I had an orange for breakfast this morning which was very juicy and sweet, but the peel was difficult to pull off and there were an amazing number of seeds in each section of the fruit. It all became quite messy, but the tastes were worth the struggle. It would be easier just to open a can of orange juice and seedlessly enjoy the tastes.
Each of us labors to taste life with joy, but there are difficulties. There are events which have coverings or hard things to peel away. There are lumps and bumps in our everyday lives; relationships which are bothering to us. We keep drinking life’s juices though despite the seeds of discontent.
We are tempted also to read books or articles for easy canned resolutions or answers. We can think that somebody has reduced all of life to a simple idea or practice which is easy to swallow. We can even think that religion or sacred scripture has it all reduced to just our opening the can of God and all shall be sweet.
As we prepare for the celebration of this week’s liturgy, we can pray with the peels and seeds as well as the juice of receiving and living the Eucharist. To love God does not mean liking the seeds. We pray for the freedom to receive it all and not turn easily to frozen or concentrated or deluded life-juice.
In chapter twenty of the Book of Exodus, Moses is giving the people the laws reflecting the covenantal relationship God has initiated with the people. They have heard the thundering of God’s presence with accompanying flames. They become fearful of God and beg that God not relate with them so frighteningly in the future.
In today’s First Reading we hear Moses referring to the request of the people to hear differently from God. Moses announces that there will be given a speaker, a prophet, who will hear from God and speak from God all that the people need to hear. Two little warnings are given which end our reading. When the prophet does speak, the people better listen or they will be dealt with. Also if the prophet speaks what is his own thoughts and not from God, or if the prophet speaks on behalf of other gods, then he will be punished.
A good question arises later in the chapter from which these verses are taken. How does the community know that the prophet is speaking truly from God? Moses gives the answer. If what is spoken by the prophet does take place, then it is from God, otherwise the prophet is unfaithful and not to be trusted.
A few weeks ago we celebrated the Epiphany, the revelation that Jesus, the newborn, was given to the whole world and the Magi, representing the lands and people outside Israel for whom Jesus has also been sent. That is related to us in the Gospel of Matthew. We hear a similar picture in today’s Gospel from Mark. Jesus is revealed to be the One who is sent to confront the Evil One, the power of evil throughout the whole world. He has come to reveal the authority of God over all creation and He is to call others and send them as well to reveal God’s love and authority.
A man with an unclean spirit presents himself to Jesus. The Magi come worshiping and leave having been changed. This is Mark’s first manifestation or epiphany that Jesus is revealed as the One sent to confront such unclean, ungodly spirits.
There are unclean spirits abroad and within. One particular spirit which Jesus came to confront is the spirit of independence. It seems the more advanced a culture becomes in technology and rests on power, the greater the reliance resides in one’s self. Interpersonal commitment in marriage, business, relationships do not resound with loyalty and perseverance. Practicality, personal advancement, and invulnerability have become virtuous and celebrated.
There is a spirit that moves us to hold tightly to what we think without any depending on authority, interchange, or much self reflection. Little children learn the power of the word, “Mine!” quite early in their young lives. That is not an unclean spirit unless it is allowed to grow and control ones relationships and life. It is when opinions become the center of one’s approach to life that Jesus invites that spirit to be silent and to come out of us.
So many images which Jesus uses depicts a grape relying on a branch and the branch relying on the vine and the vine on the roots and the roots founded in the earth. Jesus invites us not to worry about our being dependent on God. That kind of relating is not a weakness, but the strength of humility. We worry perhaps, that depending means we are not very much and so with violence we establish ourselves as centers of power who need nothing except acknowledgement from others. In this way then ironically we are ultimately radically dependent on others to support our ultimate shaky identity.
In this Gospel, Jesus, as with many other healings, gives the person back himself with the dignity of being known by God. The “authority” with which Jesus speaks and which the crowds find new and amazing, is the creative love of God Who wishes us to know our dignity and not be dominated by the unclean spirit of self-rejection. It is when I know who I really am, that the words of Jesus the new Prophet, not to be afraid or worried become real and freeing.
“Let your face shine on your servant, and save me by your love. Lord, keep me from shame, for I have called to you.” Ps. 31, 17-18
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