We continue our lectio by praying with the next few verses of Mark’s Gospel…
SEEKING THE COMPANY OF CHRIST
Much happens in the course of these few verses to give us food for lectio over the coming week. In a sense, that is precisely the effect of Sacred Scripture on us, and perhaps even the intention, unwittingly, of the author – rather than read in order to get to the end, as we so often do with other material, Scripture asks us to slow down and savour what we read. There is no hurry here.
There was no pandemic that we know of, ravaging society in Jesus’ day. But we find Jesus, in a way, self-isolating with his closest companions. As we have said elsewhere, we draw a distinction between isolation and solitude. Jesus wishes to be alone with his companions, and chooses specific means to achieve this solitude with others. And it is a very necessary solitude and withdrawal – he is in danger of being overwhelmed by the situation which is developing around him, by his growing popularity, and by the crowds who have witnessed his words and deeds. The danger is real – he is about to be overwhelmed.
We often find that, before we know it, we are overwhelmed. Once we hit that wall regaining control is rarely something we can achieve alone. It’s extraordinary to notice here how human Jesus is – he knows that a limit has to be put on his work for that day, and it’s time to withdraw, and recharge. There is no sense that he has been defeated or given less than he should’ve done that day. No sniff of guilt about leaving other tasks as yet unfinished. And anyway, as we shall see after a few verses more, he has to complete a work which has far reaching ramifications – the appointment of the twelve.
What a crowd! And from so many different parts! They have heard about him and wanted to see for themselves. Whatever tools were available in Jesus’ day for spreading the message, the wires must have been red hot and buzzing! But, of course, there could only have been word of mouth, and the people’s own astonishment which bore witness to him. It’s a good point to ask if we continue to be astonished by the experience of faith, continue to rejoice in a sense of wonder for what God can do and does in our lives, and in the lives of others, continue to use that word ‘awesome’ about him, and not just as a throw away! If he, Jesus, does not now seem to draw a crowd it’s not because he has stopped speaking and working – perhaps, rather, that our various new ways of word of mouth aren’t effectively getting the message over. Crowds, and great crowds, do follow this moment’s newest guru. But we have no need of gurus in Christianity – it is singularly centred on one person, and him alone.
The Gospel writers, and many others up to our present day, are a great deal more comfortable talking about ‘unclean spirits’ and ‘evil spirits’ and the like than we generally are. This said, the banshee at a wake time, or those rather strange phrases, ‘He’s away with the fairies’ and ‘The devil’s in her’, betray a memory of such things which persists. While it is good, and necessary, to know that illnesses and conditions cluster often around complex sources which are frequently psychological and psychiatric, never mind all that goes with the flesh, and these always need to be addressed, clinically and forensically, to dismiss the presence of the one whose only task is to be a thorn in the Creator’s side by degrading his greatest creation, the human person made in his image and likeness, is unwise. Because he can never supplant the Almighty and Merciful Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the devil makes do with constant war on the human person. He delights, then, in the gradual spoiling of the image and likeness. While this complex issue requires many more pages than we have at this moment, it’s enough to know that we lack a right spiritual awareness when we dismiss him and the unclean spirits as frightening tools belonging to a bygone age of anxious and even superstitious Christianity.
And in all their terror and chaos and deep, deep unhappiness at their rejection of God, they always recognise him who is Lord of all and over all – ‘You are the Son of God!’ (verse 11).
The appointment of the twelve is a moment in the gospels which requires our special attention. Jesus calls to himself those who have come to know him in an intimate way, but not yet fully, to be companions on this way that is marked out for him. Again, this happens at a place apart, in a moment, we can assume, of calm. Jesus’ going up the mountain is meant to impress upon us his leaving behind the noise and hubbub of the great crowds where he can speak softly and be heard. To do likewise we must choose our own mountains, our own places set above the din of everydaydom. Throughout the course of the Old Testament those whose tasks brought them into close friendship with God became used to encountering him ‘on the holy mountain’ – recall, for a moment, both Moses and Elijah, who will, before Christ’s Passion, meet him in that ecstatic transfiguration on a mountain. Now the disciples who are to be the Twelve come with their Teacher to a mountain to be confirmed in their role and mission. We need to separate ourselves, frequently, to do the same for ourselves – to renew our companionship with Christ; to renew our sense of apostleship (being sent out); to renew our own acceptance of the gospel message in our hearts so that we too can proclaim as messengers; to renew our sense that we too are sent with power – the Holy Spirit of our baptism, confirmation and frequent communing with him – to confront the evil one and do battle under the standard of the one true King, Christ.
Names are remembered here. In some way, when reading these verses, I must insert my own name here, and be among those who are companions – the ones, literally, who share bread with Christ, the only Bread; the ones who, remembering the Irish monks of the late first millennium as the Célí Dé, wish to be ones who walk with God, accompany God along the way. By being named here, and by naming those whom we doubt or judge, we see the company of Christ taking form around us, with us included. It’s sobering to see Judas Iscariot’s name there – any one of us can trip and find the call to be with Christ too much for our patience, perseverance, ambition, frustration…. Then, above all, we need to step back toward the heart of the company, community, communion, which he creates around himself.
-Part of our continuous lectio divina on the Gospel According to Mark-