The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Job 7: 1-4, 6-7; I Cor 9: 16-19, 22-23; Mk 1: 29-39]
It has been a week now since the newspapers published horrifying pictures of the disintegration of the Columbia shuttle as it reentered the atmosphere of our earth. It has been a week in which we have tried as a nation to grasp the impact of this tragedy, to mourn and seek consolation, to search for a deeper wisdom which will let us acknowledge and integrate this experience in our need to resume our lives. Our president said that the crew “fulfilled an ancient dream of humanity by leaving behind earth and air and gravity in a quest for knowledge. This cause of exploration and discovery is not an option we choose; it is a desire written in the human heart.”
The language, symbols and evocations used to help us understand the event have been undisguisedly religious. They should incite us to reexamine the religious dimensions of our lives. And specifically that dimension which carries us beyond the weights of gravity and the boundaries of what we have already done and where we have already been. The language of heroism and martyrdom should be familiar to us who try to live the Gospel. The mystery of the Gospel, the mystery of the Kingdom, lurks behind and beyond the walls erected around our comfort zones. It is the promise of salvation in the Gospel which touches a deeper hope contained in our humanity, deeper than the dream to leave behind earth and air and gravity in a quest for knowledge. It is not a “cause” which ignites us, but a person who can speak to us with the promise of healing those dismembered, repressed, submerged energies of our own selves. We are indeed sick with a fever which lays us low, which leads us to count days on earth a drudgery, which sees them slipping away with the speed of a weaver’s shuttle. They come to an end without hope. Few of us dwell at such a bleak level of self-presence. We keep very active , in touch with many acquaintances, always with an unfinished agenda ahead of us to help us defy the limits of gravity and earth. We don’t need hope, just more time to do all we have to do. We have already answered the question, “What is it all for? What is the meaning of it all?” It will be taken care of. We will be compensated and repaid. The kingdom is a reward, not a mystery. Life is a holding action, maintenance, preserving the gains already made. We say we are alive and well and living in Iowa, but maybe in Jesus’ eyes, we have a fever and are bedridden.
The Church’s self-understanding is that it is “missionary of her very nature.” Created through the preaching of the Gospel, it becomes Gospel. It is not out to sell a message, but to share a life that constantly overflows from its very core. Paul understands the spirit of Jesus when he says that he has made himself a slave to all for the sake of the Gospel. This is the spirit we know when we share in the Gospel. It is a force which carries us beyond all boundaries of gravity and earth and air. To hear the Gospel is to have Jesus come, approach us, grasp our hand and help us up. Our healing is our being freed to share in the life of the holy community. “That I too may have a share in it.” “The fever left her and she began to wait on them.” We share this life at no cost, free of charge, without self-regard. We are not hirelings and servants. We are those who have been healed from isolation, paralysis, and quiet despair.
There is a healing and exorcism of evil spirits constantly at work in the preaching and living out of the Gospel. It draws out those very forces that would resist our moving into the space of human freedom and God’s freedom. Often, those forces assume the faces of every day reality. The way things are. The way things have always been. We are paralyzed by what we want to maintain and protect in our lives and by what we want to conceal. We know an inner, hidden fault that weighs us down and keeps us from moving beyond the narrow range of what we have learned to be possible. The word of the Gospel, the word of Christ is spoken directly to this point in our lives. “Let us go.” “Let us go.” Let us move from this place into new areas of our life. Certainly, Jesus himself felt the attraction of remaining in the comfortable circle of his friends, of the intimacy of his house. The crowds that came to the threshold of his house evidenced the power and success he had already realized. “Everybody is looking for you..” It must have been a heady and intoxicating mix.
But the inner power of the Gospel would not let Jesus close in his circles or horizons. In his solitary prayer to his father, he left behind the limits of gravity, earth, and air, and he stood at the threshold of God’s dwelling to receive the spirit of a new creation and a new age. “Let us go. Let us go to nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose I have come.” To hear the Gospel is to participate, to have koinonia, to share communion in its life. It is to be moved inwardly by its purpose, by the Father’s will. It is to allow the healing of those broken and withered parts of our inner being. At the points of doubt and hesitation and withdrawal, it is to hear the voice of Christ personally saying to us: “let us go.”
