Archive for January, 2009|Monthly archive page

A Sad Decision

Dear Readers,

Thank you for reading Didymus’ musings.  He will be silent for a time but hopes one day to again share faith with you.

Until then, let us pray for each other.

Peace,

Didymus

THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

1 Corinthians 7:32-35

Mark 1:21-28

 

The fascination with fortunetellers and psychic readers is not new.  That interest escalates in times of uncertainty.  People do not want the experience of being in a dark room, hearing sounds, wondering what’s out there.  Someone please turn on the lights.  Someone please tell us what’s coming.  As understandable as anxiety is, the role of the prophet in Scripture is misunderstood if we think he is a seer who tells people with specificity what tomorrow holds.

The prophet in Sacred Scriptures is one who speaks what God wants the people to hear.  The prophetic onus is tremendous.  No wonder some of the major prophets protested their unworthiness when they were summoned to the task.  No wonder some of them fled in terror from the thought.  Fidelity to the vocation will not mean that the speaker will be heard, the message heeded.  Hear Jeremiah’s anguished cries as he sinks into the mud of the cistern where he has been cast because of his unpopular message.  Witness Jonah fume in the whale’s belly.

Yet prophecy is something faith communities need in order to be reminded lest the way be lost.  Or, once lost, to help them find the way back.  Taken as a whole, what is the prophetic message?  Through the Prophet, God says: Let me be your God.  You be my people.  People will know and marvel at our relationship unlike that between any other people and their gods when they see you following my ways.

Ah, as Shakespeare says, there just might lay the rub.  Every prophetic message is a call to conversion, to a change of life.  No one ever said that conversion would be easy.  It always involves dying and rising, dying to one way of life and rising to another.  Or, at least, going deeper into the faith-life being lived. 

There are two ways to hear today’s first reading.  It is assumed by those in Moses’ audience that hearing God directly would be too intense, just as would be the experience of looking on the face of God.  No one can see the face of God and live.  The Israelites did not argue that point.  At the same time there is the desire to know the mind of God.  The Lord said to Moses: I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.  There will be others like Moses who will speak to the people on God’s behalf.  That is another way of saying that God’s presence among the people will be evidenced by the veracity of the message.  So many times, succinctly put, that message will be: Remain faithful.  Come back to me with all your heart.  At other times there will be prophetic warnings of the implications of infidelity.  Their strength will be sapped.  Destruction and bondage could follow if they do not give up the ways of pagans.  But even then the prophecy will remind the people that God is faithful and one day will bring them back and restore their city.  And there will always be forgiveness.

Some hear in the promise to raise up for them a prophet the messianic promise.  Christians believe that promise is fulfilled in Jesus.  Mark says it quite clearly at the outset of his gospel: Here begins the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  This is the one in whose mouth God puts his word.  This is the one who shall tell the people all that God commands him.

  And so it is that at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus observes Sabbath and enters the synagogue.  He teaches, gives for the first time in the gospel prophetic utterance.  Two words describe the moment.  Authority.  Astonished.  The first describes the manner with which Jesus taught.  There was the professorial about him, a depth of understanding conveyed so that those who heard could also understand.  The second, astonished, describes the people’s reaction.  Astonished.  Amazed.  Both words are used interchangeably in the gospels and convey the picture of people standing with mouths agape in reaction to what they hear or see.  Neither describes belief.  In other places in the gospel two quite distinct groups will follow after Jesus.  Disciples – those who have made their decision about Jesus and crowds, those who may well be astonished but who are unable to commit.

All the more important that we witness the reaction of the unclean spirit Jesus casts out of the possessed man in the synagogue.  What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth, the spirit cries out.  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are – the Holy One of God!  The evil spirit recognizes the authority and from where it comes.  That is beyond what the crowd has perceived.  And Jesus commands silence.  It will not be Evil’s witness that will convince the people who Jesus is, but the words he speaks and the works he does.  Quiet!  Come out of him!

And so the gospel concludes with people marveling about what they have seen, the astonishing authority with which Jesus acts and a new teaching.  But to what does it all point?  What does it mean?  The people of the synagogue, the witnesses will tell others the story and help spread his reputation.  It will take the rest of the story, the rest of the journey with Jesus for the mystery to be revealed and for faith to begin.  Because even those who call themselves disciples early on will have to let go of what they thought they understood, let go of their assumptions about the promised Messiah, and watch him die.  And then?

Sincerely,

Didymus

 

THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Mark 1:14-20

 

 

This is the only Sunday in the three-year cycle of readings that we hear from the Prophet Jonah.  Maybe that is not surprising since the book is short, only four brief chapters.  In some ways the book is a comic opera given the hapless and reluctant prophet that is Jonah.  Reluctant is the operative word.  God called Jonah to be a prophet to the people of Nineveh.  A people of longstanding animosity with Israel, Jonah wanted nothing to do with them and so fled by ship hoping to reach Tarshish and so escape God’s call.  You know what happened next.  God sent a storm that threatened to envelop the boat and sink it.  The mates on board saw the storm as a punishment from God but directed at whom? 

