Monday, February 17, 2014

From the Depths of His Spirit

Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

The brother in lowly circumstances should take pride in high standing, and the rich one in his lowliness, for he will pass away “like the flower of the field.”  For the sun comes up with its scorching heat and dries up the grass, its flower droops, and the beauty of its appearance vanishes.  So will the rich person fade away in the midst of his pursuits.  James 1:9-11

He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign?  Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”  Then he left them, got into the boat again, and went off to the other shore.  Mark 8:12-13

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
My Spirit rejoices in God my Savior
For He has looked with favor on His lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
The Almighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His Name. (From the Canticle of Mary)

James and Jesus remind us today that the Lord has always looked with favor upon His lowly servants, scattering the proud, casting down the mighty and sending the rich away empty.    From the depths of his spirit, Jesus looks down upon this request from the Pharisees. 

But wait, we have been given plenty of signs in the six short weeks of this Liturgical Ordinary Time.  From the depths of his spirit, Jesus has never looked down nor refused to heal the sick, cast out demons, nor answer the prayers of the lepers.  In the readings Saturday, we saw the sign of Jesus feeding the 5,000 out of a few loaves and fish.  Last Friday, Jesus made the deaf man hear.  Thursday, Jesus chased the demon from the possessed girl.  In Gennesaret, as many as touched his robe were healed.  So, on the surface, this admonition to the Pharisees seems wrong. 

We seek a sign and the only sign we will get is the sign that says, “Testing Underway.”  Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-3).   My bet is that this is not the first time you have encountered this table-turning teaching.  From the Magnificat to the Acts of the Apostles, this is a frequent teaching of the New Testament derived from the words and sufferings of Jesus and sacred traditions dating back to the Hebrew Bible. 

The notes to the New American Bible for the beginning of the Letter of James remind us that the sequence of testing, perseverance, and being perfect and complete indicates the manner of attaining spiritual maturity and full preparedness for the coming of Christ.  These steps require wisdom gained in experience, not the shortcut that the Pharisees seek nor an easily observed “sign.”
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, or theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.  Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  (Matthew 5:10-12)

So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. (Acts 5:41)

How will you be tested today?  How will you react to the test?  Like the doubting, skeptical Pharisees or like those seeking healing based upon faith?

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