16th Sunday Reflection
LIFE IN THE PRESENT MOMENT – (Mark 6:30-34) – Perhaps you are feeling cheated, wronged, or indignant… You are not alone!
From the smallest daily barbs, “They ate ALL my favourite breakfast cereal, NOW I have to eat that horrible porridge”, through the intermediate state of fuming, “Why must I always clean up after them; I am not appreciated”, into that livid moment where “I really should have won, I am much more deserving; the judges were unfair”, and on to that relentless grinding sorrow at being humiliated and betrayed, being left out of all that largess being bestowed on those privileged, undeserving and cheating sobs; and then, into that final melancholy of being cheated by life itself; the infirmity of age, declining health and strength that rob me of my dreams.
The outcome is always the same, lingering anger at the hurt that upstages all other emotions, consuming our energy, demanding management. Other emotions, even joy, become transitory… We are stuck in the past, in victim-hood, becoming unteachable, rejecting grace. I am no one’s doormat, or for that matter sheep, and I do not need anyone to shepherd me or to tell me how to live my life! Our very fragile, brittle and empty illusion of control is incompatible with any notion of being taught by anybody, even Jesus.
Yet without this reference to the God who is Love, who is transcendent; God who is both with us but also outside of time and space, it is not possible to reach into our own intrinsic human dignity and vocation into eternity. Without reference to God as the divine origin and purpose of the universe and all that is, there is something lacking in our understanding, in our judgements on how we should act, and in the depths of our hearts a great restlessness.
As long as we continue to find our identity and our value in things, whether it be the glitzy glamour of idols or the science of extending youth and life, we have based our ‘I am’ on shifting sands. How easy it is to lose ourselves in such empty endeavours. When the illusion fails us and all our control melts before the storm, the emptiness and longing that remain often lead to anxiety, fear, and depression. Even justice and compensation become dust without any power to restore our inner compassion and dignity.
If we remain caught up in our illusions, we may dismiss today’s gospel as an irrelevance! However, the fact that ‘Jesus took pity on them … and set himself to teach them at some length’, contains a lesson for us that is of the first importance.
We think of Jesus taking pity on other people sinners, poor people, sick people, hungry people, people in mourning, paralytics, outcasts, people possessed by evil spirits: in each of these cases, we can think of Jesus taking pity and then either doing something about it or teaching us about our duties of pity and compassion. He pitied sinners and forgave them, he pitied the sick and healed them; he pitied the widow and raised her son to life; he had pity for outcasts and made them welcome at his table; and he preached that we, his disciples, should take pity on the hungry, the poor, and those who are suffering.
But the pity he shows today does not fit this pattern. He takes pity on the whole people, rich and poor, healthy and sick, and the form that his pity takes is teaching. The idea that Jesus takes pity on people because they are like ‘sheep without a shepherd’, and the idea that teaching could be an expression of pity and mercy, are ideas that are alien to us.
We do not like the idea that we need to be taught; we are in love with the notion of our own autonomy. This is expressed in the grandstanding sentiment: don’t walk in front, I may not follow; don’t walk behind, I may not lead; let’s just walk beside each other!
Teaching conjures up someone who knows what we do not and tells us, implicitly showing up our imperfection.
Many strive to live in an effective God-free zone making out that the divine is an optional extra, no more than a personal choice. While, at the same time, the ‘body, mind, spirit’ shelves of bookshops groan under the number of books by lifestyle consultants that promise happiness by a mix of diets, mind-games, and ways of re-arranging the furniture. The God-free zone is also a happiness-free zone. We only become fully human when we recognise that there is more to life than the sum of the bits we can manage, the bits we can cope with, and the bits we can see.
This recognition is rarely a blinding flash of understanding that there is a ‘God-shaped aperture’ in our existence, rather it is, more often than not, a painful discovery that we would almost be glad to avoid. That little instant in which all our very fragile, brittle, and empty illusion of control have tumbled into the abyss of chaos.
Yet in this discovery we need also to appreciate wisdom; here lies the mission of Jesus the prophet and teacher. He teaches us to become aware of the deeper needs of our humanity: to see ourselves as God’s children, to work together to build the kingdom of God.
Jesus both teaches us of our fundamental dependency on God, and of the Love that restores and upholds us.
The people hurried after him, and he set about teaching them at length. Here is a hard question: are we willing to sit as students at the feet of Jesus and be taught at length? As Jesus, the Christ continues to speak to us, and as Jesus continues to walk in our streets, I believe he continues also to have compassion also on our empty pursuits; that is the nature of Love.
I admonish and exhort them [the brothers] not to look down upon or judge those whom they see dressed in soft and fine clothes and enjoying the choicest food and drink, but rather let everyone judge and look down upon himself… I counsel, admonish and exhort my brothers in the Lord Jesus Christ not to quarrel or argue or judge others when they go about in the world; but let them be meek, peaceful, modest, gentle, and humble, speaking courteously to everyone, as is becoming. (Regula bullata: Ch 2-5)
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- 23rd Sunday Reflection: Isolation and Forgetfulness - September 3, 2021