Sunday reflections

Committing to a higher power

Committing to a higher power
I was recently re-watching the American political drama series, The West Wing. In one episode the White House chief of staff, Leo McGarry (played by John Spenser) who is a recovering alcoholic offers comfort to the deputy chief of staff, Josh Lyman (played by Bradley Whitford) during a period when Josh is suffering with PTSD.

McGarry tells Lyman this story: There was a guy who one day when walking along a footpath fell down an open manhole and was trapped in a deep trench. Several people walked by and, despite his calls for help, none paid him any attention.

Eventually a friend of his came along and, recognising his pal he called, “Hey Harry! Can you give me a hand? I am stuck in this trench and can’t get out!”
Harry immediately leaps down into the trench. His friend looks at him incredulously and sputters, “Harry, what are you doing? Now we are both trapped!”

Harry turns to his friend and says, “Hey! It’s ok! I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out!”

The point of the story was that McGarry, as a recovering alcoholic, knew exactly what it was like to suffer mental anguish and hopelessness. As someone who had found a ‘way out’, he could offer Lyman empathy, support, and direction as Lyman tried to navigate his depression.

The potency of the Easter story is that Jesus has been there before us. He has suffered the worst that life can dish up; and has, not only found a way out, but has become our ‘way out’. His death and resurrection are the guarantor that, as the Psalmist proclaimed, “The Lord hears when I call out” (Ps 4:4).
The Easter story is neither a simple sop for broken hearts, nor an empty reassurance that God will rescue us from our troubles. As today’s gospel demonstrates, Jesus was raised still bearing the wounds of his suffering.

God did not spare Jesus the cross despite his “agony in the garden.”
Similarly, the character of Leo McGarry in The West Wing was a “recovering alcoholic.” He was not cured of his alcoholism. Through his participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, McGarry had committed his alcoholism to a “higher Power” and, thereby, found the strength to “not take the next drink”. But he also found the wisdom and charity to offer Josh Lyman the support he needed to begin the process of recovery from depression and hopelessness.

For us too, the story of the resurrection is one that can bring hope and encouragement; but by committing ourselves to the “higher power” of the actual person of the resurrected Jesus, we can find the strength to begin a new journey of recovery – to find a way out.

And more! In bringing our sufferings to Jesus, we also find the wisdom and the charity to empathise, support and lead others who need a “way out” of the darkest trenches of the human condition.

Ian J Elmer
© Majellan Media 2021

The inestimable size of God

Jesus uses one of the well-known biblical incidents from the Old Testament to make just one point, with something of a ‘Gospel in a nutshell’ approach: “God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

So, a boy asks his father: “What’s the size of God?”

Listening to Jesus

Abraham lived about a thousand years before Jesus. At that time it was not uncommon for people to sacrifice their children, especially their firstborn sons, to various gods as a sign of total devotion. Abraham perceived that sacrificing Isaac was something also required of him; to demonstrate his commitment to God. But the God of Israel is not like the pagan gods and never demands such a sacrifice. The God of Israel wants life, not death.

Yet, the willingness of Abraham to ‘let go’ of what was most precious to him – the son of his old age – was an inspiration to the people of Israel. It’s faith in its extreme. Remember too, that Abraham had already shown a willingness to ‘let go’ of his family and his homeland to journey to an unknown land in response to God’s invitation.

The early church saw the relationship between Abraham and Isaac as pointing to the relationship between God the Father and Jesus. Like Abraham, God was prepared to ‘let go’ of what was most precious to him – his divine Son – out of love for humanity. God was willing to let his Son ‘become flesh’, with all that it meant: rejection and ultimately crucifixion.

St Paul is in awe at God’s generosity towards humanity. “God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all.” With such a total gift of love, we have nothing to fear from anything or anyone.

Peter, James and John are taken up a high mountain by Jesus. The experience is amazing. It’s an experience so precious that Peter cannot let it go. He wants to hold onto it forever. He says to Jesus, “Rabbi … let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” The disciples glimpse the dazzling and eternal beauty of Christ and they don’t want to let go. Yet, the disciples had to let go of this precious experience; it was only ever intended to be momentary. They will receive it again as a gift in the next life. For now, their task is to listen to Jesus, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

This is our task also. To live our lives listening to Jesus speak to us in the Good News and through the experiences of our daily lives. In listening, we’ll discover things which we are called to ‘let go’ – selfishness, unforgiveness, envy, hatred, gossip, prejudice, dishonesty; to ‘let go’ of people, places, security, health, life.

Like Abraham, may we have the faith and trust to ‘let go’ and to be open and ready to receive the precious gifts that God wants to give us; as we prepare for the day when we’ll meet God face to face in eternity and we can finally say, “It is wonderful to be here.”

David J Hore CSsR
© Majellan Media 2021

Liberating the unclean

What is it to be reckoned unclean, untouchable? Some years ago my son was watching the old movie Ben Hur in which some lepers appeared, and he was shocked to see how they had to live. He’d heard about lepers but never realised if you had a skin condition you were cast out completely.

This is the fate of the leper in today’s gospel, who then does the unthinkable and throws himself down before Jesus, pleading to be cured – ‘if you want to’ – to be made clean, so he might be restored to society. ‘Feeling sorry for him’ Jesus reaches out and touches him saying, ‘Of course I want to, be cured.’ And he’s freed.

The transmitting of infection becomes in Jesus’ touch the transmitting of healing, of God’s liberation. Come before him in faith and God happens. There follows a strict warning that he tell no one and immediately report to the priest, as the Mosaic law stipulates in the first reading. Despite this, the man proceeds to tell everyone his good news, so that Jesus now has to live as the leper once did, isolated, far from the towns he had frequented and had to retreat from, previously; but the news travels fast and people come to him from everywhere.
Who do we reckon to be unclean, untouchable? Who have we discarded, turned away from? It’s only when we face into the truth of our lives that we can enter into this situation.

As Jesus does here and at other liberating moments in the early chapters of Mark’s gospel; and it’s what brings him finally to the cross, to the moment where he faces into the truth of all our lives, and frees us.

But what happens if we change two words in the gospel? If ‘feeling sorry’ becomes ‘getting angry’. That’s what it says in some of the early manuscripts, but it doesn’t necessarily fit with our idea of Jesus. Is he angry at the leper for defying the law, or perhaps, less personally, at the demonic undoing of our lives? Either might make sense, though the second more so.

However, what if he’s angry at the likelihood of his being turned into a celebrity healer, whose healings excite the people and threaten to derail his mission?

Is this why he warned the man not to tell anyone and why he retreated from the towns previously? It’s something we hear being spoken of throughout Mark’s gospel, as when Peter insists on Jesus being a certain sort of Messiah – not one who dies on a cross – and Jesus says ‘get behind me Satan’, because it’s the cross that will reveal him and God’s love. If we insist on Jesus being a celebrity healer, we’ll miss the truth of his life and our own.

Anger and sorrow meet in this gospel and through them we hear the call to act as he does, bringing us, at last, face to face with one another, before God.

Damian Coleridge
© Majellan Media 2021

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