Prayer Stop 6-12-2016

George and Lois Woods live on a hill situated above a highway just outside Palmer, Texas. Next to their home they built a “Prayer Stop” for travelers. It’s simply a small A-frame chapel. A walk curves up to it from the highway.
In the chapel is a log book. As you page through it, you see the names and comments of visitors from as far away as Africa.
One visitor wrote in the log book: “I came to the Prayer Stop a year ago with no car and no job. Now things are much better. I am leaving you some money.”
Another visitor wrote that he had been drinking and was on his way to kill someone with whom he had gotten into an argument. He saw the chapel on the hill, stopped, spent time sitting in it, abandoned his plan, and returned home.
The most frequent visitors to the Prayer Stop, says Lois Woods, are wives and mothers of convicts on their way to the state prison not far away.
But of all the people who have visited the chapel, George and Lois Woods will never forget one group in particular.
One evening they heard a deafening roar of engines. Lois went to the window to see what was happening. She was shocked at what she saw. A gang of motorcyclists was driving single file up the walk that led from the highway to the chapel. It was a frightening sight.
Some were wearing leather jackets and chains. Most had scraggly beards and long hair. Some had their hair knotted into ponytails with rubber bands.
George joined Lois at the window and said, “I’m not going out there. It’s in God’s hands”.
As the couple looked on in fear, the gang got off their cycles. Several of them disappeared into the chapel; others just milled around outside, as though standing guard.
After about ten minutes, those who had gone inside came out again. Then the cyclists did something totally unexpected.
They gathered around the cross in front of the chapel, joined hands together, bowed their heads, and remained in silence for a long time. Finally, the cyclists set out again, down the walk, in single file, to the highway.
George and Lois looked on in amazement. They also looked on somewhat repentant. They had found themselves jumping to conclusions about the motorcyclists, judging them by their outward appearance.
That episode taught George and Lois what they already knew but needed to be reminded of again: You can’t jump to conclusions about people.
It reminded them of God’s words in the First Book of Samuel:
“Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart”. (1 Samuel 16:7)
The story of Lois and George and the motorcycle gang fits in beautifully with the story of Simon and the woman in today’s gospel.
Just as George and Lois jumped to conclusions about the motorcycle gang, so Simon jumped to conclusions about the woman.
George and Lois prejudged the cyclists and labeled them evil people. Simon prejudged the woman and labeled her an evil person.
Worse yet, Simon even prejudged Jesus himself and labeled him a fraud for treating the woman so kindly, saying: “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is…that she is a sinner”.
The story of George and Lois and the story of Simon invite us to look into our own hearts and to ask ourselves to what extent we tend to prejudge people.
All of us—fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, yes, even grandfathers and grandmothers—tend to do what Lois and George did.
We tend to do what Simon did. We tend to jump to conclusions. We tend to prejudge others—even our own family members.
And so today’s gospel is an invitation to imitate Jesus. It’s an invitation to follow the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, when he said: “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged”. (Matthew 7:1-2)
Let’s close with a poem. It talks about how wrongly we can judge others.
“I dreamed death came the other night, and Heaven’s gate swung wide. With kindly grace an angel ushered me inside; and there to my astonishment stood folks I’d known on earth; and some I’d judged and labeled unfit of little worth. Indignant words rose to my lips, but never were set free; for every face showed stunned surprise. Not one expected me”.


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