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The Call Is For You

Posted on 24 January 2015 by patmarrin

“Jesus called them, and they left their father in the boat with the hired men and followed him” (Mark 1:20).

Mark provides enough detail in today’s Gospel to tell us how serious a decision Simon and his brother Andrew, and James and his brother John, made in answering Jesus’ call to discipleship.

First, they are already out on the water in the boat, so to respond to Jesus, they will need to leave the boat and swim ashore. This "baptismal" theme will be repeated in John 21 when Peter again jumps into the water to come to Jesus on the shore.

Second, these fishing boats were family businesses. When James and John leave their father they give up their inheritance of a business large enough to employ them and additional hired men. They are walking away from the most important loyalty there was in the ancient world -- father and family -- and, in doing so, financial security for themselves and their own children.

The call requires a leap of faith in the unknown, total commitment to an upstart preacher whose only credentials are that he is a carpenter from the small village of Nazareth in the hill country of Galilee. What kind of impression must Jesus have made on these simple fishermen to move them to take such a dramatic step in their lives?

One artful attempt to capture their motivation is found in the lyrics of a song American songwriter Harry Chapin wrote for the stage presentation of “Cotton Patch Gospels.” The disciples sing: Everybody wants to touch their dream just one time. I know I’ll never ever get this close again. Everybody wants to feel that feeling one time. That’s why I don’t want this day to come to an end.

Out of the random and routine events of our lives comes a distinctive call to go beyond the script, to risk everything to say yes to an adventure that will define the rest of our lives in larger terms than we could have ever imagined for ourselves. We are free to hesitate, even say no, but we will settle for the safe and more predictable course already laid out for us by family, culture and country.

Simon and Andrew and, later, James and John, must have seen something in Jesus that moved them to abandon their world of boats and fishing nets to follow him.

The first decision any of us will make is to be open to that same mystery, and so sensitive to our dreams that we will hear God’s call when it comes to each of us in our own unique circumstances: “Come follow me.” Let me be the focus of your life, the prize you keep your eyes on each step of the way. When the call comes, say yes. You may never ever get this close again.

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Called and Chosen

Posted on 23 January 2015 by patmarrin

“Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him” (Mark 3:13).

Management theory would hold that the decision to hire someone is probably the most important decision an employer makes. An eye for talent and potential is the key to assembling a good workforce. Bringing in ill-suited or potentially troublesome workers can create major problems down the line, and it is certainly true that getting rid of someone is far more complicated than hiring the right person in the first place.

By this rule, Jesus’ selection of the Apostles would seem a disaster. Even at the end of his ministry, most of them do not understand his purpose, or actually resist it, and in moment of crisis abandon him. One among them actually betrays him to death.

This outcome moves us to ask if there wasn’t some deeper reason for his selection, a different way of understanding success or the process he wanted his disciples to go through themselves to prepare them to lead others.

What Jesus sees in the apostles at the moment he chooses them is not their present state but their potential to come through a difficult process of preparation to become true apostles.

In Mark’s description of the selection of the Twelve, he make a point of saying that Jesus goes up the mountain to make the decision. This image links the moment to previous Bible theophanies. As Moses consulted with Yahweh on the mountain, so Jesus goes to his Father to discern the players in the unfolding story of his mission. And as he himself will undergo suffering and apparent failure, so his followers must also endure a process of conversion and transformation.

They will all fail miserably as the only way to position them for the experience of forgiveness and mercy they will preach to others. The two recognized pillars of the church — Peter and Paul – are both broken men rehabilitated by unconditional love to preach unconditional love.

This story should encourage us. It is not what we can bring to our discipleship that qualifies us, but what Jesus sees in us that God alone can bring to perfection. This will happen if we remain in his company. Even our failures and weaknesses will be part of the process. Once called, we need only stay on course to reach the holiness God wants for us and already sees in us.

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Do You Want to Be a Hero?

Posted on 22 January 2015 by patmarrin

"Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will" (Ps 40).

