Part of my job is responding to wage theft cases, helping people connect with lawyers, and pushing for more robust policies to protect workers. These tasks are complex and complicated, and it’s sometimes a challenge to connect with a human to take a case. So, I do other parts of my job rather than dealing with the hard things.
It’s easy to get distracted. I must confess I finished this reflection later than I’d hoped because I got distracted by a social media conversation about Virginia’s 2023 elections. I get distracted during prayer by my to-do list. I feel the worst when I get distracted while listening to a person in need. These individuals, our clients, are looking for human touch and support. They’re sharing their most challenging moments or the obstacles they face, and yet it’s easy for us to get distracted sitting behind a desk. We think about how many phone calls we must answer today rather than treating the person in front of us with compassion and genuinely listening to their story.
When Jesus talks about His passion in today’s gospel, James and John are distracted. They’re wondering about their future job prospects rather than listening to their friend. Being fully present is uncomfortable (much like listening to the failures of our systems), so they tune out and plan for glory. We may not be scheming for leadership positions, but we sometimes find that we’re tuned out, just checking boxes as we listen to clients. Thank heaven that Jesus responds with love to his disciples. He re-directs their questioning to focus on the challenges waiting for all who follow him. He says that they will have to sit through the discomfort if they genuinely want to be in leadership in God’s Kingdom. They will have to be genuinely present with the suffering of the cross.
Similarly, we must be genuinely present with the clients who call for help or show up at our workplace. I can’t just send an introductory email and move on with my day; I must sit down with the person who suffered and envision the helpful next steps. This may not bring me glory, but it will ensure that their humanity’s dignity is honored. Even if we can’t change the world, even if we can’t change the future, we are still called to listen. And when we get distracted, let us turn again to follow Jesus’ example, who “did not come to be served, but to serve.”
Sheila Herlihy Hennessee, ofs, is a professed Secular Franciscan. She works as a Faith Organizer with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, and participates in the Taizé choir at her parish.