The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Cycle C Scripture Readings: Is 6:1-2a, 3-8; 1Cor 15:1-11; Lk 5:1 -11]
During the past few years, we have been fed a pretty steady diet of scandals surrounding public office-holders. Religious and political officials have been caught taking advantage of their positions and indulging in illegitimate exercises of ambition, greed and lust. It makes one wonder why have they gone to this excess? Why have they acted so carelessly, so imprudently, so recklessly, so irresponsibly?
There is something about the prestige and privilege of office that can intoxicate a person. There is an aura and almost numinous quality that is acquired with the position. A person’s ego can easily he inflated and blinded to moral norms. The Greeks had a myth about a man named Icarus who built a pair of wax wings that enabled him to fly. He was so taken by his invention, that he flew too close to the sun. The wings melted, and he plummeted to the earth. It seems a fair image of what often occurs.
Most of us tend to the other extreme in being unwilling to take risks. We seldom initiate critical change in our own lives. Sometimes, it happens to us: we are fired from our job; a spouse asks for a divorce; the doctor says we have cancer. But generally, we make great efforts to keep the boat from rocking. A number of years ago, the psychologist Abraham Maslow coined the phrase “Jonah Syndrome” to describe this proclivity many have to avoid experiences that take us beyond ourselves. We shy away from experiences of “being -cognition” which overwhelm us with a sense of unity, wholeness, beauty and wonder. We are unwilling to surrender ourselves, to lose our familiar sense of ourselves and the script we are used to living from. We sense that we might be indelibly changed by a deep contact with the unknown.
This very anxiety shuts us down before the numinous experience of the liturgy and the address that the readings make to our lives. We are being spoken to by God. God’s call to us has changed the context of our lives. We are already caught up into a new order, a new creation. Isaiah, Paul and Peter are not “exceptions.” This is Jonah talking in us. The readings unveil the pattern of God’s communicating with each of us. He has already taken the initiative in calling us. We are “called together in Christ Jesus.” “Live a life worthy of your calling.” Vatican II has reminded us that all Christians are called to holiness. And God calls us by “sending His Holy Spirit to move us interiorly” to love God and to love one another. This is an absolutely excessive movement and offer from God. He sends His Son to become incarnate in our world and our history. He gives the most intimate share in His own Spirit to transform our hearts.
Our own response has to be the same as that of Isaiah, Paul, and Peter. “Woe is me. I am a man of unclean lips, living among unclean people.” “I was not worthy to be called an apostle.” “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” It’s true. And we only come to a true knowledge of just how sinful and unclean and unworthy we are in the presence of the holiness of God. But this knowledge is the root of our purification, of our transformation, of our sanctification. We are at once sinful and just. That’s who we are. We are not called by God because we are wonderful people and have been doing pretty well. “I have come to call not the just, but sinners.” The very call shakes the ground on which we stand: the petty self-righteousness and stingy efforts. There is no proportion between the offer which God makes and our capacities. It is excessive. It is prodigal. It is abundant and generous beyond our dreams.
But it does call us into a transformed way of living. “I have worked harder than any of the others,” says Paul. “I am what I am by the grace of God.” “We have toiled all night long and caught nothing, but at your word I will pay out the nets.” When everything human and rational in Peter was saying, “What you are asking is too much,” he let himself be caught by the lure of Christ’s words.
Thomas Merton speaks of our vocation which “is not simply to be but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny. We are free beings and sons of God. This means to say that we should not passively exist, but actively participate in His creative freedom, in our own lives and in the lives of others, by choosing the truth…. To work out our own identity in God, which the Bible calls “working out our salvation,” is a labor that requires sacrifice and anguish, risk and many tears. It demands close attention to reality at every moment and great fidelity to God as He reveals Himself, obscurely, in the mystery of each new situation.” (New Seeds of Contemplation)