Once there was a man named Bill who owned a small grocery store in a little Midwestern town named Willow Bluff. He was a simple man who ended up making a big difference in the lives of many people. Most other small businesses in town had closed, due to the new shopping mall and the big chain warehouse store a few miles away, but Bill kept his little store going; people appreciated being able to buy their groceries right there in town, and they thanked Bill for making it possible. Even so, Bill didn’t have steady business; most of the shopping took place in the morning and in the late afternoon, after people got off work. When things were quiet, as they were most afternoons, Bill would sit outside, weather permitting, on the bench next to the store’s front door and below the awning over the large picture window. It was there, on that bench, that Bill made a difference—simply by sharing his faith in a quiet, non-threatening, everyday way.
Everyone stopped to talk to Bill; he knew all the residents of the town, how they were doing, and what their hopes and fears were. People confided in him, because it was helpful to have someone willing to listen in a caring way. Even when they didn’t need a sympathetic ear, it was just nice to talk for a few minutes on a lazy afternoon. Hank, the barber, would come over on his afternoon break and talk sports. Gloria from the beauty shop, and Shirley and some of the other bank tellers, would stop by during their breaks. Cattle farmers on the way back from an auction would stop in, buy a candy bar or can of pop, and visit with Bill. Other frequent visitors included Bert, the newspaper editor; Sally from the insurance office; Gilbert and Herb from the feed mill; Ralph, the funeral director; and Evelyn, the town attorney. Almost everyone in town sooner or later found his or her way to Bill’s bench.
One of the most frequent visitors was John, from the real estate office; on slow afternoons his secretary always knew she could find him over in front of the store with Bill. John was going through some difficulties in his marriage, and he needed someone who was a good listener, who could give common sense advice, and who could keep a secret. He explained his fears that Jenny, his wife, was going to take the kids and leave him. Bill offered to pray for him and with him, and this helped John put things into perspective. With Bill’s support, John got up the courage to ask Jenny to go with him to a marriage counselor. They went, worked through their problems, and strengthened their marriage. Later on, when John thanked Bill, Bill said, “There is something you can do to thank me: come to church with me this Sunday.” John wasn’t a church-going man, and he thought, “Oh, great; how do I get out of this? Of course, I do owe Bill a lot, so I guess going to Mass just this once won’t kill me—but only this one time. That’ll be enough to repay my debt.” John went with Bill to church that one Sunday—and while there, was touched by God’s grace; as a result, he kept on going back . . . every Sunday. So it was with many other people who had a seat with Bill on that bench in front of the grocery store over the years; in fact, by the time Bill died, someone figured out that almost half the people in the parish had joined because Bill had invited them (Lectionary Tales for the Pulpit, Cycle B, John Sumwalt, pp. 53-54). One simple and caring man, sharing his faith in the ordinary circumstances of life, made a difference. We too are called to help people meet Jesus by using the routine, everyday opportunities we’re given.
As the Gospel of Luke (10:1-12, 17-20) shows us, Jesus actively involved His disciples in His mission of proclaiming the Good News, and this shared responsibility remains true today. He told His followers to pray, saying, “The harvest is rich but the workers are few; therefore ask the harvest-master to send workers to His harvest.” This is something we can understand; we need to pray for religious vocations, and for the success of the Church’s missionary work, and that those who’ve not yet heard or accepted the Gospel will be touched by God’s grace. This part is easy enough; it’s just a matter of reminding ourselves to pray for these intentions. However, Jesus also asks something else. He sent His followers out as evangelists, commissioning them to be sources and signs of peace, and telling them to proclaim that “The reign of God is at hand.” We too are called to announce this message—and this is the part of Our Lord’s command that most of us find uncomfortable or challenging.
You and I are called to share our faith in Jesus with others. This probably does not mean going out on missionary journeys, founding new religious orders, establishing schools, hospitals, and other religious institutions, or going up to strangers on the street corners and asking “Have you been saved?” Instead, for most of us, it means following the example of an ordinary person like Bill, who never strayed far from his store bench, but still touched the lives of many people. Take a look around at your life. Where do you go each day, and what sort of attitude do you take there? Do the people who see you on a regular basis know that you’re a follower of Christ, a Catholic, and a member of _________ Parish? If they were worried about something, discouraged with life, or had a religious question, would they feel comfortable coming and talking to you about it? Do you pray for the people you encounter each day? Do you ask God for help in recognizing the opportunities He gives to witness to the Gospel? Do you start each day by praying, “Dear Lord, give me some small opportunity to serve You today”? We never know when our words or example might touch someone; the one thing we can be sure of is that God will use us . . . if we give Him the chance.
Whether in the grocery store, the daycare center, the auto service center, the post office, at work, at school, or out on the sidewalk or the front porch, Jesus wants us to share our faith—in quiet, simple, everyday ways. If someone has a problem, we can offer to pray for him; if someone is facing a crisis, we can be there to lend her our support; if someone is lonely or confused or new to our neighborhood, we can invite him or her to church. Everyone is important to God, and if we try to love and cherish people as God does, He will give us opportunities to share our faith. Bill changed the life of his friend John. Maybe there’s a person like John in our life—and maybe it’s God’s plan that this person hear the Gospel through us. Jesus told the disciples to pray that God would send workers to the harvest, and in a certain sense, this prayer has been answered—for God has sent us. May our humble response truly help others experience His love and peace.
REVEREND JOSEPH M. ESPER is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Anchorville, Michigan. He received his Master of Divinity degree from St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Through the years, Father Joe has lectured at Marian conferences, appeared on EWTN, spoken on Catholic radio, and written more than a dozen articles for This Rock, The Priest, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and other publications. He is also the author of numerous books, including Saintly Solutions, More Saintly Solutions, After the Darkness, Lessons from the Lives of the Saints, and Why Is God Punishing Me? In addition to Amazon, many of his most recent books are available through Queenship Publishing.