Thursday, January 13, 2011

No-thing to Gain in Following Christ but Every-thing to Lose!

The Gospels of the last two days from daily Mass have Jesus going out of his way not to be "hemmed in" or misunderstood by the crowds that began following after him. Mark 1:34-38 tells the story of how Jesus healed a number of people and than, the following day, withdrew to "a deserted place" to pray. When Peter and the other disciples encounter him, they report that, "everybody is looking for him!" Jesus' interesting and even confounding response is, in so many words, "quick, let's get outta Dodge before they find me and go somewhere else to preach!" In today's Gospel from Mark (1:40-45), Jesus heals a leper and gives him strict instructions not to tell anybody. What do you think the leper does? He promptly goes out into the public square and immediately starts spreading the news! Jesus responds by ducking out of the public eye and confining himself more and more to deserted places! So, what gives? Is "Mark's version" of Jesus a bit anti-social or just painfully shy?

Scholars refer to Jesus' elusive ways as the "Messianic Secret" of Mark. This is a theme that weaves itself throughout the entire Gospel. Essentially it indicates that from Mark's vantage point of faith, Jesus went out of his way not to have his person or ministry misunderstood or taken advantage of. Many in Jesus' day were expecting a Messiah to intervene on the socio, political, and cultural scene, rescue Israel from it's foreign occupiers (the Romans), and re-establish the dominance of Israel over it's neighbors (just like in the golden era of King David). Had Jesus allowed himself to be "hemmed in" or had he acquiesced to the expectations of what a Messiah was "supposed to be" he would have become a mere "thing", "tool", or "means" to realizing the end of whatever group "co-opted" him.

At a deeper, interpersonal and spiritual level, Jesus refused to be "hemmed in" and reduced to a "thing" or a "pawn" because what he was offering people than (and what he offers now) is actually "no-thing" at all! Rather, Christ came to reveal a "Way" to depth of authentic communion with Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and a depth of interdependence and communion with others. What this actually implies, ironically enough, is that followers of Christ have "no-thing" to gain in following Christ and "every-thing" to lose! This statement, of course, is meant to be a bit jarring! What I mean by this, as indicated by my hyphenating the words "no-thing" and "every-thing" is that there are no material benefits to be derived from following the Lord and many material things that we may be needing to let go of or lose altogether! In not allowing himself to be turned into a thing, Jesus was proclaiming that there is really only one "thing" that is essential to life: a living relationship with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and a corresponding depth of relationship to our brothers and sisters. St. Paul perhaps says it best when he exclaims, "Furthermore, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things." (Philippians 3:8). Pat, TOR