A family was spending a happy summer day at the seashore, playing in the water, building sand castles, and throwing the Frisbee to their dog. It was a peaceful, care-free day. But far down the beach, a woman appeared, her tangled gray hair fluttering in the wind, her clothes hanging on her loosely, her strange singing just audible above the sound of the waves that were hitting the shore. Every so often the woman bent down to pick up God-knows-what from the sand and stuff it into her shopping bag. She appeared to be a strange creature, that bag lady! And she was getting closer and closer to the family.
So the parents called to their children and warned them to stay away from her. As the woman passed the family, they momentarily locked eyes. That's when bag lady smiled a wrinkled smile at the children who, following their parents lead, did not smile in return. The woman continued on her way and soon disappeared from sight.
As the family was leaving later on, the father stopped to ask one of locals about the lady they had seen. “Oh, that's Maggie,” came the response. “She's wonderful, a kind old soul. Every day she walks up and down the beach, keeping it clean, picking up bits of glass and sharp stones that might hurt childrens' feet.”
The family was embarrassed. Each of them had all looked into Maggie's eyes as she passed by, but none of them had recognized Maggie! All they had seen was a spooky old lady, a potential threat. There was a double loss – a graced opportunity was missed entirely.
Today's Gospel story is also about recognition, but has a happier ending. Jesus had come to the river to be baptized by John. Always attentive to God's Spirit, Jesus hears wonder-filled words spoken to him by God: “You are my beloved One, upon you my favor rests.” With these few but powerful words, Jesus recognizes who he is. He knows his purpose in life: to help every human being hear God speaking those very words: “You are my beloved one; upon you my favor rests.”
Why do we too often have so little joy, so little peace in our lives? Is it because we do not recognize one another for who we really are? Just who are we? We are, each and all, 'God's beloved ones upon whom God's favor rests.” That's who we really are! Every time we fail to recognize in ourselves or in our neighbors the face of someone very special to God, we plant seeds of conflict and disharmony instead of seeds of joy and peace. We are saying in effect: “You mean nothing to me, and I mean nothing to you. So what happens to either of us is of no concern to the other.” But that's a lie! God has connected us together. We are family, like it or not, that's who we really are, deep down.
Genuine peace is never achieved by diplomacy or at international conferences. It is achieved only in the hearts of people. It begins the moment we recognize the voice of God saying to us, “You are my beloved one, upon you my favor rests!” Everyone we meet in life needs to hear this, and sometimes it's up to us to tell them. Peace wont happen till our hearts – yours and mine – are big enough to receive the smile of Maggie, the bag lady on the sand, and then return that smile...with great interest and sincerity! Amen.