Unsung Saints 2020 Lent

Thursday of Lent 5

Mark 10:17-31

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.”Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Ray, Junior High Principal

Bonham had about 7300 residents in my junior high years. After school integration in 1965, there would be only one school for each division of grades. Many of us remember when junior high schools had sixth through eighth graders but were not known as middle schools. In some communities, junior high included seventh through ninth grades. When I was in eighth grade, we moved into a new junior high school only designated for seventh and eighth-graders. The fourth through sixth graders occupied the old junior high school, which had been expanded during our seventh-grade year, and renamed an intermediate school.

During my sixth and seventh grade years, Mr. Taylor was our principal. He was a long, tall Texan, who lived south of Bonham on top of a ridge that looked down towards town. He drove a pickup, wore boots with his suits, and went home to change into jeans and to work his cattle. Doubtless, he had grown up the son of a farmer/rancher and had been the first in his family to go to college.

Like Mr. Finley, he had an aura of quiet strength about him. He didn’t speak a lot, but you listened when he did. Unlike Mr. Finley, he did keep a wooden paddle that was used very judiciously but was intended to set a clear boundary that, I suppose, made the point you were getting older and more likely to end up in the kind of trouble that could set you on the wrong course for the rest of your life.

So, I was in Otto’s class, and there was a lot of talk about changing bodies. As was typical of that age, most of the girls were developing secondary sexual characteristics much faster than the boys. Awkward and wanting desperately to be thought no longer children, the boys were endlessly inappropriate with language. We had all recently seen a Billy Graham movie about a guy that got a girl in trouble, and the boys were talking about that a lot. Apparently, the word got around to some girls, who were not pleased.

I remember being home from school with sickness one day. A friend called me after to school to say that the girls had complained about the boys to Otto, and he had taken it to Mr. Taylor. Since I was not present, I was named, in absentia, the ringleader of the whole nasty language episode. That offended my sense of justice terribly, and, upon my return to school, I refused to take any responsibility for my actions.

The long and short of it was that then I was shunned and ignored for most of the morning. I could not bear that, so I asked Otto to go to speak with Mr. Taylor. I sat down in his office and admitted that I had used very bad language that I would not want my mother to know about… as if, in those days, that would ever have been possible. I told Ray that I wasn’t the ringleader, but, yes, I had used bad language. He told me that this was a great learning opportunity and that he was proud of me. Then, he said, “But I want to make it very clear to you that what you did was wrong, and I expect you not to do it again.” Three memorable swats with a wooden paddle on my backside. There was no sadistic pleasure for him. He was an old school Texan. You take your medicine and go out and do better in the future.

Mr. Taylor did not strike me as somehow a more pious man than others. I suspect he didn’t talk much about God, but he believed deeply. He struck me more like the John Wayne type. Real men didn’t use foul language as a rule and were never disrespectful to women. You avoided conflict but never ran from it. I think of Ray occasionally and that brief time in his office. He never raised his voice. He was in charge, and he treated everyone with respect. He expected his students to be better… especially his young men.

Thank you, Father, for Ray, and all the principals who must deal with pubescent children and support the teachers in charge of them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Put thirty-seven pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box today to help to buy farm animals to help the global poor to make a sustainable living.

Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, NC

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.