Our advancement in the Spiritual Life of following Jesus can not be measured or evaluated.
The speed of light is 299,792,458 meters per second or 186,282 miles per second. I wonder why it does not move faster. It is amazing that “they” can measure something that fast. We love having figures and measurements to satisfy our hungry minds and to have some comfort in knowing how we are doing, especially personally.
The physical world is available for evaluation, weighing, numbering. We become accustomed to having “read-outs”, “bottom lines” and “hard data”. Personally, we have all kinds of numbers which can indicate growth or decline. We have credit-card reports, heart-rate and cholesterol numbers. Many large and small facts which indicate your financial, physical, social and even mental health. About how we are doing with God there are no meters or stock reports available. For most of the faithful, because we do not know how we are doing, we suspect “not well”.
We cannot ever know how God is doing with us! The “spiritual” cannot be measured according to the physical or material ways. We can pile up prayers, devotions and other religious practices and assume that we have stored up in our spiritual barns enough self-validating “spirituals”. Many people give up on prayer and a peaceful relationship with God, precisely because they don’t know “the facts” about how they are “doing” or “being” in the relationship that God constantly initiates with them. God’s love for us is greater than the speed of light and renders us humbled at the lack of speed we take to accept it. How we are doing is silly and not important compared to how we are being within that immeasurable love of God.
We will hear in the First Reading the “Third Servant Song” from the prophet Isaiah. It is usually heard as the First Reading for the mass of Palm Sunday. It is united closely in theme, to the Suffering Servant Song a few chapters later.
These fifteen chapters, (40-55), are dedicated to bringing hope into the lives of the people of Israel who are still in captivity. This “song” is a proclamation by the prophet himself about how he will endure any suffering at all, because the God Who will protect him is the same God who will bring Israel out of exile. The prophet announces that for all his words of hope he has been disgraced and suffered for his message. He has remained true to his calling, and relies totally on his God.
The reading ends with a typical theme of a court trial. God will be his lawyer if anybody wishes to dispute his mission of bringing hope by staying faithful to all he has heard and believed.
In last-week’s Gospel, Jesus cured a person from not being able to hear or speak. The next verses after that story, relate a curing of a person from not being able to see. Ears to hear, and eyes to see is the redemptive mission of Jesus. What is to be heard and seen is Jesus as The Redeemer.
Our Gospel today follows immediately after these two physical, but deeper-than-that miracles. Peter and the other disciples are going to have their ears and eyes checked. How have they heard and seen Jesus. Maybe they receive Him as a wonder-worker, quite a magic man. Jesus asks them, as they walk along, about what they have heard “on the street” about him. What are others saying, how have they heard and seen him?
The disciples make their reports about who people are saying He is. Then the big one is directed: how do they know Him? Peter’s answer becomes a highpoint in Mark’s presentation of the life and mission of Jesus. Peter says, for all those who have heard and seen Jesus through the pages of the Gospel up to this point, Jesus is the Christ! No one has publicly said this until right here and the seven and one half chapters of miracles, parables, teachings, and travelings have slowly brought Peter and Mark’s readers to this declaration of faith.
The miracles and teachings continue immediately; Jesus indicates that His being the Christ will result in His suffering and death. Peter has more learning to do and he gets a bit of a scolding for his not wanting Jesus to continue His being such a “suffering Servant” of God. This tension forms a further teaching for those who, by reading the whole Gospel, also affirm that Jesus is the Christ. There are consequences to being a follower. Jesus is saying that He indeed is the Christ and will suffer with that and says, as we say, “Follow me?” Then He says, not as a question, but an invitation, “Follow me!” The paradoxical tension is between winning and losing. Jesus predicts His winning ultimately by His losing and those who wish to win with Him will have to deny their desires and need to win. For Jesus it comes down to living faithfully the good He is and because of the ways of humanity, the good is an insult to some of the Jewish leaders. Living and doing the good has put Him and His followers in conflict with the forces about whom, Jesus is making His sufferings and death a part of his prediction.
In our part of the world farmers, because of a summer-long drought, are struggling to harvest their crops. Gardeners are picking their vegetables over which they have labored for months. Jesus used the image of good seed and weeds to describe the tensions between good and evil. Those who have watered their gardens have spent bent-back hours pulling weeds whose tiny relatives were waiting to replace their fallen weed-folks. Why do weeds grow faster, larger and more abundantly than the tender vegetables? If there were no weeds gardening would be even more a joy. If following Jesus did not involve conflicting with the ways of this fallen world, there would be more followers and more harvesting of the good.
In our country, Martin L. King tried to do good for racial justice and died for doing that. By his death there has been an increase in our country of racial acceptance. Others died for the same cause and greater life has resulted. The Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador spoke of the possibility and inevitability of their being taken captive or murdered for their teachings on land reform and social justice in that country. Their predictions proved true as well. Jesus knew in this same way that He was heading for a deadly conflict by trying to bring the true life to this world.
We would probably side with Peter and try to talk Jesus out of His mission and thereby relieve the tensions we feel by professing that He is the Christ, the Savior and the One we will follow by denying ourselves, picking up our crosses and engaging the conflicts with this weedy world.
“How precious is your mercy, o God! The children of men seek the shelter of your wings.” Ps. 36-8
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