We continue our lectio by praying with the next few verses of Mark’s Gospel…
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME?
After the blockbuster Chapter 5, with its scenes filled with drama and shock, and their insistent invitation to consider the role of personal faith in relationship to Christ, and Christ’s own emerging personality and authority, Mark leads us back to Jesus’ hometown – Nazareth, of course, although he doesn’t say it here – and to his own people. There is almost a sense that, in doing this, Jesus is taking a break, withdrawing to familiar places and people, where he will not, for a while, have to manage the demanding pressure of public life. He seeks a quiet time, a time of low profile and relaxation.
We know now that Jesus has a committed group with him – the evangelist tells us that his disciples accompany him. This travelling with Jesus is important – no matter what scenario is presented the disciples follow their Master and Teacher. Every occasion, every meeting, every situation presents an opportunity to learn something from Jesus if we are serious about accompanying him. But he is, after all, always available to accompany us. This “keeping company” with Jesus is essential to our discipleship. It is also a matter of learning how to be always open and receptive to what he offers us. The Carmelite friar, Br Lawrence of the Resurrection, is intensely aware that this practice of the presence of God – frequently acknowledging that God is with us and addressing him – is central to the discipline of the spiritual life:
“That practice which is alone the most holy, the most general, and the most needful in the spiritual life is the practice of the presence of God. It is the schooling of the soul to find its joy in his divine companionship, holding with him at all times and at every moment humble and loving converse, without set rule or stated method, in all time of our temptation and tribulation, in all time of our dryness of soul and disrelish of God, yes, and even when we fall into unfaithfulness and actual sin.”Br Lawrence, Spiritual Maxims
But this practice requires from us the work of emptying the heart of all that blocks our awareness of God’s presence, and all those things – and afflictions – which divide the heart and so rob us of purity of heart:
“I know that for the right practice of it the heart must be empty of all other things, because God will possess the heart alone; and as he cannot possess it alone without emptying it of all besides, so neither can he act there, and do in it what he pleases, unless it be left vacant to him.
There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. Those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it; yet I do not advise that you do it from that motive. It is not pleasure that we ought to seek in this exercise; but let us do it from a principle of love, and because God would have us. Were I a preacher, I should, above all other things, preach the practice of the presence of God; and were I a director, I should advise all the world to do it, so necessary do I think it, and so easy, too.”Br Lawrence, Letters
But accompaniment is also something which we all need, to greater and lesser degrees, at various moments in our lives. The capacity to lean on another, to become dependent upon another, is often hard to learn and achieve. Seeking out someone to accompany us spiritually should be given time and not rushed – it is, after all, a meeting of hearts and souls and minds which we are looking to acquire, a meeting in which I can be, in so far as it is possible, wholly myself with another, and the other allows me to be wholly myself. Dom André Louf has this to say:
“In a case of spiritual accompaniment, the deep life aimed at is that of the Holy Spirit in person, the Spirit who must reveal himself in the other. This is the event to which he aspires more or less unwittingly. By associating with the specific person whom he has chosen as guide, he hopes that a spark of life will shoot out between them, from the guide to him, at the very heart of the relationship between them. Again, not just any life, but the light and strength of the Spirit. To say this is a spiritual event – does not imply that such an event can be divorced in any way from the concrete human relationship which unites these two persons. On the contrary. The spiritual character of the relationship is not added on outside the natural character. It is present everywhere at the very heart of it in the form of a positive orientation to the meaning of a deepened life. All that is spiritual is thus incarnated in the natural.”Louf, Grace Can Do More
For anyone who undertakes the journey of the spiritual life and the deepening of one’s relationship with God it should happen that, at a certain point, the accompaniment of another, who has the experience of living this life, becomes a necessity, and so that search must begin in earnest.
The context of the synagogue becomes the context for questions about Jesus. It is a Sabbath and, no doubt glad to have one of their own back among them, Jesus has the opportunity to teach and comment. We don’t know what text he is commenting on for the assembly. In a sense it doesn’t matter – what does matter is the effect his teaching has on those present. We might say, to use modern liturgical parlance, that the word of God has been proclaimed in the midst of the assembly, and now the homily is taking place. And the homily must always, in some way, be about Christ, and must always break the word of God so that those who listen and hear what is being said can be fed. The homily is a bridge for most people – how to concretise the message of the Gospel in their own lives and struggle, joys and sorrows.
