‘Faith is a face to face vision in the dark.’ This paradoxical statement captures the ‘now and not yet’ of the reign of God. It presses in upon us, but like a presence in the dark, it is only felt, not seen. Personal and intimate, it entices us to live close to the heart of God yet we have little tangible evidence to ‘prove’ that it is there. We find it hard to describe, but we know the compulsion it places in the heart. To embrace such a life comes at a cost. Not one of silver or gold or the riches of this world but rather a giving up of our bondage to sin and the sub-human forces that can so easily dominate our lives.
Jesus’ emphasis throughout Mark’s Gospel will be on the transformation of the human heart that takes place when we turn from the bondage to Satan and freely accept a loving relationship with God. Make no mistake about it: Mark takes sin seriously. It binds us to sub human behaviour and in the face of its force, we are weak. But Jesus, the Strong Man, has come in on our side. The battle has been fought and won in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Now, we each have to ratify that victory in our hearts and lives.
How people make decisions is a popular theme for current psychological research. For anyone who thinks they make wise decisions based on reason, the results are not looking good. We are more likely to be influenced by prejudice, emotion and impulse than we would like to admit. One way to counter our biases is by developing good habits of mind and heart.
So what has that got to do with the Annunciation? Many paintings, especially from the Renaissance period, show Mary not only at prayer but more especially reading the scripture at the time of the Angel’s greeting. What is implied is that the woman who said, ‘Be it done unto me according to your Word,’ had been trying to live according to the Word of God before she was faced with the momentous decision to become Mother of God. A lifetime, true a young person’s lifetime, of trying to see God at work in her ordinary life made her heart capable of making a decision that was beyond credulity. In the history of Israel that she had pondered, she saw God’s almighty love working in the most unlikely of places. Well she regarded herself as an unlikely person for God to work through but she trusted God’s power and love to do the impossible within her.
And what about us? If we are having trouble trying to find God’s Word for our lives, maybe we need to regularly try to find God’s Word in the small events of life. That is, we need to discipline our hearts in small things so that when big decisions come we are attuned to the heart of God. Morning offering, grace before and after meals, prayer for those we journey with to and from work – there are a multitude of ways we can be open to the Word of God spoken in the ordinary events of life. As we build the habit of shaping our lives according to the Word, we make ourselves ready for the times when God will call us beyond what we believe humanly possible but which we discover is more than possible for God.
A reflection on this Sunday’s Mass by Sr Kym Harris osb and downloaded from http://www.prayasyoucan.com.au) This Gospel story witnesses to a tension in the life of Jesus, and one that we experience in our own: we can’t do everything. Being human involves being limited in time and in place. While our desires and hopes, not only for ourselves but for others may be as wide as the world, the reality is that we live one day at a time in our own particular body. Jesus, too, experienced that. He had moved out of Jewish territory because he needed space. On one hand, he had the religious authorities hounding him, picking up on his every word. On the other hand, he had the crowds clamouring for miracles – understandably, he was healing their sick. While miracles were a part of Jesus’ mission, they were not the core. The core of his mission was to call people to faith in God and his promises. Given the way everyone seemed to be missing the point, both he and the disciples needed space. So for the only time in his ministry, he leaves the land of Israel.
Then out comes this pagan woman, almost hysterically wanting a miracle. Jesus states that his personal calling is to the lost of the house of Israel. She has no problem with that, she is more than ready to acknowledge the primacy of his Jewish mission, but she still wants her daughter healed. Her passionate love for her daughter opens her to the possibilities within this person of Jesus: three times she calls him ‘Lord’; she names him ‘Son of David’; and she kneels to worship. No wonder Jesus seems blown away. This is the very faith that he was wanting – not even the disciples had come to see what she had recognised. Her commitment to her particular calling as mother, when brought before the person of Jesus, enhanced her faith. She returned home, just as Jesus returned to his land. In later life, how she must have wondered about this person, Jesus, who she had so exceptionally understood. A few moments in her life at the service of her daughter and her vision of reality was changed forever. Yes, our lives can seem to be confined by the particular, but with faith, they can reach beyond our imaginings!
The disciples must a really gulped when Jesus told them feed the crowds. They had so little in their hands and there were many, many people behind them. It must have felt like a long pause before Jesus took the food, blest it and started handing it back to them to take around…and he just kept on handing it out….quietly, simply a loaf, a fish at a time. It would have taken some time to feed so many and then even more time to collect what was left over. How must the disciples felt then. In that time of serving and collecting, they were being taught the most basic aspect of discipleship: trust in God.
We too often feel that God has placed us in situations that are beyond us. True, our miracles are not usually as extra-ordinary as the multiplication of the loaves but they are no less real. Virtually every person reading this can think of situations where they were challenged beyond their capabilities and where, with the grace of God, they rose to the occasion. Almost always, God’s grace was given quietly in an undramatic way. Just as at the feeding of the multitude, there was no fanfare but in their heart of hearts they knew God’s grace has carried them beyond their expectations.
It is important for us to recognise and remember these personal miracles. Many years ago, a wise man suggested that we carry these ‘moments of grace’ around with us, like stones in our pockets and in the spaces in our lives, the times of waiting, we can remember and ponder on them. I have found this an amazing exercise. What was one moment of God’s grace, one experience in the past, has often been multiplied over and continued to feed my spirit. The remembrance has renewed the miracle and helped me to continue to trust in God.
When Jesus says that he offers us an easy yoke we may well object given that a yoke was used on animals and slaves to do hard and difficult work. The image appears, at first, demeaning. Be that as it may, let us leave aside this first emotional reaction to the image and ask just what a yoke does. A yoke was a device, usually put around the neck of an animal, or even a person, to enable them to perform a task that was usually beyond them. No animal is ever going to be able to plough a field using only their hooves or their brute strength. A man yoked to a plough is far more effective in preparing a paddock for planting than trying to do it with a spade. Essentially, a yoke was not only a labour saving device, it was something that enabled a far superior job to be done. Still that leaves the issue of its use being demeaning to a person. The yoke most often used in Jesus times (click red text for a picture of an ancient yoke) was a double yoke – one in which two beasts or people dragged the plough or load. When Jesus calls on us to take up his yoke and says that it easy, his burden light, it is because he is there alongside of us. Jesus fully recognises how hard and difficult our lives may be at times. We may well feel like beasts or slaves caught in situations beyond our control. He, too, has not only lived our life and died our death, he desires to be yoked to us sharing our burden and strengthening us in bearing our load. Sr Kym Harris osb
What a woman – so much life, so much vivacity. She has a personal magnetism and vivacity I’ll never have. Her setbacks hadn’t set her back. When Jesus spoke to her, she didn’t retire, shy and confused that a man had broken such a social barrier. No, she stepped right up in the conversation and was prepared to engage this man in dialogue…and didn’t Jesus like it! Here was a person ready to engage with what he had to say and courageous enough to face her personal failure. This is the person to whom he first openly reveals who he is…and what a response he gets. Having been led through self-knowledge to knowledge of him, she goes immediately to preach this Good News to the people of her city. Those people must have been so astounded at the transformation in her that they left the city to come to Jesus. Too often and too easily, we have made religion a dull and insipid thing as though our faith should make us tone down life. With the transformation of this woman we see Jesus doing exactly the opposite. Previously this woman had used her personality to attract a few men – now it is a whole city. This is a challenge to us: each of us have attractive aspects to our personality. These Jesus wants to use to preach Good News. Imagine how you could do this! Imagine what Lady Gaga could do with a change of focus! Jesus offers us the fullness of life. May his Spirit fill our minds, hearts and lives so that we might radiate his glory.