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Breath of the Spirit

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

Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.


The risen Jesus might be our God and Savior, but he/she is also someone unique in our lives; someone who goes beyond any title.


SEPTEMBER 6TH, 2015: TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Isaiah 35:4-7a
James 2:1-5
Mark 7:31-37

The “messianic secret” is a big thing in Mark’s gospel.

On eight different occasions throughout his first nine chapters, whenever one of Jesus’ fellow Jews addresses him with a messianic title, he consistently tells them, “Shut up!” He not only wants them to cease and desist using such titles, he even warns them against telling others they suspect he could be their longed-for Messiah.

In today’s gospel pericope, for instance, after curing the deaf and mute man, “He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.”

Though some scholars originally thought this “secret stuff” was a device invented by Jesus’ earliest followers to defend their lack of understanding who he actually was – “We knew, but he told us not to tell”- most modern experts believe it actually goes back to the historical Jesus.

Why wouldn’t he want people around him to know what Christians today presume he was? After all, as we hear in our first reading, Isaiah assures his listeners that when Yahweh eventually comes on earth to “vindicate” his/her people, “The eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then the lame will leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.” Jesus accomplishes two of these four in today’s passage.

But as we all know, titles can be misleading. (It’s clear to me personally that, after the sexual abuse scandal, the title “priest” could contain certain dimensions it didn’t have when I was first ordained.) During the historical Jesus’ day and age, for instance, “Messiah” carried much more baggage than the concepts Isaiah mentioned six centuries before. Among other things, most early first century BCE Palestinian Jews believed their special savior would be a military figure, riding into Jerusalem one day on horseback to liberate them from the hated Roman occupation. (That seems to be why all the evangelists mention that on Palm Sunday Jesus comes into the city riding a donkey.”) If Jesus accepted messianic titles, he would also be accepting the concepts those titles contained.

In a very real sense, he was telling his people that they had to develop a new concept of Messiah. They first had to understand who he was, then take it from there. Not vice versa. The late Raymond Brown once warned priests about criticizing the vast majority of Jews who never recognized – and still don’t recognize - Jesus as their Messiah. “That Messiah has yet to come,” he said. “Jesus of Nazareth certainly wasn’t the person they were expecting.”

The author of James’ letter points out the dangers to the community when we relate to certain individuals as “poor” and others as “rich.” Such titles stop us from recognizing that God chose both “to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.”

Perhaps that’s why we also have to be careful about getting lost in the titles we have for Jesus. The risen Jesus might be our God and Savior, but he/she is also someone unique in our lives; someone who goes beyond any title.

I presume that couples intimate with one another will, in public, call each by their proper names, or diminutives of them. Might even refer to a husband or wife as “honey,” or “dear.” But I also presume in their special moments of intimacy they will address their spouses with titles they never employ in public, titles which express their unique love for one another.

How do we refer to the risen Jesus when we intimately experience him/her in our daily lives? If we just employ his formal “church” titles, we might not be intimate enough.

 

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