We continue our lectio by praying with the next few verses of Mark’s Gospel…
MARK 4:10-12; 21-23
LISTEN, YOU WHO HAVE EARS!
The parable of the sower and Christ’s explanation, which we considered in last week’s lectio divina, is broken up by comments which Christ makes about his own style of teaching, and how his teaching is to be received and passed on. Now, the Teacher is instructing us on how we should carry on his work, and what is the groundwork necessary for our preaching and teaching.
Two of our senses are thrown into stark relief by Christ – looking and listening. They are the means, primarily, by which we receive and process much of the information which is passed to us. To be deprived of these senses, for most of us, severely limits the kind of lives we can lead, even if only temporarily. But we can also “turn a blind eye” and “turn a deaf ear” to things, people, situations – we can deliberately block out those things which perhaps ask us to go a little further in our efforts and understanding and assistance.
Christ uses these senses in an intense way – “look and look”, and “listen and listen”. Literally, the Greek says “that seeing they may see and not perceive” and “hearing they may hear and not understand”. There is a sense here that no matter how often and in how many ways you tell this story, and explain the importance of what is unfolding, some people simply, and perhaps willfully, refuse to receive what is being offered and explained. They see the signs of the kingdom of God being worked around them, and they hear the very direct invitation to change their lives and take part in the kingdom’s unfolding and establishment, but refuse to change.
This is a grave question for us. With all the evidence with which I am presented regarding Christ, his life and teaching, his gradual revealing of self and mission, his passion, death and resurrection, the Pentecost birth of the Church and its subsequent preaching; with all the reflection and digesting, pondering and praying, distilling and dispensing of wisdom which has taken place within the Church, through the course of centuries down to the present day, and of which we today are recipients – why reject it?
Christ speaks about “the secret of the kingdom of God”. Of course, this resides in himself above all, and receiving this secret is part of the encounter with Christ – to meet him, accept him, acknowledge him, and recognise that he calls me to particular mission in this life, is to begin to live this secret, which transforms me, and feel the impulse to share it. Its growth in me has to lead to its being shared and nourished in others.
And here’s the heart of the question – do we need, in certain parts of our world and society, to begin all over again? There is a pathway which seems to emerge and which we, disciples of Christ, hearers of the Word, sowers of the Word, are asked to discern and follow and implement: kerygma – evangelisation – conversion – catechesis – discipleship.
The kerygma is that primary proclamation which underpins the Acts of the Apostles, what we hear Peter proclaim to the listening crowd on that Pentecost day, after the Spirit has been given to all those assembled together in the upper room: Jesus the Nazarene was crucified and raised up to life by God – we and the Holy Spirit are witnesses to this.
Nothing can move forward without the proclamation and acceptance of this kerygmatic faith. It is the prelude to all else concerning faith in Jesus Christ and membership of his Body, the Church. This, then, is the object of our listening, hearing and understanding, our looking, seeing, and believing. This is where our faith begins, and, in one sense, ends – this sums up everything that we wish to know about Christ and his living out of the Father’s will. I begin, then, by asking myself if this is what I have heard, what I accept and believe, what forms the foundation of my life, what I wish to make known.
The kerygmatic proclamation about Jesus’ Paschal Mystery is the introduction to the Gospel, the way to evangelisation. Now I embark on a difficult and challenging aspect of my own discipleship – how can I be the bearer of the Gospel to those around me? To start with, this Gospel Word must already have affected me, touched me, asked and invited and provided for change in my own life. Otherwise, anything I do or say will, self-evidently, ring hollow. It will reveal nothing of me and the deep place which this Word has taken up in my life. This is why we can speak of ourselves, bearers of the Word, becoming living Gospel words. This Gospel becomes knit into the fabric of my being – it is my life source!
This is the essence of witness, of standing in the place of another and speaking on their behalf.
This, we might say, is the substance of the next few verses, 21-23. A lamp is a source of light and illumination – in the same way, as a witness I speak for another, I allow their words and example to become the light for others. Getting to the point of being witness before others – often sceptical, dismissive, or simply indifferent – means I have to know my own conversion story – how and why have I come to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?
Conversion is the moment when, with grace, I realise that something must change in my own life. This is not something which is peripheral, but rather substantial – it is me myself. Christ describes it for us: “to change our ways and be healed” (4:12). For this to happen, of course, we must recognise that change and healing are both needed in my life. Healing covers a vast multitude of broken areas, each as personal as the one who is called to conversion. But that is not to say that the Father in Christ does not have the medicine that each of us requires. Sometimes the difficulty can be that our healing means learning to live with a burden, but to live in such a way that it no longer dictates how I live, or who I am. This is often at the heart of the healing miracles in the Gospels – the person is given back the reality of living as fully as possible as themselves, and there must be a reciprocal response on the part of those around to accept, and love.
Conversion, ultimately, is the long road of coming to know myself, accepting all those parts of me which cannot be changed, and allowing them, through the action of God’s grace and along with the rest of me, to be integrated into my unique personhood. And this journey always goes hand in hand with coming to know the God who always accompanies me.
Only when the Gospel has been preached and broken open, and the acceptance which comes with conversion has really taken shape, can catechesis begin. Catechesis is the teaching and learning of matters of faith – how the Church realises the Gospel message in the concrete belief and practice of her members, articulates it, and passes it on. It is the taught content of Revelation, shared through Sacred Scripture, the Tradition which has grown from the Church’s life, and the Magisterium or Teaching which, in an official and discerned manner, expresses the wisdom and truths which underpin what we believe and what we do. This may even be a lifelong business – we will never exhaust the truths of the faith which tell of the single Truth who is Jesus Christ. With the fire of the Gospel burning in our hearts we will want to delve ever more deeply into the matters which the Church teaches, so that our understanding is expanded and our defence of faith and practice is strengthened. It is very true to say at this point that faith seeks understanding – we want to know the how and why and the content of what we believe, because it is a dynamic body and we experience that dynamism within ourselves as the work of the Holy Spirit. In this we are truly men and women who live out of both reason and mystery.
The life of the disciple is all of the above! It is a life lived in company with the one Teacher who wishes to reveal himself and the Father to us, more and more. This is why there really is only one Teacher, the Christ – our discipleship, our learning, never ends, if it is true relationship with him, and we are teachers only in so far as we can pass on, partially, what we have learned. The attitude of the true disciple could be summed up by the words of these two short passages – we look to see and perceive; we listen to hear and understand. Both are supremely active dimensions of our life. And ultimately we do this so that we can become means for His light to light up the world.
If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear! If anyone has eyes to see, let him see! If anyone has a life to live, let them live to the full in Christ!
-Part of our continuous lectio divina on the Gospel According to Mark-