Pencil Preaching, by Pat Marrin; for VI Week in Ordinary Time
February 18, 2020
Don’t be afraid
Pencil Preaching for Tuesday, by Pat Marrin
“Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:21).
Jas 1:12-18; Mark 8:14-21
One of the most frequently uttered phrases by Jesus in the Gospels is “Do not be afraid.” If we think about it, what is the most undermining and limiting factor in our daily lives, the thought or feeling that keeps us from being at peace, deliberate and confident in our tasks and hopeful about the future? It is fear, and not just direct fear based on real threat, but the kind of floating anxiety that gnaws at our sense of well-being and shadows even our accomplishments and good deeds. We could always have done better. We made mistakes. People judge us. Something is wrong and bad luck is just around the corner, either for us of for people we care about.
Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that God’s mercy was already theirs. He wanted them to experience the Good News he was sending them out to share with others. The ultimate victory over sin and death was already assured. He had come to give them abundant life no one could take away from them. This was their strength to accompany him to Jerusalem where he would lay down his life. Yes, they would endure suffering and loss, but the rebirth they were about to undergo would end in joy.
The miracle they had just witnessed (Mark 8:1-10) when Jesus fed over 4,000 people was a sign of God’s providence. Jesus was himself the “Bread of Life,” able to fill any hunger they could imagine. Physical food was just the surface of the abundance God was offering them, so “Don’t be afraid.” What frustrated Jesus was that his own disciples were so easily infected with the fear the scribes and Pharisees used to control people—fear of breaking a law, committing a sin, falling out of favor with a god who was always watching and judging them, demanding sacrifices and penances, ready to inflict some test or punishment on them to keep them in line.
So, in the boat, he told them to be on their guard against the “leaven” of the Pharisees and of Herod, another source of threat used to intimidate people. Leaven is the perfect metaphor to describe fear—a hidden enzyme, invisible, tasteless and undetectable until it pervades all the other ingredients and, when heated, rises and takes over. Small anxieties instill doubt, then fear, then paralysis, loss of courage and hope. But the disciples still didn’t get it. They think he is talking about a bread shortage. If they were anxious about little things, would they be ready of Jerusalem?
What if we were to take Jesus at his word and spend a day without fear, asking him to guide us through our tasks and encounters free of anxiety, knowing that whatever happens, he is there to bless us? Free of fear about ourselves, we have that much energy to expend in compassion and comforting others. At the end of the day, if the results are good, end with a prayer of gratitude before sleep.
February 17, 2020
The only sign we need
Pencil Preaching for Monday, by Pat Marrin
“Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation” (Mark 8:12).
James 1:1-11; Mark 8:11-13
The Pharisees must have been in a deep quandary over Jesus, seeing his popularity and the astonishing miracles he was working. But they were troubled by his stretching of the Law and ignoring of rituals, his free association with public sinners, pagans and untouchables. Disregarding the evidence right before their eyes, they attacked his lack of formal training and establishment credentials. He was, after all, just a hill country preacher from Galilee, and they were educated lawyers and professional models of righteousness. How could God be with him?
So, they asked for a “sign from heaven,” a nod from God to prove he was orthodox and authentic. What Jesus gave them instead was a “sigh” from the depths of his spirit and a “no” to their request. “No sign will be given to this generation.” If they were blind to the facts, they would not be convinced by some miracle. In a gesture like the one he approved for his disciples — to shake the dust from their feet when people didn’t listen — Jesus simply got into the boat and went off to the other shore.
We have seen this kind of reaction before. Jesus flashed with anger in the synagogue when the Pharisees refused to answer whether it was lawful to heal the man with the withered hand on the sabbath (Mark 3:16). Their obstinacy distressed him deeply. They didn’t want to accept him because he had challenged their assumptions about God, their reliance on the letter of the law and their aloofness and lack of empathy for the poor and vulnerable. They asked for extraordinary proof because they didn’t want to believe in him or change their ways. They were like people who won’t take yes for an answer.
God does not excuse us from taking a leap of faith. Ordinary experience and common sense are enough to show us the presence of God. Do the right thing. Listen to your heart when you are moved with pity. Never turn away from someone in need whom you can help. Be a neighbor. We are already well equipped to be decent human beings. What more proof do we need to sow generously in order to reap the same, to be a friend to make a friend, to forgive others to free ourselves from strained relationships and regret?
Jesus himself is the sign God sent to show us what graciousness and freedom look and feel like. What more do we need to know that God is at work among us and in all things?
February 16, 2020
The way of love
Pencil Preaching for Sunday, by Pat Marrin
“I have not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matt 5:17).
Sixth Sunday of the Year
Sir 15:15-20; 1 Cor 2:6-10; Matt 5:17-37
Today’s Gospel is part of the Sermon on the Mount, and it is helpful to know that Jesus’ defense of his teaching as fulfilling rather than abolishing the Law follows the Beatitudes in Matthew’s Chapter 5. This context suggests that Jesus may have been criticized for replacing the Commandments with the Beatitudes, his idealistic invitation to live now in God’s Kingdom as poor, mournful, meek, pure, justice-seeking, peace-making disciples persecuted by the world for their prophetic witness.
So, Jesus makes clear that what he is proposing is the deeper spiritual challenge that exceeds the letter of the Law. He gives examples. The Commandment not to kill includes the root cause of murder—anger and provocative speech, calling someone a fool. So, stop conflict early with reconciliation. Adultery begins with lust in the heart. So, practice purity of heart and it will save your soul from destruction. The letter of the Law allowed divorce and release from oaths, but the spirit of the Law calls us to be faithful to our promises.
Jesus was teaching a morality much deeper than the legal casuistry taught by the scribes and Pharisees, who upheld the letter of the Law externally but were unfaithful in spirit and taught others to avoid its interior demands. The Kingdom of God is grounded in the Great Commandment of love of God and neighbor, and to obey this was not less but more demanding than just keeping the rules. Love requires the hard work of discernment in each case to determine the balance of mercy and justice. Love means negotiating differences with our opponents and respecting the dignity of others in thought and speech. Love takes the Commandments to the next level of wisdom and compassion in dealing with dilemmas and the need to compromise.
Many of the cases where Jesus was accused of breaking the Law came down to his application of compassion to outweigh the Sabbath rule, mercy rather than judgment to the woman guilty of adultery, human need over ritual in purity laws, the freedom of love to associate with sinners and pagans and to incur legal contamination to reach out to lepers, outcasts and the unwashed poor. Love, even for his enemies, ultimately takes Jesus to the cross as an outlaw and a heretic. Condemned by the self-righteous, rejected by the Sanhedrin and the Roman State, Jesus reveals the immense, unlimited mercy of God for sinners.
The challenge of today’s Word is that it makes us dependent on the Spirit to live in the real world, where only encounter, dialogue and accompaniment enable us to navigate our differences without judging others, without the satisfaction of being letter perfect and never making a mistake. The impossibility of total purity of intention and motive makes us all sinners together, humbly praying for God’s grace and forgiveness. It is the Beatitudes not the Commandments that rescue us from despair, for blessed are those who know that they are sinners who are still loved unconditionally by God and saved by Jesus Christ. This is the joy of the Gospel.
Original Text from NCR