14th Sunday in Ordinary Time-July 2018
If Mark's Gospel were a newspaper it would be a headline like in any newspaper — meaning that the syntax is short and punchy, to the point and direct. There is a perception that a tabloid newspaper is inferior to a broadsheet (or compact) and in many ways it is. However, the great skill of this medium is in its journalistic craft, its ability to grab a reader's attention, and Mark has this skill in abundance. So much is packed into these verses today. It is a rich vein, to adopt a mining analogy, of insight, treasure and revelation. Let's get mining!
Who are we following when we say we are 'Christians'? The question seems so obvious that most of us think it a silly question even to ask: it's obviously 'Jesus', isn't it? But the question is not silly, nor is the answer obvious, because who Jesus is and what he means to us is far from obvious. Indeed, it is because it is anything but obvious that there have been so many disputes down the centuries among Christians, and there is a whole branch of Christian theology called 'Christology'.
Let us begin by noting that most people like 'to keep it simple' — and that means they imagine there should be a simple answer to the question 'who is Jesus?' — but the reality is that life is complex, and the more any issue involves human beings, the more complex life becomes. Everyone knows that her/his human relationships are complex — how many of us can really say 'I know myself!' — so why think that understanding Jesus is easy?
The situation recorded in today's gospel shows a reaction that must have been widespread: the local people have Jesus in one box in their imaginations: he is the guy from down the road —they know him, his brothers and sisters, and his background. For anyone who comes from their town they have a box for what they expect for and from that person: fine to get him to do a job for you, fine to go to the well with his sisters, fine to engage with them socially. That's all there is to them: another family, just like us, and they should not think of themselves as anything special. So, if Jesus stands up and presents himself as a leader, that is just not quite what they expect of him!
On the other hand, they have heard him in the synagogue: he comes across as one filled with wisdom, he is a teacher like they have heard, he speaks in a way they have always imagined a prophet would speak. They have another box marked 'prophet' and he seems to fit there too! But that box comes with a label: prophets are very distant from everyday life, they are exceptional in every way, they are 'not like us'.
So, when these people find that Jesus ticking both the box marked 'prophet' and ticking the box marked 'ordinary person' / 'regular guy' /'one of our own,' they cannot cope with this complexity. So, since they are surer that he is the guy down the road, they reject him as a prophet.
Faith is the ability to imagine that God's goodness is greater and closer than the bits-and-pieces around us and the ups-and downs of life. In this case, faith was the ability to imagine that God was so close that Jesus was both the guy from down the road and the great prophet and the wise teacher and more besides. But the group could not make that leap of imagination —and Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith.
Would we have been among that group that could not imagine that God's goodness was that close? Can Jesus also be amazed at our lack of faith, even though we have read and hear so much about him from down through the ages by countless prophets and Evangelists.
Surely not! After all, we are Christians, who publicly declare our faith in Jesus each week in the creed. We say that we have faith and that we believe. We say we know that Jesus is “God with us”.
However, we, too, have problems of our own in imagining the goodness of God coming close to us in Jesus. For many people, it is fine to think of Jesus as a wise teacher —a proclaimer of great religious or moral truths — and as such one who should inspire us to high ideals. This is all true, but is there a label on that box which may say to us: 'Not needed on a day-to-day basis in life'?
Mark has one clear goal and purpose in this Gospel passage, which is to lead his readers to understand that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and to help them open up their hearts and minds to grasp what this truly means, that he is also God made man. Mark does this, however, against the backdrop of the resistance, unbelief and rejection which were part and parcel of Jesus' public ministry.
Isn’t that also true of our belief in Jesus, today. How do we view this Jesus who came to us as a man, but in reality, is God? Can we grasp this awesome concept? Can we understand that the life and ministry of Jesus is in reality God among us, showing us the possibility of what we can become if only we have faith and belief in him? Can God really care for us that much that he chooses to be right there among us? And if we do believe that, what does that mean for our own lives? Does it change our reality? Does it change the belief of what we can become and what we need to do for those around us?
These are questions that we each must answer for ourselves. In truth it is easier to believe that Jesus was nothing special and neither are we. But, with God’s help, we can become all that God wants to love us to be. We only have to be aware and to recognize that great love that is being offered to us. Think about it. Free will is an awesome responsibility, but it is also God’s awesome gift to us. How will we use it?