Archive for January, 1997
In recent weeks we’ve been wondering what it’s like when God comes among us as a human being: as a tiny child at Christmas, as an adult now in these weeks of Ordinary Time.
It’s a great gift given to us to meet the maker of the universe dwindled to infancy, vulnerable and frail. But Jesus is a gift that calls for a response on our part. Last week we heard John’s story of how the first disciples responded to Jesus by seeking him out and spending time with him, just hanging out. They became disciples slowly and gently as Jesus answered a mystery in them.
The Jesus who appears today in Mark’s gospel is not the same. He is all mystery and challenge. This Jesus walks in from the desert with startling words: “This is the time of fulfillment: the reign of God is at hand.” This Jesus makes blunt demands upon his hearers: “Reform your lives and believe the good news.” And the surprising thing is that he gets the response he seeks. Simon and Andrew abandon their livelihood and immediately get up and become his followers. James and John abandon their family and become part of his company. No discussion here. No afternoons slowly getting to know him. There is something about Jesus, as Mark portrays him, that lets him demand a total and instant response and get it.
What could this something be? What could persuade someone to get up and leave everything and just go off with a stranger? What did Simon and Andrew and James and John see him in? … Hard to say exactly but each must have seen in Jesus something that could change their lives completely. And not sometime, not soon, but now, right now.
I think Mark is asking us the same question. What would it take, when I’m busy in my job, to get me to walk out and leave all security behind to go off with Jesus? … What would he have to be like, to so capture your heart, that when you’re sitting at home with your family you would abandon them to walk away with him? … What could be so attractive and compelling about Jesus that we, right now, would walk out of mass just to be with him—penniless, friendless, homeless—and be about his business?
Tough questions! Maybe we can’t imagine responding like that. But that’s what Mark is asking us to do: imagine. Who would Jesus have to be, for you to leave everything for him—and gladly? That’s Mark’s question to us. He wants us to imagine a Jesus so attractive, so appealing, so compelling, … so rewarding, that we would give ourselves completely to him and his cause. Can you do that? Imagine. Can you let such an attractive Jesus walk into your imagination and draw a response from you?
January 26th, 1997
This year epiphany pursues us. In these weeks each gospel speaks about the way God is discovered in our lives. Today the epiphany takes the form of an awkward encounter. In an unexpected question: “What are you looking for?” In a question given instead of an answer: “Where do you stay?” In an answer that itself is a question: “Come and see.”
You can’t make anything of this prickly conversation without letting yourself get inside it. From the outside it’s just words. Just noise. Just some story of dead people, long dead people. But from the inside it’s alive—it’s epiphany. So step inside with me for a moment or two. Join those two travellers on the road, step inside their skins, and feel what it’s like to be walking the dusty roads, trailing after someone you hardly know, on some fool’s errand, for someone else. Following this guy, trying not to be seen, because, for the life of you, you don’t know what you are supposed to do if he spots you. How long have you been trailing him? Too long perhaps and the midday heat is annoying you and the thirst is annoying you but you don’t want to risk losing him to stop. And then in your daydreaming you almost run into him. He’s stopped. He’s right in front of you, staring right at you. And, scared out of your skin, you are trying to put together some apology or explanation, when he smiles a little and, never taking his eyes off yours, says “What are you looking for?” What are you looking for? What can you say? You start to say something lame but you are still caught by his gaze and you realise you don’t want to lie to him. So what are you looking for? What are you searching for? For a good cool drink? For a place to sit down? For peace and quiet? Oh, for some sense to life, and some security from debt, some safety from disease, some hope for tomorrow, some love to give and receive. What are you looking for? What are you really looking for? For peace on earth? For an end to death and dying? You don’t know! Too small or too big those desires; too easy or too risky. You don’t know what you are looking for but you know you want something, you know the voice that wakes you in the night—in the hour of the wolf—and whispers your name and won’t let you sleep as you chase in circles the fears and the hopes of twilight. You know you are searching—and searching for words to express the search—but all that comes out in the end is “Where do you stay?”
