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Breath of the Spirit

Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.

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God constantly demands we go beyond our comfort zone, and endure the agonies which follow and precede such actions.

FEBRUARY 8, 2015: FIFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings:

Job 7:1-4, 5-7
I Corinthians 9:17-19, 22-23
Mark 1:29-39

Though we can presume the historical Jesus prayed often during any given day of his earthly existence, Mark’s Jesus only prays when he’s under “messianic stress:” when he’s trying to figure out what God wants him, as a prophet, to say and do.

I mentioned in last week’s commentary that, given our sacred authors’ emphasis on prophecy, it’s essential to know how to distinguish real prophets from fake prophets.

The first rule: real prophets always take us back to the beginnings of our faith; fake prophets never go back that far. The latter concentrate on things which entered the faith years or centuries after the founder’s original insights; things which are usually far less demanding than those original essentials. The gospel Jesus, for instance, rejected any violence, even in retaliation. But less than four centuries later, St. Augustine developed the concept of a “just war.” What’s forbidden in the beginning, eventually becomes acceptable.

Like ourselves, Jesus of Nazareth would have agonized over those essentials. How far back does he go? How much of himself is he willing to commit to this endeavor? He was also well aware of the second and third rules for picking real from fake prophets: the former not only can’t make a living from prophecy, they always suffer for delivering the message Yahweh demands they give. Could he endure the suffering such a ministry entailed?

Today’s Marcan pericope concludes the first gospel day of Jesus’ public ministry. He’s exorcised “many demons,” and besides healing Simon’s fevered mother-in-law, he also “cured many who were sick with various diseases.” Quite a successful day. No wonder “Simon and those who were with him pursued him” the next morning. They probably had several TV interviews scheduled, and were accompanied by a couple of reporters anxious to do a story on this local carpenter.

He must have blown their minds when, instead of returning triumphantly to town, he announces, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” If this narrative is historically accurate, I presume on Good Friday evening, some of his first disciples would have argued, “We should have stayed in Capernaum. He went to one village and one synagogue too far.”

This passage paints a picture of someone willing to go beyond what “normal” people would expect God to demand. Why didn’t he remain in a place that accepted him, preaching God’s prophetic word to friendly audiences? He could have become a local, revered personality, instead he ends up dying on a Jerusalem cross.

Marcan scholars point out the Greek vocabulary employed in this “deserted place” pericope is identical to the vocabulary used in the evangelist’s agony in the garden passage. That implies Jesus most probably experienced more than one agony. (And it also helps us understand how the three Gethsemane eyewitnesses, though fast asleep, still knew what Jesus was going through. He had experienced similar agonies on other occasions – while they were awake.)

God constantly demands we go beyond our comfort zone, and endure the agonies which follow and precede such actions.

Paul mentions he also went beyond that zone in evangelizing the Corinthian church. Not only did he refuse to do something even Jesus permitted – be materially supported by the community he’s evangelizing – but he also takes the unexpected step of becoming one with each of his converts.  “I have made myself a slave to all . . . . To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all . . . .”

I presume neither Jesus nor Paul ever identified with Job’s “life is a drudgery” experience. But they also were willing to pay the price for making life interesting.

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