The Czech theologian Tomas Halik says, “If we never had the feeling that what Jesus wants of us is absurd, crazy, and impossible, then we’ve probably either been too hasty in taming or diluting the radical nature of his teaching with soothing intellectualizing interpretations, or have too easily forgotten to what extent our thinking, customs, and actions rooted ‘in this world.’” Jesus offers “God’s thinking,” the thinking by which we save our lives by losing them and build a kingdom whose divine power is seen as human weakness.
Today we reflect on the first of two miracle stories that are found only in Mark. The other is the healing of a blind man in Bethsaida. While the other evangelists depict Jesus as healing solely through a word in these two stories Mark depicts him employing healing technique. But Mark is also concerned with the journey of the disciples and in these two stories suggests that they were deaf and blind. Where does discipleship begin? What am I deaf (or blind) to in the gospel, in the teaching of Jesus? Do my ears need to be opened? Does my tongue need to be released? What aspects of Christian belief do I refuse to speak? How defensive am I? How taciturn? Can I say about Jesus, He has done all things welleven if scandals are rife in the Church? The challenge today is to seek ways to be open to Jesus’ loving touch, to let Jesus break the chain that keeps my tongue a prisoner of culture, to praise God.
Our gospel passage today begins with an introduction on Jewish practices for Mark’s gentile audience. Note also that the quotation from Isaiah 29:13 comes from the Greek translation familiar to gentile Christians rather than the Hebrew familiar to Jesus and the first disciples. We then encounter one of several controversies Jesus had with the Scribes and Pharisees, this one focussed on traditional purification rituals. And this is where the link to the first reading comes to the fore: You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition. Unfortunately, phariseeism is a risk for every believer, something that happens every time we turn the gospel into a list of dos and don’ts and judge people who in our view do not keep the rules. Look at the state of the Church in Ireland and elsewhere for a reality check. We all hold onto patterns, processes, institutions and behaviours that have nothing to do with the gospel. Mark then offers us a parable about the key significance of the inner life. It is what is in the heart that counts, and it is the heart that determines our Christian and human integrity. We forget that the inner life becomes real though concrete gestures grounded in love, empathy, generosity and compassion. It can also reveal the hard heart, the closed mind, the rigid attitude, and the victory of darkness. Where do we stand when radical change is needed? Jesus is always doing something new. Are we truly open to his loving action?
Once again, we are listening to the discourse at Capernaum on the Bread from heaven. By now, the disciples knew that they had to make a choice, one that proved far from easy. “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” They took Jesus literally, following their own frames of reference. How do we cope with our own human nature, our own limitations? How do we manage our own emotional immaturity? Because what is at stake here is not so much Eucharist as sacrament, but us confronted by Jesus as heavenly Wisdom incarnate, God’s true revelation. That is one reason why this passage ends with many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. That is one reason why this passage ends with a confession from Peter on behalf of the Twelve: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” Here is the stark choice. Do we stay with Jesus intentionally as Peter did and the Twelve, or do we go our own way as many are doing in our own days? Do we follow Jesus or do our own thing? Am I an intentional disciple choosing Spirit and Life in Christ? The choice is always ours.