Problem or Mystery?

I think I created a “problem” this Sunday, when I talked about “mystery” in my sermon! 

Let me set it up. The Gospel story (from Luke) was the famous story of the Rich Man–sometimes known as “Dives,” from the Latin–and Lazarus. Lazarus was the “unseen” begger sitting on Dives’ doorstep. The way Jesus tells it, Dives had to practically step over the guy, and yet he never seemed to notice him 

That is, until both of them died, and Dives was sweating things out in Hell. 

Then, he does see Lazarus, way off in Heaven. He wants Abraham to send the begger down with a drink of water. But Abraham assures him it’s not possible. The tables are turned, and Dives is doomed. 

My sermon was all about how we look at others, and at the events in our life. My lead was the fact that we have folks who are homeless sitting on our church steps all the time. My challenge to myself, and to my parishioners, was to stop looking at them as a “problem,” and started seeing them as an encounter with the mystery which is God’s way of meeting us. 

Some folks got it, others not so much!My home parish, St. Francis Seraph 

Maybe I should have repeated my favorite explanation of the difference between “problem” and “mystery.”  The distinction comes from the philosopher Gabriel Marcel.  A problem is something like changing the tire on your car. A mystery is getting out of your car to watch the sunset. 

In the sermon, I jumped from the story of Lazarus on Dives’ doorstep to the women who’s been living on our church steps.  For a while, she was a problem.  But as of last Friday, she became a mystery. My spiritual director got me thinking of what God might be telling me as I encounter people, situations, emotions–the whole range of human life. 

I wish I had more time in the homily to explore this wonderful distinction–a way to move from the simply mundane to the mysterious and wondrous in life.  Perhaps the “problem” is that I left the disctinction too much of a “mystery.” 

— Fr. Greg Friedman


About the Author

Fr. Greg Friedman, O.F.M., is a Franciscan priest who serves as creative director on the media production team at Franciscan Media, where he produces audio and video programs. He hosts American Catholic Radio, broadcast and streamed to over 70 Catholic radio stations and available on the Web at Fr. Greg is also pastor of St. Francis Seraph parish, a part of the Franciscans’ inner-city ministry in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine area.