Friday, February 17, 2017

The Blueprint

Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
By Colleen O’Sullivan
The whole world spoke the same language, using the same words.  While the people were migrating in the east, they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there.  They said to one another, “Come, let us mold bricks and harden them with fire.”  They used bricks for stone, and bitumen for mortar.  Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.”   (Genesis 11:1-4)

The Lord brings to nought the plans of nations; he foils the designs of peoples. But the plan of the Lord stands forever; the design of his heart, through all generations.  (Psalm 33:10-11)

Jesus summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it.  (Mark 8:34-35)
Lord, may your plan for me be the blueprint for how I spend my days on earth.
Lodewijk Toeput - The Construction of the Tower of Babel,
c. 1583-1587
Today’s readings from the Book of Genesis and Mark’s Gospel stand in stark contrast to one another.  In the former, the phrase that stands out is “make a name for ourselves.”  In the Gospel passage, that is counterbalanced by the notion of denying oneself, taking up a cross, and losing one’s life for the sake of the Lord.

The story of the Tower of Babel is a fairly secular one.  God doesn’t figure in at all from the point of view of the builders of this tower and the surrounding city.  They’ve learned to make bricks for building in the absence of much stone in ancient Babylonia.  So here’s a group building an urban center, the focal point of which is this tower that will reach up to the heavens.  Their architectural accomplishment is based on the ziggurats of Babylon, pyramid-like structures designed to “serve as staircases from earth to heaven.”1   The ziggurats generally had shrines at the very top.  But here there is no mention of building this tower as a means to worship.  All the talk is about how great and wonderful the accomplishments of the builders.

The story has its humorous side, though.  For all its skyscraper construction, it strikes me funny that God actually couldn’t see the tower from heaven and had to “come down” to get a glimpse of what was going on!  So much for all the arrogant pride and puffed up egos in the city.

Jesus, on the other hand, is all about God and how a person should live on earth in order to spend eternity with the Father.  It has nothing to do with self-importance or boastfulness about one’s accomplishments.  Jesus says that if we want to follow him, the journey is all about denying ourselves, walking the way of the cross, and being willing to lay down our lives for him and for others.  No merit badges to display or ostentatious ribbon cuttings to celebrate our accomplishments.
In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola asks retreatants to meditate on what he calls the Two Standards.  He suggests imagining the armies of Jesus Christ and Satan on a field, preparing for battle (don’t forget that he was a military man in his earlier years).  Each army has a standard or flag, which identifies their position.
The meditation serves to help us decide which side we’re going to be on.  It’s not as cut and dried a decision as it sounds, because Satan wears a myriad of disguises and has the ability to make the values of the world sound like virtues.  The evil spirit would have been right there next to the builders of the Tower of Babylon, telling them they deserved the accolades and praise of others for such a great accomplishment.  And sometimes that’s music to our ears.
Spend a few minutes imagining the scene and thinking about which side you’re on.  For some additional thoughts, you might want to read How the Two Standards Meditation Can Help Outside of a Retreat by John Monroe, a lay retreat director and spiritual director at the Ignatius Retreat House in Atlanta.
Never forget the words of the psalmist, “the plan of the Lord stands forever.”
1 Living Space, Commentary on Genesis 11:1-9, for Friday of week 6 of Ordinary Time

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