The global media culture has revealed a deep desire, especially on the part of the young, for super heroes. Movies, comic books and video games fuel this need to identify with fictional characters who possess extraordinary physical gifts and engage in a dramatic struggle between good and evil. The same caricatures spill over into the vicarious investment by millions of people in the outcome of sporting events and political races. Danger lurks, threats multiply, but then a hero arrives to save the planet, win the game, rescue the country from villains.

The projection of our need to feel safe and strong embodied in these super heroes is one expression of a profound human desire to overcome all of life’s obstacles and to become whole and perfect. Today’s readings from Hebrews and Mark proclaim that this human perfection was revealed in Jesus. As God’s messenger and message to the world, Jesus embodied the absolute power of God to restore creation to its original plan by overcoming the effects of sin and death. Wherever Jesus went, people sensed this wholeness and freedom and sought to see and touch him to share in it.

Yet the Gospel reveals an astonishing paradox as the ministry of Jesus descends into the vulnerability and chaos of human suffering. His power is not in using force to correct the effects of human evil, but to absorb them in an all-encompassing love for sinners that takes on the burden of sin and carries it to the cross. God’s hero dies an ignominious death, crucified between two robbers, scorned by those in power, abandoned by his own disciples.

What we take from this mysterious “good news” is that our lives as disciples will find perfection and wholeness only in imitating Jesus’ downward path of services and sacrifice. It is in emptying ourselves in love that we find fulfillment. It is through the weakness of compassion and by accompanying the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters that we become heroes in the eyes of God.

Each day we are called to say with Jesus, “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.”

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Withered Minds and Hearts

Posted on 21 January 2015 by patmarrin

“Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath?”

In Deut 30:19, Moses reduced the entire law to a choice between life and death: “I put before you life and death; choose life.” In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees, who claim to be followers of Moses, conspire to put Jesus to death for giving life on the sabbath to a man with a withered hand.

A withered hand meant that a man was unable to work to support his family. His dignity as a man was in question and the social suffering that went with his physical disability was total. But to the Pharisees, he was only bait to trap Jesus into healing on the sabbath so they could accuse him of breaking the law.

Jesus sees their intent clearly and turns the situation into a teachable moment that traps them in their hardness of heart. He asks these experts of the law if it is lawful to do good, to save a life on the day of the Lord. They remain silent. Mark says that "Jesus looked at them with anger." He then heals the man with the withered hand. Beaten at their own game, the Pharisees take only one lesson from this life-saving moment: They counsel with the Herodians about how to kill Jesus. What is truly withered in this story is their hearts.

The story is loaded with irony and captures just how frustrating the mission of Jesus must have been as he encountered the religious leaders of his time. They were perversely blind to the needs of the poor, jealous of the authority Jesus had to heal and to expose their self-serving interpretations of the law to protect their official positions. With each step forward Jesus gives life, but at the ultimate cost of his own.

Jesus reveals that compassion always fulfills the law. If we love others we will grow in obedience to God, who is pure compassion. If we do not show compassion, we will wither.

“I put before you life and death: Choose life."

Freedom to Live

Posted on 20 January 2015 by patmarrin

"The son of man is lord even of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28).

From the very start of his ministry, Jesus makes clear that the Gospel is not just some kind of spiritual uplift but real liberation from any obstacle or control that keeps people from knowing God directly. Jesus first takes on the local clergy who run the synagogues, claiming authority to interpret the scriptures and all laws regarding ritual practice, sin offerings, healings and exorcisms. He will later take on the Temple establishment itself in Jerusalem and the Romans who levied taxes on the people.

Jesus' message to the crowds is that the God of love and mercy is always accessible to them. As children go to their parents, so we all possess the dignity and freedom of the children of God, who is eager to forgive, heal and free us to live fully and confidently. This direct access challenged the role of official religion as gatekeeper to God.

In today's Gospel, the local scribes challenge Jesus' lax attitude toward the Sabbath in allowing his hungry disciples to "work" by gleaning the heads of grain as they passed through the fields. First Jesus compares his messianic authority to that of David, who allowed his soldiers to eat the temple bread reserved to the priests.

Jesus then argues from the Book of Daniel, who gave all authority from God to the mysterious figure "Son of Man." In other words, "human beings" come first, even before the Sabbath rules. Necessity knows no law, and human dignity trumps ritual, especially when it is being applied legalistically.