Jonah acknowledges that he is fleeing from God’s will so the storm is probably directed at him.  He offers himself to be thrown into the sea so that the ship will be spared.  Overboard he goes only to be swallowed by a giant fish in whose belly Jonah resides for three days.  Jonah repents from there.  God hears him and commands the fish to spew forth Jonah.  Sputtering on the shore, Jonah hears God’s message again: Set out for the great city of Nineveh and announce to it the message that I will give you.  The message?  In forty days, Nineveh will be destroyed – the epitome of a sermon of fire and brimstone.  Jonah expects his announcement to be ignored by the people of Nineveh and looks forward to finishing the three–day trek through the city so that he can climb the hill on the other side and from there watch the destruction of the detested people.

Imagine his consternation when, after a single day’s journey into the city, all the people hear the prophecy and repent, declaring a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.  Even their king repents.  And so does God.  Nineveh is spared, much to Jonah’s disappointment.  He so wanted to see the fireworks.  Instead, he witnesses God’s mercy and finally experiences that mercy in his own heart.

So, what is the point?  When we hear the word of the Lord, we ought to respond wholeheartedly.  But you have to wonder what was in the hearts of the people of Nineveh that they repented so quickly and thoroughly.  For what were they longing?  And isn’t Jonah the epitome of the judgmental haranguer?   In spite of Jonah’s hardness, God’s grace goes out through Jonah’s message and finds reception in the people’s hearts.  They hear a message of hope, theirs if they will only change their ways.

After John the Baptist had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God.  His message, like Jonah’s is a call to repentance but without the threat of immanent destruction.  The word gospel means good news.  Jesus invites all who hear him to get ready for the time of fulfillment, what the prophets foretold, the coming of the reign of God.  If they change their lives and return to God’s ways they will experience God in their lives – God living not only among them but also in them.

The first thing we come to realize is that Jesus does not want to be the sole bearer of the good news.  He invites others to take up his ministry.  He calls the fishermen Simon and Andrew.  It would seem at their first hearing of the message they respond wholeheartedly.  Come after me, and I will make you fishers of humankind.  They will still be throwing out nets but not to ensnare fish.  Immediately Simon and Andrew abandon their former way of life and follow Jesus.  By the way, this does not imply that the brothers were living an evil life.  They were honest and hard workers.  It means that Jesus called them to something new and they held nothing back in responding.

The same holds true for the next pair of fishermen-brothers, James and John, who hear and immediately leave their father, Zebedee, and the crew of workers and follow Jesus.  One can’t help but wonder how thrilled Zebedee was with this turn of events.  But for the brothers Jesus was the answer to everything that they longed for and desired.  For them there was nothing else to do but answer his call.

Abandoned everything and followed Jesus.  Left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed Jesus.  The call goes forth and the response is total.  The example is for us to do the same.

You might ask what these men understood when Jesus invited them to follow him and become fishers of humanity.  Probably not very much and certainly not what they would come to understand to be the gospel.  They had a lot to learn.  Jesus must have had a magnetic personality.  Everywhere he spoke, crowds immediately gathered.  It is likely that those first called thought Jesus was the Messiah, the one who would restore Israel to power and drive out foreign rule.  Perhaps they imagined themselves as important personages in that coming realm.  That really doesn’t matter.  Jesus spoke.  They followed and they never looked back.  They would come to a whole new understanding of Messiah and experience God who does not want to be served but to serve.  They would be formed following the example that Jesus was before them.  They would come to understand that Jesus is the message that invites all people to experience a new unity with God and each other, a new peace.

For us, it is the same.  Whatever fascinates us about Jesus in the beginning doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that we recognize the call and dare to imagine that the message is for us.  What matters is our willingness to change our lives and conform them to Christ.  What matters is that we follow him and learn his ways.

That is what making this journey through the Liturgical Year can accomplish.  We hear the Gospel as living word.  We listen and let that good news that is Jesus take root in our hearts.  And we change and learn to do what Jesus does.  If Jesus is the norm, then imitating him must be our response.  Over time and with each gospel’s proclamation we will come to know more and more what that imitation means, what in us has to change.  It is not fear that draws us.  It is love.

I don’t know how long it is that we are walking in Jesus’ footsteps before we realize that his call is never for ourselves alone.  I don’t know when it is that we realize that the love that drew us must go out from us and draw others.  But I do believe that once we hear the rest follows.

That is why our lives soon begin to revolve around Sunday Eucharist.  We gather to be renewed in Jesus’ dying and rising, to take and eat the Body of Christ so that in the week ahead we find the strength and the courage to be fishers of people, catching them up in God’s love that comes to us through Jesus.  And inviting them to follow.

Sincerely,

Didymus