Who’s in your circle?

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

It seems more now than ever people surround themselves solely with like-minded individuals and groups, and avoid social interaction with the rest.  It is nicer this way, some might say, we have more in common. The growing divide between opposing views and the avoidance of thoughtful discourse (which could lead to mutual respect) has nearly reached a societal impasse. Those people. Can’t stand them. And it is not only politics that divides us, the other day I read  comments on a nutrition blog which devolved into ad hominem attacks on those who voluntarily eliminated wheat and dairy from their diet. No wonder we distance ourselves from any situation that might lead to a confrontation. The truth is many people go to great lengths to steer clear of situations that challenge the security of the status quo. It can ruin a perfectly nice day.

Clearly this is not what Jesus would do. Take, for example, Jesus’ teaching about those with “unclean spirits” [MK 1:21-28]. Rather than steering clear Jesus dives right in. Jesus objected to Jewish purity laws which prescribed keeping one’s distance to avoid contamination and alienation from the community. For Jesus, purity laws were problematic in that they actually established a dwelling place for unclean spirits. And because Jesus is all about unity he risked his own contamination, approached the possessed man and called the evil out. Jesus carried his own purity into the situation in order to cleanse the other. So powerful was Jesus’ truth it expelled, but not without a fight, what separated the human person from the community. Like the stunned witnesses, Jesus shows us a different way to deal with people we would ordinarily avoid.

Today the words “unclean spirit” are tricky. Are we to understand this to mean literal possession by evil or should we consider the behavior of the biblical demoniac a form of mental illness? The latter calls us to compassion. Either way, the suffering human person is alienated from others. Might an unclean spirit also refer to one whose behavior is misguided and destructive to the self and others, and not grounded in the love that brings about creation and community? Can we, like Jesus, attempt to call out what dwells in the darkness by shining the light of truth on it? We must. If we continue to separate ourselves and keep our circles small, we do nothing to affect change in the world.

The tiniest spark of hope from one to another is capable of restoring wholeness, and is often the other’s only chance for survival. A open ear, a quiet mouth, a hand extended in compassion is the life-giving bridge between isolation and inclusion. This is challenging but necessary work.Open your circle and allow yourself to be the wick that carries the flame of Christ’s love into the world.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

Where are you staying?

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

What is the meaning of the question asked of Jesus in today’s Gospel? Were the two disciples who had just met Jesus really interested in his accommodations? Hardly. Scholars indicate the gist of their question was something like “What are you all about?” This was the disciples’  response to Jesus’ probing question “What are you looking for?”

Place yourself in the story. John the Baptist, of whom you are a follower, points Jesus out to you and proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God” [John 1:35-39]. Say what? So compelling is John’s statement that you depart from him  and immediately begin to follow Jesus who turns to you and asks about your heart’s desire, then invites you to come and see what he is all about. And you listen.

The scripture does not provide many details on what happens next, the conversation, or teaching, but it does indicate the time: four o’clock in the afternoon—the time of temple worship—which you spend in conversation with Jesus. Afterward, Andrew rushes off to find his brother Peter and brings him to Jesus, too.

This is how it happens. This is what it means to be an evangelizing people. Everyone who seeks Jesus needs to find out for themselves what he is all about. But when one enters into communion with Jesus they experience union with God! It’s impossible to keep something of this magnitude to oneself. It is up to us to respond to the call, give witness, and in doing so, lead others to Jesus, just like John the Baptist and Andrew did.

Today’s readings can be found here.

January 4, 2015: Feast of the Epiphany

Epiphany Poem

George Mackay Brown (1921 – 1996)

The red king
Came to a great water. He said,
Here the journey ends.
No keel or skipper on this shore.

The yellow king
Halted under a hill. He said,
Turn the camels round.
Beyond, ice summits only.

The black king
Knocked on a city gate. He said,
All roads stop here.
These are gravestones, no inn.

The three kings
Met under a dry star.
There, at midnight,
The star began its singing.

The three kings
Suffered salt, snow, skulls.
They suffered the silence
Before the first word.

Epiphany (1988) John August Swanson

About the author: Considered one of Scotland’s greatest poets, George Mackay Brown, a convert to Catholicism, drew inspiration from themes related to the rhythms of life and death, rituals, and recurring cycles of fishing and agrarian existence witnessed from his birthplace, the Orkney Islands of Scotland.