You talkin' to me?
IN THE OLD BEATLES' song "The Yellow Submarine," the boys in the band manage to find their way on a curious journey once they arrive at "the sea of green." It's an image I come back to each year at ordinary time, the longest and most uneventful time in the church calendar. The sea of green stretches for 34 weeks, give or take certain movable feasts. And it's a good time to find our way along the road of discipleship.
The church offers up this long season, which used to be known simply as the season of Pentecost, to reflection on one gospel, read more or less continually. Because we follow a three-year lectionary cycle, that means we spend ordinary time each year contemplating Matthew (Cycle A), Mark (Cycle B), or Luke (Cycle C).
These three gospels tell many of the same stories with slightly different details and emphases. Their writers had distinct themes near to each of their hearts, so their points of view become recognizable with careful attention. Matthew keeps leaning back to Hebrew scripture to support his story. Luke leans forward to address the concerns of the Greek world, which is where this story is headed. Mark, the shortest of the gospels at a mere 16 chapters, always gets right to the point. Mark's Jesus seems to be in constant motion, and he doesn't waste words in explanation. Scholars consider Mark to be the earliest written version of the story, used by both Matthew and Luke in constructing their accounts.
John's Gospel is left out of the three-year structure, as you may have noticed. John's version of the story is 90 percent unique, which provides an unusual angle from which to consider the ministry of Jesus. Most scholars think it was the last of the four accounts to be written. If John does not tell the story the way the others do, he may have been presuming that story is already well-known and available. The community of believers has had a longer time to reflect on the meaning of these events. This contributes to the feeling we have, when we read sections of John, that this is more a theological reflection on the experience of the church than it is a historical report on the life of Jesus.
While John's Gospel is not highlighted in its own year of the cycle, it is not ignored. His testimony is read in the assembly during certain feasts and seasons. We also hear sections of John during Cycle B, because Mark's Gospel is not long enough to cover 34 weeks of continuous reading. This is where we find ourselves in the summer of 2000: listening to Mark and hearing an occasional word from John.
A long preamble about the arrangement of the furniture like this deserves a more interactive encounter with the themes of Mark for this month.
SO IMAGINE YOURSELF ONE OF THE APOSTLES, HAVING walked with Jesus for a short while. You've seen unbelievable things: demons cast out of the unclean, fevers purged, lepers made pure as snow, paralytics set free. And Jesus has been teaching all the while, using stories that are as plain as day yet as complex as the human heart. And once, he calmed a storm at sea, as if wind and water were playthings in his possession. Most recently, he aided two of the most desperate people you've ever met. First came the man whose daughter was dying. Even though his family members tried to dissuade him--"Jairus, your girl has already died. Do not pursue this"--he kept going, the way parents must when the lives of their children are at stake.
Jesus agreed to accompany this man, who was nearly insane with grief and hope. But then the second desperate person emerged on the scene. It was as if she had been waiting for Jesus for 12 years, afflicted by some awful sickness that had separated her from her family, made her unclean by a flow of blood. She had known Jesus was coming for a while, had dared to enter the crowd that day even though in her condition it was forbidden for her to touch anyone. And now he was being propelled away from her by this father of a dead girl, and she was panicked by the idea that she was going to lose her one-and-only chance to be whole and go home. So she pushed forward and grabbed him.
Two desperate people, clutching at grace. And both got what they dreamed of, because they refused to accept anything less. Of all the remarkable days you've spent with Jesus, this was the most extraordinary. You lost control of your tongue that day, couldn't cease praising God. Discipleship has changed you. You can't move through miracles as a matter of course and not be changed. You can't stare into the face of the world's suffering every day and not begin to see life for what it is: a very fragile proposition, dependent on God for every breath. You become a believer, not just a person who tends to religion. You have seen what faith can do.
And you've seen what little can be accomplished in those who doubt. The folks in Nazareth were a surprise. They were skeptical, sarcastic, even amused when Jesus came into town. It was the only time you'd seen Jesus treated as a curio, and you wanted to come out swinging on his behalf. But he ignored the sarcasm and kept on moving around, teaching. Jesus doesn't like to stop, not even for a good fight. Sometimes he acts as if there's no tomorrow. Sometimes you wonder if there will be.
