing those who have been cast onto the scrapheap. They have been restored as His beloved sons and daughters. If I'm to meet God I must share in His rescue operation, helping those who have become the flotsam of life to gain the dignity and respect of being the children of God. Above all, I must remember with eternal gratitude that it's not just other wretches whom God has salvaged from the scrapheap of life. It's you and me -the whole human race -which had become no-hopers, cut off from God through sin.
"Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people;
once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
(1 Peter 2. 10)
Next week Fr. Peter will meet God as he reflects on 'Lead Kindly Light.'