What astonishes here is that the people do not recognise Jesus – they know him, but they don’t know him! They know the word of God, in the Scriptures, and yet they don’t know it! Perhaps those words of Christ to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus spring to our minds: So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! It will have been the same in this instance: there is no connection being made between the Word who is teaching, and the Word which is being taught.
Would we have been any different? Our first reference point will have been exactly as those townspeople said – we know his family, we know his line and lineage, we know what he does for a living… And knowing all that – or only that – they feel they can dismiss Jesus. So, the question here is multilayered for us – how well do I know, or think I know, this Jesus whom I follow and whom I wish to love? In fact, we have so much more to go on than those fellow Nazarenes on that Sabbath day, since we, in fact, can read Sacred Scripture in the light of Christ.
That said, dismissal of Jesus today, and all that goes with him, is fairly commonplace. In such a case, we ask ourselves again – what binds me to this Christ, whom I have come to know? In fact, we are back to the point of view of the disciples who have accompanied Jesus – in one sense, we are sitting in this synagogue with all these others, listening to these people saying these things, and I am being asked myself – how much more deeply do I know him, and know who he is?
This is really make or break stuff for the Christian! It is an important moment to take stock and reaffirm my own faith and belief in Christ. Everything, after all, hinges upon it. To have the evidence – what Mark calls here “this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him” – and not continually enjoy the proof that it brings with it is to allow my own belief in Christ to grow cold.
Does the fact that others do not accept Jesus – in fact, quite openly and sometimes aggressively reject him – affect me in my belief? It can depend very much upon my own maturity in faith. Perhaps we can apply Christ’s own words, which follow, to ourselves in this:
“A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house.”Verse 4
We have to exercise some care here for ourselves – it’s easy to beat our breasts and look for pity, saying that being a Christian today is so tough! Jesus is very clear – he describes his own role as prophet, a complex reality and identity which the Jewish people knew well from their own experience of their national and religious history. We shouldn’t take for granted that we know what ‘prophet’ entails. Again, this invites us to consider and come to know more deeply those personalities whose messages we hear time and again, especially at Mass and at certain times with greater emphasis and exposure in the liturgical year – the Old Testament prophets are persons of extraordinary faith, God-awareness, humility, courage, history-bearers in the sense that they are deeply embedded in the history of their people and its implications; they are smitten by and consumed by the Word of God which is addressed to them and their audience; they are prepared to meet with rejection, because people often choose to continue to go their own way in the belief that whatever is being held out to them will not come to pass, or if it does, it will happen for someone else, in a different place, and at a different time; and they suffer for the word that they speak and the witness that they give.
All of this informs Christ’s identity as prophet – and particularly the immediacy of the message which he preaches – and how we would imitate him.
We might even ask ourselves about immediacy – part of the prophet’s message was that God’s plan was being worked out now. A major part of Christ’s message is that the kingdom has already been made present among us, even if its complete establishment is yet to come. And in our own prophetic way of living the same question might be asked – do I live as a witness to God’s transforming presence in my life now, and witness that to the world? Very often that is a last step for most of us – being entirely comfortable to witness fully to our discipleship and belief in Christ. It also has profound implications for vocation discernment and decision making – we are consummate prevaricators! Even if we feel we are ready to make a decision we will hesitate and delay the actual living out of it, looking for confirming sign after confirming sign to launch us on our way! This is always a matter, of course, of trust – trust in God who knows what he’s doing and trust in ourselves that we can let go and fall into his plan, rather than trying to second guess him.
How badly we want – and probably need – acceptance from others! But Jesus does not pause over that here – he laments the fact that his own people cannot accept him, and the consequences of that non-acceptance and non-recognition, which we will look at next week: the presence or absence of faith. God never imposes himself. But he always invites us to come to know him. Humility will open the door to the former; pride shuts it.
-Part of our continuous lectio divina on the Gospel According to Mark-