12th Sunday Reflection
LOVE RESTORES OUR DIGNITY – (Mark 4:35-41) –
And they were afraid, enormously afraid…
Do not be afraid! … The angel speaks to Mary… Do not be afraid! The angel speaks to Zachariah…. Do not be afraid! Jesus speaks to his disciples. Whenever God breaks through into the terror of history, the words are the same, ‘do not be afraid!’ Throughout Scripture, across 38 verses, time and again, God speaks to us, ‘do not be afraid’.
Fear of the night, fear of the wind storm, fear of drowning, fear of the destructive lurking monsters; yes this fear we can all understand. But how do we come to grips with this other fear, this enormous fear… after the storm is quelled, the monsters silenced and we recognize the awesome and terrible presence of ‘God with us’?
In this presence of God all our perceived ‘goodness’ is revealed for self-interest, all our worthiness a pile of dung, all our pride, control, and strength, a wispy nothingness. Any experience God’s power, God’s Word that calls into being, that rebukes and that blesses, leaves us derailed, unhinged, and afraid, enormously afraid…
Most of us know what it is to be afraid, that numbing experience of fear; a house invasion by gangsters or a knife-wielding attacker at the Presbytery gate. There is also that quiet fear that wakes you up at night with your heart thumping. There is however something beyond fear; that absolute terror, that revulsion of our soul when we encounter the presence of evil! Rather than some abstract philosophical notion of the ‘absence of good’, here evil is felt like something that melts the gut.
It is early morning, around 3 am, I am suddenly urged awake to confront two armed men hovering over me in the bedroom. My reaction is pure ‘lizard brain’: kill! With a terrible growl of a cornered wild animal, I bound up from the bed and attack: kill! By blessed chance, the intruders flee. The anger, fear, and regret that I experienced afterward has nothing to do with any intruders. To kill; this is what I am capable of; this is what lies hidden within me. I am afraid, shocked, mortified, and deeply humbled. Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man. But God’s response is always the same, ‘do not be afraid!’ A gentle Love reminder that God is on our side and it is god’s love that restores us to our dignity.
This is truly a moment of grace. To see ourselves as we are, this is grace. Yes, God is within me, light is within me, but there is also another side. It is against the revelation of this shameful reality of our hidden faults and sins that God’s grace is something beautiful, awesome, but also overwhelming.
Without this revelation, our tangled motives and glib self-righteous anger is continually at work feeding the ego to keep us satisfied with the egos’ constant false assurances: I am right, I am good, I am better than those others, I am deserving of success, happiness, and the fulfilment of my desires and dreams. This is the path that leads to claiming for ourselves the right to designate good and evil according to our own judgement, claiming for ourselves equality with God.
The illusion of self-righteousness will always keep us static, block our development, and makes us unteachable, incapable of true unselfish love. This is when derailment is needed; suffering and sorrow are most often the key to the door of a hardened and prideful heart. Suffering and sorrow lead us into that compassionate stance that knows our own need of mercy and forgiveness; knows our need of the healing hand of Jesus the Christ.
Be gentle with yourself. Allow yourselves to become soft and vulnerable, for your suffering partakes in the story of Jesus the Christ. This is our call to faith in God’s Love that banishes fear and restores our dignity.
Yet, fear and evil can and does spread like a virus over the surface of the earth and destroys the innocent. Evil comes from a failure to think. It defies thought for as soon as thought tries to engage itself with evil and examine the premises and principles from which it originates, it is frustrated because it finds nothing. This is termed the ‘banality of evil’. Discovering how easy it is for each one of us to slip into fundamentalism and the ‘banality of evil’ is something that takes us by surprise: and it is a lesson we have to learn over and over again.
It is only Divine Love, God’s love that restores each one of us to our intended dignity. This is the blessing that we are called to reflect to each other.