February 17, 2020
by Ronald Fussell
Creighton University's Educational Leadership
click here for photo and information about the writer

Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 335

James 1:1-11
Psalms 119:67, 68, 71, 72, 75, 76
Mark 8:11-13

Praying Ordinary Time

Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance (James 1:2).

Being a teacher by training, and a scholar by profession, the idea of testing knowledge comes natural to me.  In the classroom, excellent teachers continually assess students to determine if lesson outcomes have been met.  And in the research setting, any scholarly assertions that we make must be backed up by evidence.  The word evidence here is key; it is derived from the Latin word evidentia – referring to that which is evident and obvious.  Any time that we make a claim about what is known, evidence makes the support for that claim plain.  Perhaps you will find this to be true in your line of work, or maybe even in your relationships with others.

But, as much as we might value evidence in defense of knowledge, we rarely examine the inspiration that drives our desire for that evidence.  So often, our search for truth devolves into trick questions and argumentative traps that are driven primarily by an emotional desire to win an argument.  This perversion is all too common in a 24-hour news cycle that is constantly saturated with the poisoned political discourse that is so prevalent in contemporary society.  We might even see it in our own relationships and in our interactions with others, in person or on social media, when we are more interested in proving someone wrong than we are in discovering truth together.  This kind of argumentative distortion rarely results in any strengthening of relationships.  And as it is in our own encounters with others, so too is it with our faith.

In today’s gospel, we hear the story of the Pharisees who pester Jesus with demands for some spectacular display of his power and might.  “Give us a sign”, they say!  When I read this passage, I ask myself, what was the motivation behind the Pharisees’ requests?  Was it for a genuine search for truth, or rather, was it warped by a hidden desire to embarrass and trap?  And, most important, who am I among the Pharisees?  What are my motivations?

When I reflect on today’s gospel, I recall those difficult moments in my life when I have asked for a sign myself.  After all, faith would seem to be so much easier if we just had some magnificent and dazzling display to confirm what we believe.  But, that is never how it works.  Our faith will not be strengthened by some spectacular confirmation of God’s presence.  Rather, it is strengthened by the personal relationship that we build with Jesus through prayer, and in how we see that relationship come alive in our encounters with others.  That is what Jesus wants for us.  By seeking Jesus through these means, we will more closely mirror His vision for us in our earthly existence, and our faith will finally be confirmed when we meet with our eternal reward.  So, let us avoid the trap of looking for some celestial proof of the presence of God so that we may get to the real work of strengthening our faith through relationships – with Christ and with others – for this is the fertile field in which our faith will grow.

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