Uproar was the disciples’ response to the risen Jesus. Joy, terror, dismay, confusion, wonder ran riot within them. Jesus dealt with this by grounding them in a sense of his physical presence, stretching their understanding by showing how the Scriptures revealed what had happened to him. He then challenged them to share this Good News with the entire world.<br>By comparison, our experience of Resurrection seems rather thin. So maybe we should pause and seriously ask ourselves, where could we recognise and experience the Risen Jesus? Could it be in our physical world, as we go beyond ourselves in love and service, doing deeds that don’t come easily to us? Could it be in stretching our minds and hearts to appreciate the riches of the Scriptures and our religious tradition and see what they tell us about Jesus? Could it be in taking up the challenge to present the Good News to the people with whom we live? If you are like me, these questions stir up all sorts of reactions within me: terror at what it might cost, confusion as to what I could actually do, wonder at how it might turn out. But maybe the only way for us to enter into the Resurrection is to be discombobulated like those disciples at the first Easter.Uproar was the disciples’ response to the risen Jesus. Joy, terror, dismay, confusion, wonder ran riot within them. Jesus dealt with this by grounding them in a sense of his physical presence, stretching their understanding by showing how the Scriptures revealed what had happened to him. He then challenged them to share this Good News with the entire world. By comparison, our experience of Resurrection seems rather thin. So maybe we should pause and seriously ask ourselves, where could we recognise and experience the Risen Jesus? Could it be in our physical world, as we go beyond ourselves in love and service, doing deeds that don’t come easily to us? Could it be in stretching our minds and hearts to appreciate the riches of the Scriptures and our religious tradition and see what they tell us about Jesus? Could it be in taking up the challenge to present the Good News to the people with whom we live? If you are like me, these questions stir up all sorts of reactions within me: terror at what it might cost, confusion as to what I could actually do, wonder at how it might turn out. But maybe the only way for us to enter into the Resurrection is to be discombobulated like those disciples at the first Easter.
In the Gospel of John, the giving of the Holy Spirit is associated with the power to deal with sin. The power to forgive is given to all disciples and is to be the distinctive mark of Christians. This isn’t the human forgiveness that can say ‘it’s okay’ after an apology is offered and restoration is made. No, this is the power to deal with dirty, dark, raw sin. Jesus’ forgiveness leads to a profound transformation of the heart that enables us to offer peace, love and benevolence to people who have deeply wronged us, irrespective of whether they repent or not. It is loving as God loves.
Julie Morris, in her book Forgiving the Dead Man Walking recounts her journey, her long journey, of coming to forgive Robert Lee Willie, a murderer and rapist, who had abducted her, repeatedly raped her and threatened her with death. The effect of the trauma in her life is clearly told: her life was a mess. Her anger lashed out in all directions, to her parents, to herself, to Robert Willie, to her God. Only as she forgave herself and others did her life grow to some form of equanimity. The struggle to forgive Robert Willie was long and hard and, at heart, it was a struggle to understand and enter into God’s way of loving. Her forgiveness was not cheap. She carries her wounds, not as symbols of defeat, but as signs of the Spirit’s power to transform our hearts in ways beyond our imaginings. She learnt to love as God loves.
This power to forgive is Jesus’ Resurrection gift to each of us. We each have our own story, our pains, our wounds, times when we have sinned and when we have been sinned against. We know what dirty, dark, raw sin is. Still Jesus comes to us, showing us his wounds, breathing the Holy Spirit upon us and telling us that we too can love as God loves us. [The picture of “cancelled” Thomas with Jesus is at Hosios Loukas, a historic walled Byzantine monastery situated near the town of Distomo, in Boeotia, Greece. ]
In the fine biographical movie, ‘Temple Grandin’, we follow the emergence of Temple from being a child confined by her autism to her becoming a woman able to use her autism as a way to interact with and change her world. Her mother had a profound influence on her but what a journey it was for that woman. Continually her hopes for her daughter were challenged, dashed and sometimes transformed. In spite of pain and difficulty, she never gave up hope. Ultimately this hope was rewarded but never would have she dreamt that her daughter would make her name as a prominent abattoir designer! At the heart of the Easter mystery is the transformation of people’s hope in God. All the people in the Gospel story had their hope in God challenged: Pilate and the religious authorities, the soldiers, the people taunting Jesus, the disciples, the women who came to the tomb. All had certain beliefs about God and how God should act in the world. These in turn affected how they understood Jesus. Those who were rigid in how they thought God would act missed what was happening. Those prepared to be challenged through their pain and confusion came to see and recognise the risen Jesus. We, too, have our hopes and when they are challenged by reality, we need to remember that the reality of God’s love was shown in the crucified, abandoned one, who chose to rise quietly from the dead. As we seek to embrace that reality, our hopes will be transformed – into what we do not know – but we do know that we will be transfused by love.
I love ‘ensemble stories’ – you know books, plays, films where we see a number of different characters reacting within a story. When we look at the Passion Narratives, especially Mark’s, we miss the point if we focus solely on Jesus’ suffering and death. In fact, the Narratives make little of Jesus’ physical suffering. More emphasis is placed on how people react to Jesus. This is an especial feature of Mark’s account.
His Passion account proper begins with the unnamed woman, lavishly pouring costly ointment over Jesus’ head. Somehow, she has recognised what all the other disciples have missed: Jesus is going to his death. She gives a most precious gift is response to his most precious gift. At the end of Mark’s account stands the Centurion, also unnamed, who is the ultimate witness to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. This man of violence, who probably supervised the scourging, the ridicule, as well as the crucifixion proper sees ‘the Son of God’ in the ignominious failure and death. These two people stand as models of discipleship: one the faithful follower who risks ridicule to show love to Jesus; the other, a hard person transformed, converted to believer.
