5th Sunday of Ordinary Time
FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Job 7:1-4, 6-7 | 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23 | Mark 1:29-39
Keep your family members safe, oh Lord, with unfailing care that, relying solely on the hope of heavenly grace, they may be defended always by your protection. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
HAVING been a priest for more than 50 years, and having retired seven years ago, I realize there has been a radical change in me. Now, I enjoy this wonderful experience of having time, of not having to be somewhere or do something urgent. To my surprise during the last few years, I have developed the capacity to sit and reflect, something I had such a hard time doing when I had a full calendar and people waiting for me.
I look at the Ten Commandments that God gave us, and those first three really are very powerful, because they talk about our relationship to God and what it is supposed to be. It’s all about what we see in him, what our image of him is. Well, the first thing we should know is that he is the only God. Therefore he is the truth. He is absolutely worthy of trust. He knows the world. He created it. He knows you. He made you. He gives you a destiny. He alone knows it perfectly, and he invites you to participate in it freely, generously, joyously. He also asks you to realize from those first three commandments that he likes talking to you. He wants to be part of your life, not simply as Creator, but also as the one who tells you what you should do for him. He wants conversation. He wants intimacy. He wants to reveal himself to us as he really is, and he asks us to do the same. But it’s interesting. He already knows who we are, but we don’t know him. So when I say that he wishes intimacy, I mean he wishes not only to reveal himself as he is, but also for us to see ourselves as we are. That means to discover who we really are, and one of the things he longs to do more than anything else is to reveal that to us. The work of God in the world, as I see it now, is not so much to make us good. That’s a side effect, but from the beginning until this moment in history, he’s been trying to reveal to us what is true, what is real. To enter into the truth is to be enlightened, and enlightenment comes through an intimate relationship with God. It’s called grace, and grace is abundant. I know there is something called evil, and I know it has some kind of power over us. If you want to simplify it, maybe oversimplify it, evil most intently longs for you not to believe in that kind of God. Don’t believe in a God who is that intimate. Believe more in a God who is a judge. And you might say, “Well, that’s how he revealed himself.” Well, yes, he did, but that was in the beginning when his audience had very little capacity to understand the fullness of who he was. We now have the fullness of who he is, and the fullness of who he is may be seen in the person of Jesus who, if we’re going to understand him completely, we must understand that he’s 100 percent human and intimately connected to God, so intimately connected to him, so much in tune with him that his spirit and God’s spirit are one. We say he is also God, and he is — 100 percent human, 100 percent God. But the focus during this time when we’re studying Mark, in this particular cycle of readings, one of Mark’s most interesting characteristics is that he always insisted on revealing to us that Jesus had a really hard time keeping people from seeing him as God because of his works. So he came to the point when he was constantly trying to disassociate himself from the source of those things, giving the credit to God. Nevertheless, we call it the "mark of secrecy" since he always wanted to direct our attention to the fact that he was like us. He is the forerunner of who we are to be. He is filled with the Spirit, is able to do these things, not because he’s God, as he is, but because he’s a human filled with God, a human filled with God. That’s what God wants, for us to be filled with him, to make it kind of oversimplified. Maybe again he wants us to allow him to come into us.
We have a long tradition of this organ in the center of our chest that is the place where God dwells. What’s so fascinating about that image of God dwelling in our heart is that he’s not dwelling in our head, meaning he’s more than just logical. Many of the things he does can’t be explained with the mind. He doesn’t dwell in the will, which is the part of us that can make us do anything we want if we really want it enough. He’s not a force like that, which makes us into somebody we’re not. No, he dwells in the heart, and the heart is also like the center of our spiritual being — that’s where our spirit is. That’s where we find the essence of who we are as believers. That’s the eternal part of us. We’re spiritual beings by nature. We’re not physical beings struggling constantly to get out of this burden of a flesh body, hoping someday we’ll become more spiritual. No, the truth is, in reality, that we already are spiritual beings. We live in a physical body, but the illusion is that we are only the body, we’re only physical, and we have to struggle to try to be spiritual when the truth is, reality is always going to be this mysterious combination of spirit and matter — spirit and matter. That’s a life force. It’s in us. It’s in animals. It’s in everything that’s alive. Some go so far as to say it’s in everything that exists.
