Unsung Saints 2020 Lent

Wednesday of Lent 5

Mark 10:1-16

And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

Thad, Elementary School Principal

His name was Thad. I’m guessing Thaddeus was his full name, but we knew him as Mr. Finley. He was not a tall man, but he seemed huge to elementary students, especially to first graders. Texas had no public kindergartens in 1959, so I only met Mr. Finley on the first day of first grade. Each morning began with an intercom announcement from the principal and prayer. Students stood beside their desks facing the American flag, placed a hand over their hearts, and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

Mr. Finley was not known for big smiles. More often than not, he stood at the major intersection of hallways with arms crossed and legs slightly spread. He was the general watching over teachers and students. It was a great honor to be named a patrol boy (no patrol girls) once you reached the exalted rank of fifth grade. Each morning, the patrol boys raised the flag. Each afternoon, they lowered and folded the flag under Mr. Finley’s watchful eye. Then, the patrol boys stood side-by-side with arms outstretched and hands joined in front of the bus loading area each afternoon. Thad explained we were responsible for keeping the little kids from running out into danger.

My first strong memory has to do with a serious illness I had while in first grade. After I had been home from school into my second week, Mr. Finley came to our home. He said, “Sammy, I have spoken with your doctor. He believes it is safe for you to go back to class. You don’t want to repeat first grade, do you?” I shook my head. He patted me on the shoulder and said, “Good boy. I will see you tomorrow.”

Several years later, a classmate and I had been excused to make a trip to the bathroom. Well, being boys, it seemed like a perfectly good opportunity to take the bars of Ivory soap and smear the mirrors. About that time, Mr. Goodman, an African American janitor, walked in and saw what we were doing. He turned right around and made a beeline to Mr. Finley’s office. The next thing I knew, Thad was standing there with folded arms, legs spread slightly, and staring at us: “Clean the mirrors, boys, and don’t ever do that again!” Yes, sir! No swats with a paddle. Logical consequences and a firm message of disapproval.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, we did duck and cover drills. We didn’t know how ridiculous that would be in the face of a nuclear attack on Texas. Mr. Finley was matter of fact about it all. No worries, children.

The clearest memory is November 22, 1963. I was in Mrs. Nash’s fourth grade classroom. She was young and beautiful, and I had such a crush on her. Just after lunch, she went to the door of the classroom and spoke with Mr. Finley. She came back to her desk crying and wouldn’t tell us what was wrong. I remember feeling certain that something ominous had happened. A little later, after the bell when the first through third graders were released, Mr. Finley spoke over the intercom: “Students, I waited until the little children had left. You fourth and fifth graders are older and more capable of handling this. Our president was shot in Dallas today. We have learned the terrible news that President Kennedy is dead.” The girls and most boys began to cry, but I couldn’t cry. I had learned in first grade that big boys don’t cry.

Since it was a Friday afternoon, we had a long weekend ahead. In those days, there was no 24/7 news cycle, but that weekend there was. On Sunday morning, as I watched the news from Dallas on television, I saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald. I thought it all surreal long before I had ever learned that word. President Kennedy’s funeral was televised on Monday. It was the saddest thing I had ever seen. I remember how calm Mr. Finley was on the day JFK was assassinated and how strong he was after that.

Thank you, Father, for Thad, and all the principals, whose care for their students, families, and teachers is exemplary. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Put thirty-six 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.