Monday, February 27, 2017

A Way Back

To the penitent God provides a way back, he encourages those who are losing hope and has chosen for them the lot of truth. Return to him and give up sin, pray to the LORD and make your offenses few. Sirach 17:24-25

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement, his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Mark 10:21-22

Growing up, there was a song by Ray Stevens entitled, “Everything is Beautiful.”  Some recordings of it started with a children’s choir singing:

“Jesus loved the little children, all the little children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in His sight.
Jesus loved the little children of the world.”

The “ordinary” Jesus, this “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” portrayed in this song and in some versions of popular culture is like the loving brother, doing what is best for those around him.  Instead of this persona, encounter the Challenging Jesus of Mark’s portrayal filled with emotion and passion.

The first words of Jesus’ public ministry in Mark are echoed in the wisdom and words of Ben Sirach and John the Baptist: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is hand.”  This extraordinary ministry is about to branch out onto a new path.  In just 48 hours, it will be Lent.  So, before looking ahead, let’s look back and consider the way St. Mark has described Jesus over these first eight weeks in Ordinary Time since that auspicious beginning. 

The challenging Jesus in today’s eighth ordinary Monday is one which calls upon us to eschew the life we think we are meant to lead and instead take up the life the Lord calls us to lead.  If possessions get in the way, throw them out. What a great way to get ready for the fasting, almsgiving, and penance of Lent.  Here in chapter ten, Jesus willingly brings sadness upon the young man with many possessions. Jesus is never afraid to exercise the emotions of his followers or himself.

Chapter 1: The early stage is set by a voice crying out in the wilderness.  Time-after-time, in the first two months of this liturgical year, Jesus’ voice was crying out to the ears of the deaf who would not listen and follow him.  Jesus begins right away with a “new teaching with authority” that amazes his followers.  Jesus performs miracles from the outset but tries to stay below the radar screen of the Pharisees early in his ministry.  Despite his attempts to keep his early messianic work a secret, who can keep from spreading the good news when cured of leprosy? The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere. Mark 1:45

Chapter 2: Jesus wastes no time in setting up conflict with the church leaders who are becoming his adversaries.  As they challenge his words and deeds, Jesus figuratively turns his back on those alleged church leaders and refuses to cow-tow to their authority and judgment.  “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Mark 2:17B

Chapter 3: Jesus had already so upset the status quo that the plots against his life began to hatch.  Even his family and friends thought he was out of his mind.  Instead, Jesus challenges us to expand our definition of family.  “[For] whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:35 

Chapter 4: After setting up a series of parables about understanding, Jesus realizes that words alone will not convince the disciples.  In the first miracle of the boat, Jesus calms the winds and the seas before a fearful group of disciples.  [Jesus] woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” Mark 4:39-40

Chapter 5: After Jesus cures the possessed man and the demons and pigs plunge off a cliff, in their fear, the people plead with Jesus – not to stay and do additional miracles among them – but rather to leave their area.  He has put the literal fear of God in them – not the gift of the Spirit.  They continue to be afraid of what they do not know nor understand.  Except for one man – the man who was cured who wants to come along when Jesus leaves.  But he would not permit him but told him instead, “Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.” Mark 5:19

Chapter 6:  The disciples still did not understand nor did some want to accept how Jesus revealed himself by the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish or by walking on water.  Their hearts were hardened.  Jesus retreats to silent prayer…alone.  Here we encounter the solitary Jesus in prayer to recharge his miracle-working batteries.  And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray. Mark 6:46

Chapter 7: As Jesus’ teaching veers off from that of the Pharisees, the disciples are further confused.  Jesus tries to get people to correct their course from following blind tradition rather than the living God. He went on to say, “How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition! Mark 7:9

Chapter 8: The meaning of feeding of the five thousand mystifies the followers.  How did he do this?  The “how” is not as important as the why.  Jesus did it because he was emotionally moved.  “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. Mark 8:2

Chapter 9: The transfiguration terrifies Peter, James, and John. Then we encounter the exasperated Jesus: “O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him to me.” Mark 9:19

How are you getting ready for Lent to re-charge your batteries?  How are you getting ready for the challenge of Lent to do more piety, study, and action?  How are you prepared for the prayer, fasting, and almsgiving of the next 40 days?

No comments: