The farewell tour for David Ortiz, aka Big Papi, is in full swing, no pun intended. I wonder if he has any speeches already written, or if he’s going to speak from the heart without a text. If he does that, I hope he keeps all the bad words out. I saw a photograph of him this past week, and he was wearing a Cowboy hat, a gift given to him from the baseball team in Houston, TX. He could be the first cowboy from the Dominican Republic. They probably gave him a Cowboy hat because a big cow from Texas wouldn’t fit in his suitcase, so they gave him something that would, a Cowboy hat. It’s the first of what will probably be a list of strange gifts given throughout the season as his farewell tour continues until October.
Jesus is on a farewell tour also in this Gospel on the 6th Sunday of Easter. He’s preparing his Disciples for life without him in the way they now see him. Where they can look into his eyes, shake his hand, converse back and forth, eat dinner together, and pray together. And so forth. But all good things must come to an end, as David Ortiz knows so well. Eventually, age catches up to us in certain ways, like playing professional baseball on the highest level. Not many make it to their 40’s like he has. Their skills begin to wane. Their speed slows down. The wrinkles and gray hair start to show. And, the young players take over.
Jesus is preparing his team of 12, this original team of young players, to take over the most serious issues of salvation and redemption. But before they begin in earnest, the Lord finds it necessary to offer a farewell speech before all the bad stuff happens to him, particularly a Cross. It’s a very different sort of farewell tour that Jesus goes on. Whereas Mr. Ortiz will say goodbye, maybe showing up at Fenway Park next year once or twice, and in the years following, Jesus’ leaving is more of a paradox; “I am going away and I will come back to you,’ he promises them.
That’s like Big Papi saying to his teammates and all Boston fans, “At the end of this year, I’m going to take off for good the uniform with # 34 on the back of the shirt, but then I’m going to put it back on again….With a Cowboy hat from Texas.” How can our reaction not be, “You’re taking off the uniform for good; they will retire your number, and you will become a positive memory in the hearts of the Red Sox faithful for generations to come. But you’re leaving as a player, and you’re taking your Cowboy hat with you…along with whatever other funny gifts you receive this year.” How can that not be our reaction?
Human beings come back in a limited capacity to places we previously occupied. Jesus comes back in a much greater capacity than when he left. Because when he left them, he had a body like ours; one that could die. And one that would die. But his promise of coming back to the Disciples is far beyond a return in a limited capacity. His return to them is the Mother of all returns; in a body that will not die again. And that’s how Jesus returns to us. His farewell speech is more a setup for an eternal hello. An eternal hello from God. And who wouldn’t want that?
This eternal hello from God’s Son is what all those Saints in Italy heard because of their faith and obedience to God’s beautiful commands. I know how much you missed me when I was over there. I bet you didn’t even know I was gone. Italy is a country with a collage of Saints. Here in the United States we’re centuries behind them. They had a big headstart in the Saint department since we’re only 240 years old. They have restaurants older than that over there.
But the joy of living, studying, and learning the history of our Catholic faith is a quest to grow deeper in understanding Jesus’ return to us, and why it’s greater than all human returns. When St. Peter was crucified upside down in Rome around the year 60 or so, he didn’t feel worthy enough to die in the same position of his Lord, being upright. What gave him the courage to offer his life for Christ to the tyranny of Caesar was Jesus’ return in a body that did away with death. St. Peter lost all fear of political tyranny, and gained the eternal presence of Jesus Christ.
St. Paul, the most violent and noted persecutor in the early Church, took the route of John the Baptist and was beheaded. I’m not trying to make your dinner (breakfast) taste awful tonight (today). I love you too much to do that. What gave St. Paul the staying power to not run away from his responsibilities as an Apostle was seeing Jesus alive on the Road to Damascus.
For ourselves, do we trust and have the faith that Jesus did in fact return in a way where death is destroyed? Because if we do, if we trust in the power of the Resurrection, and have faith that God raised his Son from the dead – like all those Italian Saints – that Jesus returned after his death in a permanent way, and not part-time like Big Papi will do, then we can bring some hope and joy to folks who are lost. And we can continue to perform works of love and mercy to the poor and despised. And we can bring some comfort and peace, like some of you have already done, to the sick and dying. And we’ll understand and live that the world does not revolve around us, but around those who need us. And we will bring peace, not war. Patience and not violence. A helping hand rather than a shove.
Such is the power and force behind the return of Jesus. It’s not an ordinary return to his Disciples, like Fr. Riley returned from Italy. Big deal! Jesus’ return is a statement of forever. It’s a statement of eternal love for us, commanding us to share the Good News with others. It looks like no other return. Because it’s a return from the grave. And we believe he will do the same for us.