So we have, in these first two images, the God who is in these commandments. We also have a third one that simply says, “Whatever you do, use the power that I am as I intended — as I intended.” In the Old Testament, it seems very much like the beginning of God’s revelation of who he is to his people. He intended very much to explain to them that he was forceful, strong, powerful. All the images in the Old Testament of God are that image of earthquakes and wind and fire and power. Then he manifests his power by destroying the enemies of his people. So he’s the destroyer. Of course, if you carry that a little further, you realize that, if you ever are an enemy of God, then you’ll be destroyed too. That’s the shadow of it. That’s not the fullness of it. It’s not the right understanding of it, but that’s the way it comes across to us. But the power of God to be able to destroy our enemies is a foretaste of what we have in the indwelling presence of God, which opens our eyes to what is real and what is true, to drop what is fake and phony, and somehow, when we drop the lie, we get rid of the lies and live in the truth, we’re in the most natural state we can be in, and those lies are the enemy. They destroy us. They destroy our sense of who we are and what we’re here for. It’s so amazing to me how many lies were told. It’s crazy.
As a child, my family of origin, which was like your family, every family I know, dysfunctional, and there were all kinds of dynamics going on in the family, one of which was the roles each of us had were often given to us by our parents, not so much chosen by us, and we carry that inside of us, almost as if that experience we had in the beginning is the experience of life. Maybe you were given too much responsibility, and that’s where you end up in life, or maybe you were ignored, which is the worst, and so you feel ignored during your whole life. There is something about experiences we have as children that become embedded in our consciousness. The work of maturing and growing is to have grace enter into those lies and illusions, and there’s a bright light — it’s called enlightenment — and we begin to discover the truth of who we are. That’s the best image I have now in my mind about what religion is all about, giving us an environment in which we are with other people who have the same goal. We want to discover who we are and why we’re here. We’re not being told what to do. That’s the shadow of religion. We’re invited to enter into a relationship that religion is telling us is true, because the doctrine of religion that’s so potent and powerful, the trust we have in a religion to capture the fullness of the nature of what its founder is trying to explain to us — and when we have that amazing experience of that kind of community, it’s very, very life-giving. But the amazing thing about it is that it’s a story of people going through a process of getting rid of enemies, illusions, half-truths and lies about who we are, and entering into the fullness of life.
So we look at this set of readings, and the first one is obviously about Job, who’s been, in a way, told that he’s been separated from God’s favor, not from believing in God, but manifesting for God, for the goodness of God. So think of that as God pulling out from his life and then what he loses, let’s just say — this is my projection — that he’s losing a sense of his own value and worth, so he’s depressed, really depressed. His description of life is like — I can identify with that, nights I can’t sleep, not enough time to get things done. It’s all drudgery. It’s all work. I can’t finish what I have on my plate, and I’m miserable, because what I’m doing is just trying to do the things I need to do without any kind of real motivation, without any kind of drive. When you don’t have drive and you don’t have a desire deep in your heart to accomplish something that’s bringing you life; life is empty. So what we see as an answer to that depression, you might say, is the call of Jesus to enter into our life, and what he seeks to do by enlightenment, by his presence, open our eyes to who we are. That means we understand that there is something in us that we’ve been given to do, and it’s our challenge to find it and do it. The best way I can describe what it is, it’ll take many forms, but the core of it is to be in the truth, to stop lying, stop deceiving people, to be as truthful and as honest and as real as we can be. In doing that, we are fulfilling the most primary goal that God has for the human beings he created. We end up becoming who we are called to be, and when we’re living out our destiny and being honest and true and have integrity and authenticity, that’s it. That’s our job, and if everyone was doing that — think of it. If everyone did it that way, every evil, every horrible situation in the world would be changed.
It’s not about taking on some major task of transforming the world, changing some system. Some people are asked to do that, but if each of us took seriously the work that God has invited us into, that the church is guiding us through, if that meditation and reflection is opening our eyes more and more to see it. If we’re engaged in that, well, then we’ve done it. That’s the work. I’ve always thought it was not sinning, but you can’t get to this place I’m talking about without seeing what’s real, without seeing the things you do that are not real and facing them. That’s why no judgment and forgiveness is such a key message of Jesus, but it’s all about living in the truth.
Father, your goodness is beyond our imagining. Your desires, if we understood them fully, would be something we would never, ever resist. We would welcome with great joy, even though they might challenge us to do things that are painful and difficult. So open us to this grace you promised, this transforming light that opens our eyes to see the reality we are called to live. Help us to see it as our natural state, not something special or super-spiritual, but rather simply discovering the nature of who we are and delighting in the responsibility you’ve given us to fulfill in the world, and we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.