Francis was a bad boy.
You probably know the kind I mean.
You’ve probably met the kind I mean.
Some of you have probably BEEN the kind I mean.
He was wealthy.
He was “high spirited.”
Francis was one of those slight and not physically strong boys who makes up for it in charisma, gathering lots of friends with his sense of adventure and his ability to fund it with Daddy’s allowance. He was the kind of boy who stays out late at night finding all the fun there is to be had, the kind that annoys law abiding citizens.
Francis was a “boys will will boys” kind of bad boy.
The kind that gets carried away and finds themselves on the front page when things go too far.
His future was set. He would carry the family textile business to the next level, cementing its connections with the families of those other boys around him.
It was only expected that he would test himself by going off to war when his city came into conflict with another. So Francis picked up the weapons of war and went off to be a soldier. He was a prisoner of war for a year before Dad heard about it and sent money to bail him out.
Give Francis credit, he didn’t run right home. No, it was on the way back to battle that he had the vision that turned him around. (Did you know that ‘repent” means literally to turn around?).
The vision sent him down the road to home, not because he was afraid of fighting, and not because he missed the comforts of home, but because Francis caught a vision of something more valuable, or because a vision of something more valuable caught Francis, he turned toward home looking for God.
He ran away from it all:
The late nights with the boys
His father Pietro’s plans.
Francis was a kind of reverse prodigal.
While he was running toward home,
he was moving away from what home expected of him.
When he got there, his frustrated father didn’t know what to do with this turned around son. So he put him to work as a shop boy instead of bosses' apprentice.p This made it easier for Francis to sneak out and try to follow where the vision led him. He went to the corners of the town that he used to pass by with his friends (or stop just long enough to poke fun). He looked for the widows, the orphans, the poor, the abused. He took the stories and teaching of Jesus very seriously.
This was not what his father had in mind when he bailed his son out.
One day Francis came on a small stone church that was falling down. It was a time when money was flowing in other directions, not toward the once proud churches that held the community together. The priest was doing his best, but just couldn’t seem to find a way to pull it together, literally. (Pastor are rarely if ever called and equipped to save a church alone).
Francis thought about the priest’s predicament and came up with a clever solution. He simply walked off with one of the valuable bolts of cloth from the family shop, where he had ready access, and sold it for a tidy sum. Which he then ran back and attempted to deposit in the priest’s hand.
The priest, being older and wiser, and knowing the reputation of Francis’ father, refused to take the money. When a crestfallen Francis returned home working on plan B, his furious father had a plan of his own. Tired of the escalating conflict between them and accusing his son of theft, he brought him to trial in the town square. There must have been quite a crowd in the center of Assisi that day, watching the golden boy brought to ruin.
Francis, forced to return the money he had creatively “found,” and disowned by his disgusted father, gave it all back to his dad that day. He stripped the clothes from his back and strode naked from the square.
Wealth was his greatest challenge, the obstacle that stood between him and his vision. So he chose poverty. He became “the poor idiot” free to follow the vision.
Francis of Assisi (I suspect you’ve already figured out who I’m talking about) would name one other event as a defining episode in his life.
As he continued to try to live the life that Jesus led he grew more confident and comfortable in the presence of the poorest of the poor, angry at their conditions, but able to be with them. Until one day he came upon a fear that lay hidden deep with in him.
In those days, lepers, covered with ugly skin lesions, lived on the fringes of society as untouchables. Decent folks had a visceral aversion to encountering them. At his heart, Francis was the child of a decent, emerging upper middle class home. When he came face to face with a leper one day, Francis came face to face with the part of him that put the brakes on.
But to follow the vision, a vision of God’s world where all are beloved and of value, Francis had to move forward. The day he emptied his pockets into the leper’s hand but was not satisfied with the economic exchange, the day Francis leaned forward and kissed the leper, was the day God's vision opened up for him completely.
What was your greatest challenge this week?
Mine was setting up a new laptop- time consuming, aggravating, a revelation of my own ignorance and impatience.
What was yours?
Francis had lots to choose from:
His old friends acted as if he didn’t exist once the money dried up.
His father disowned him.
His poor health made it difficult to live as a poor itinerant preacher.
His growing followers tried to make him into someone he wasn’t meant to be.
But the challenge he chose to face was kissing the leper with the peace of Christ.
Choose Your Challenge
Choose Your weapons (Ephesians 6: 10-18)
James chose to wild the sword of truth against arrogant privilege and callous injustice
Francis-poverty against the pitfalls of wealth
Karen L Munson
United Methodist Pastor & Liturgical Artist