It seems to be a good answer because his smile broadens and his eyes cloud as he goes inside to search for an answer worthy of your question. You’ve surprised him. Where does he stay? Where does he call home? Where are his roots and his sanctuary? He too is drawn deeper. Where does he find the sap for his vine, the blood for his body, the breath for his spirit? Who does he belong to? He’s quiet for a long time—as long as you took to answer his question—and then he reaches out his hand to take yours and says, “Come and see.” And you do. And both your lives are never the same again.
“Look,” says John the Baptist, “there’s the Lamb of God.” A promise of great revelation, of great epiphany, of great mystery. But the revelation comes on a street corner. The epiphany shines in the obscurity of a restless, searching heart. The mystery unfolds in a late afternoon of conversation. Look where we find God—where God finds us. Look how the kingdom comes, look how we become disciples, look how God comes among us. In a human voice, in a human yearning, in the touch of a human hand.
But are we looking for Jesus? Are we ready for him? And, above all, are we willing for our lives to never be the same again?
January 19th, 1997
Thirty years have flashed by in a week. Thirty years framed by two great epiphanies. Between the howling baby adored by shepherds and scientists and the silent figure coming to John at the Jordan—between them there is a lifetime of mystery. Somehow that helpless, demanding, fragile, noisy, tiny baby becomes a kid under his mother’s feet, becomes an adolescent under his own, finds friends and loses some, learns life and discovers death, earns a living, negotiates respect, plays and prays and laughs and cries, falls in love, drinks and dances, gets lost, gets hurt, watches things grow, stands by helpless as others wither, smells the bread baked, sees the vine ripen, hears the desert wind of his people, tastes the bitter tang of illness, feels the lash of Roman tongues (and worse), buries a father, worries over a mother, looks up in awe at starry skies, gazes in shame at poverty and neglect and … wonders why he can’t settle, why—happy as he is—he is restless.
Wonders why the words of Isaiah echo inside him the way they do, like his own words, “To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.” O God, if not now, when? If not us, who? “I Adonai have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand. I have formed you, and set you as a covenant for the nations.” Burning words, aching hopes. “How much longer must we wait Adonai before you show your glory? Will you not rend the skies in two and show yourself as of old?” If not now, when? If not me, who?
Thirty years. Thirty ordinary, hidden years. About to end.
We’ll never know what finally moves him to get up and leave Nazareth one morning and walk all this way to be standing alone before John—waist deep in water. Some call—told in Torah, whispered in his heart, encountered in community—something gets him here. Something draws him to this preposterous prophet. Something that can no longer be ignored. Something no longer private. Something demanding a public action.
So he hands himself over, to God, to John, to the waters of the Jordan. “Let it be to me as you have said.” And he holds his breath.
Something dies here and something is born. Everything begins here.
When he rises from the water and gasps back his life everything is changed. The sky has been torn in two and suddenly the Spirit is upon him in epiphany after epiphany. Isaiah’s words are ringing all around him. “You are my child, my beloved, my cherished one.” And he knows something. He is, for a moment, settled. For an instant, the restlessness is gone and all makes sense. For a moment. And no one notices as the spirit drives him dripping into the desert to make him restless once again. Restless and hungry and wanting only one thing: epiphany—that the people who dwell in darkness might see a great light.
For ourselves it has been a week of epiphanies. A week to grieve and a week to be proud. Something has ended and something has begun. We saw our strength this week as a community and we did Jim proud as we sent him on his way. He worked so hard to make us a community. He worked so hard to get us to live out our own baptismal ministry. Jim’s passing marks a beginning we have already made, here, together. Three unlikely communities, one in baptism, becoming one in service. We are Jim’s legacy. Something has ended but something has begun. Something that calls to us, something we can only begin to recognise, something unfinished, something new. Something we need to pause and dwell upon and let the spirit shape among us. Because this is a moment of epiphany, this is a moment of passage. If not now, when? If not us, who?
January 12th, 1997