But today you wonder if Jesus has been working a little too hard. He's come up with the strangest idea since manna. He wants you to go out and do what he does. That's what he said this morning to the 12 of you, sitting there frying your breakfast fish. He's going to send you off in pairs. Good--you hope the other guy knows what to do! He gives you authority over unclean spirits. He tells you to leave on this mission without a suitcase, without a sandwich, without your Visa card. No change of clothes, and no reservations ahead. This is what faith means, he says: Trust that God will take care of you.
WELL. NOW YOU'RE SORRY YOU SPOKE SO BADLY OF THE people of Nazareth. This faith business is a lot harder than you thought. Believing in Jesus is easy--he delivers. Believing in yourself as a disciple of Jesus--that's another story. A polite fiction, to be exact. You're not like Jesus, not even on his worst and your best days. You're wondering if maybe it's not too late to reconsider a vocation on the Sea of Galilee. Fishing made more sense when it was fish you were after.
You've been up half the night thinking about this, and you've come up with some good arguments against the idea. You don't have a degree in theology. You never went to parochial school. You don't even own a copy of the new catechism! Of course, you think reluctantly, neither does Jesus. The demons are intimidated by him nonetheless. Credentials come from human institutions, but authority comes only from God.
You decide to test the credentials idea, just in case, but Jesus grins broadly at the notion. "Your walking stick is your credential," he says. "You are an apostle. You are sent."
When you don't get it, he tries again. "To be sent means that someone sends you. This mission isn't your idea, it's mine. I send you. As the Father sent me. The demons know that. The sick know that. All the principalities and powers of the world bend their knees to my name. So speak in my name, and it will be done for you."
You are beginning to get the idea. Maybe this isn't the mission impossible it sounded like at first. You don't have to do anything. Jesus will do it. Jesus has always done it. All you have to do is show up. You have to be faithful. Miracles are not your job. Being faithful is.
You make raspberries back at Nazareth again. Those people don't know what they're missing. You are going out, two by two, to defeat the forces of evil, while Nazareth is sitting back and watching TV. You chose discipleship, they chose prime-time boredom. You feel just a little sorry for the hometown. Salvation history is passing them by while they watch Nightline.
Won't Mom be impressed when she hears you can cast out demons? Well, OK, not you: Jesus. But Jesus working through you. That's got to count for something. All along, the folks back home have been saying this Jesus thing won't last. It's a phase. Idealism is the fever of youth. Sooner or later, you'll learn which side of the bread your butter is on. And they're right, in a way. You have to think about making a living. You have to think about the future. Do you still want to be chasing messiahs around Judea when you're older? Is there some way you can be making money out of this thing?
You look over at Jesus, trying to seem innocent about it. But one look assures you that you'd better strike the idea of making money out of this mission trip. No coin-for-healing enterprise! Jesus has never accepted more than an invitation to dinner for all that he's done. He has no salary, no hidden stocks, no IPO waiting in the wings. It's like the guy never even thinks about retirement. His father's house better have many rooms: Where else are all of you going to live once this is over?
As you turn it over in your mind, you see discipleship more clearly than before. Sure, it's exciting. It's siding with the forces of good against the forces of evil. It's getting religion, and then getting over religion, and getting faith instead. Discipleship is uncertainty, walking by faith in darkness, but with a light to guide you.
And then you remember those two desperate people again: that tragic father, that hope-crazed woman. Discipleship is what they did, too. It's grasping at grace, no matter how far-fetched, no matter what the cost. It's believing in Jesus despite the facts. It's not giving up, not losing hope, even when everyone around you says it's too late. And tomorrow, you'll learn more about this. Because tomorrow, it's your turn to go out on a mission.
By ALICE CAMILLE, writer and adjunct faculty member at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, California. She is the author of Seven Last Words (ACTA, 1999) and a collaborator on the homily series "This Sunday's Scripture," available through Twenty-Third Publications.
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|Title Annotation:||putting discipleship to work in your life|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2000|
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