In between these two figures of faith, we have all sorts of other characters: scheming self-serving priests, a weak politician, frightened disciples, a cocksure Peter shamed at the crow of a cock. These people are written into the story that we might see ourselves there. We know our weakness and failures of character. As we see ourselves echoed in the Passion Narrative, we can remind ourselves that Jesus loved these, all these, and us, to the end.
A few years ago, I read an account of a Syrian man who had been arrested and tortured four times by the Syrian authorities. Each time his family has paid for his release. Finally, he fled Syria with this family. In telling his horrific story, he said that he no longer believed in God, asking ‘How could a God allow such a person as Bashir Al-Assad to exist and to control a regime such as that operating within his country.’ It is a fair question and one that many of us have faced at times in our lives. I do not know the full answer but, in my groping, I believe that the Christian response has something to do with God’s respect for human free will and his horror at some of the choices that we make. Rather than override our choices, God, in the person of Jesus, enters into our suffering, transforming it into his life. The question and response that Jesus poses in this Gospel show the two alternatives he faced him in his coming Passion. He says ‘Should I say, Father save me from this hour. But for this very hour, have I come.’ The God who would save Jesus out of this hour is one remote from human suffering and one who must override human free will when it does not conform to his plan. The God who allows Jesus to enter into human suffering, experiencing the consequences of the choices of evil men, yet still loving to the end is a God who respects our humanity and free will – even though, at times, we baulk and reject such respect. As I said, that is what I have come to in my groping, and I realise it is inadequate. To hold together, the mysteries of God’s love and human iniquity, we have to look at the Cross till it reveals to us its Glory.
‘Well that gave me a lift!’ A lift is often what is needed when we are in dark, difficult places in our lives, needed when we are suffering, grumpy, overcome by being our small-mindedness or small heartedness, or even when we are just overwhelmed by our own selves. So what is the lift Jesus offers us? The glory of the Cross. Oh! That’s not quite what we want. We want ‘out, elsewhere, to something easier’. Jesus offers ‘through and up’ with him. Jesus challenges us with the vision that what we see as negative, simply isn’t only that. There is more in the situation we judge negatively because God is within that situation. If we believe that there is more to our difficulties, suffering, grumpiness, pettiness, ordinary situations, we will see more – we will see the light. If we are not open to the possibility of more, we will not be able to see – to be lifted up by the grace of God. The trick is to be open. The challenge is to see greater possibilities within the situation as it is now. One way of doing this is trying to imagine how aspects of the situation could work for good in our lives. Another is to ask what is positive in the situation. Another is to ask Jesus how he sees the situation. What we are looking for are the cracks that let in the light of Grace.
If God put on a better show in church, the ratings would go through the roof. Imagine if at every Eucharist, our experience was like the Transfiguration – all of us stunned with the glory, filled with the most awesome fear, an experience so rich and wonderful that, like Peter, we want to stay permanently. Well, maybe not every week. With the assurance that it would happen once a year, many, many people would turn up each and every week. So why doesn’t God put on a better show? Why are those insights into the reality of God’s love so rare?
I don’t know. I do know that if I, and many of us, were running a religion we would make it much more attractive than what it mostly is. Much as we tend to blame the preaching, the translation, the choice of hymns or whatever, God could still put on a fireworks display… and doesn’t. What I’ve come to in my understanding is this. God wants us to: Come freely offering the love of our hearts, Come freely, even in the midst of ordinary life, Come freely, in the midst of suffering, Come freely, even when the shadows of this world fall away and we see the true reality of God’s love underpinning all reality. True love is given freely and God treasures the true love of our hearts so much that he will not coerce our response in love.
Taken any risks with your faith lately? My own tendency is to think that faith is something that should make us feel safe and with a well-developed faith we look to God for protection. But a genuine trust in God can make us act in other ways, ways that can led us to risk all that we have, even if it appears to be little.
The leper in this Sunday’s Gospel was an outcast. Yes, he had a skin disease but the people of his time understood this not as an illness but as a sign of his sinfulness. I can imagine him sitting destitute and despised on the fringes of his society, not allowed to come any closer than two metres to anyone, wondering what he had done to deserve this. Was he such a greater sinner than all his family and friends? Out there wondering, he well could have gone to the wild places of the spirit that questioned the interpretation of the law that had caused his situation. Hearing of this healer, Jesus, he would have pondered long and hard. Healing a leper was considered almost as great a feat as raising the dead. Then he came to his decision: he took the risk; he came back into society and found Jesus. What was truly amazing is that he did not ask Jesus for a cure. His words: “If you want to…” imply that he believed Jesus to have divine power. Sitting on the margins, taking the risk of coming back, had loosened his mind and heart to be open to the person of Jesus in a way that those comfortable in society were not.
My father was a gambler – or so I have been told. Mum used to say, ‘Your father’s a gambler, that’s why he took up mushroom farming.’ It was only after he died that I learnt the story. He came from a poor family and having gotten a scholarship to university, he lost a lot of that money on the horses. Well, through sheer hard work he was able to stay at Uni but he never bet on the horses again. Early in life, he faced a demon squarely and judged how weak he was. And he was the better man for it.
We each and all have demons. Part of the genius of the 12 step programs is to get people to face them squarely. Our demons don’t have to be as obvious as addiction to alcohol, gambling or drugs. Anything that undermines the growth of life and love within us is a ‘demon’. The man Jesus cured in this Gospel was not a vicious low life. This was a respectable man who attended synagogue! So what was his demon – resentment, concern for respectability, fear of what others think? We need to face our demons because it is then that we will be open to the salvation that Jesus offers: life to the full. If our lives seem less than full, we need to come before Jesus and ask for the healing that he so wants to give us.
‘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!