We are invited to ask ourselves whether we exercise the freedom God gives us: freedom from fear; freedom from undue caution; freedom to respond in love and compassion even when we might make a mistake. Christian maturity challenges us to step out from under the shadow of anxiety and doubt, to live today in the glorious freedom of the children of God.

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New Wine

Posted on 19 January 2015 by patmarrin

"No one pours new wine into old wineskins" (Mark 2:22).

Today North Americans pause to commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who was assassinated in 1968 as leader of the Civil Rights Movement. King grounded the struggle for voting rights and equality under the law in the deep biblical story of the Exodus.

Today's Gospel reading affirms the reality that no social change occurs without a change of structures. New wine requires new wineskins. The call for justice continues to meet inflexible attitudes and resistance in an America still divided along class and race lines.

Pioneers of change like King have often met violence as the unyielding fabric of culture is split open. The new wine that spills out has often been their blood for the sake of the cause of freedom.

We commemorate a man while the movement continues to struggle on a broad range of economic educational and law and order issues across the nation. All Americans must participate in this struggle to complete the dream preached by Dr. King.

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Conversation to Conversion

Posted on 17 January 2015 by patmarrin

"Where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and see" (John 1:37).

How many revolutions have started with a simple conversation?

In today's Gospel, two disciples of John the Baptist are directed to follow Jesus, the "Lamb of God." That title was filled with intrigue, indicating that this new stranger would fulfill the promise John was announcing, not with messianic power but in self-sacrifice. The two disciples do follow Jesus, who invites them to spend the rest of the day with him, probably sharing a meal, for it was late afternoon toward evening. Whatever transpired during those hours is not told, but Andrew, one of the disciples, quickly recruits his brother Peter, and from there the public ministry of Jesus begins.

Sharing a meal and intimate conversation is typically a starting point for many important decisions. A date that leads to a proposal of marriage, an occasion for reconciliation, a chance to share an idea drawn on a napkin that becomes a business venture -- the future is mapped out over food and honest talk.

So it must have been for the Jesus movement, two fishermen and a carpenter talking about saving the world, liberating people from poverty and oppression, fulfilling prophecies and stepping into history to answer the call of God. if you or I had been there, would we have reached in to join hands to declare our intention to go forward together, no matter the cost or the outcome?

Each time we attend Mass with our faith communities, aren't we, in effect, entering this intimate conversation with Jesus that leads to total conversion? When we receive him in Communion, are we not "sealing the deal" to follow him wherever he takes us?

Such dramatic moments of decision are hard to imagine, and even harder to commit to. But if we have questions and doubts, we can begin the same way the first disciples did, by asking Jesus where he is staying. He will turn, look into our hearts and say, "Come and see." This is how it all begins.

The Power to Forgive

Posted on 16 January 2015 by patmarrin

“We have never seen anything like this” (Mark 2:12).

Perhaps the greatest burden a human being can bear is the need to forgive or be forgiven. Whole lives are defined by some moment of hurt, received or inflicted, that paralyzes us until it is resolved. People seethe with resentment, are obsessed with thoughts of revenge, design their lives around either confronting or avoiding someone who once victimized them. Others live in the shadow of shame and regret over things they did to another, trying but postponing the chance for reconciliation or, worse, burying their guilt in denial until it catches up with them through depression or illness.

The search for freedom from this burden through medication, obliterating alcoholism or the pursuit of expiation through religious ritual, penance or psychotherapy are all part of this struggle. We long to be free, to be innocent once again, our energies released to create, form relationships, to simply enjoy life.

The drama in today’s Gospel focuses on a man whose paralysis is somehow tied to the forgiveness of sin. It takes four friends to bring him to Jesus, surrounded by a crowd clamoring for attention. They lower him down through a hole in the roof of the house to reach Jesus, who announces that his sins are forgiven and then heals the man.

This implies a daring authority on the part of Jesus, and the local scribes challenge his claim that anyone but God can forgive sins. Jesus replies that the “Son of Man,” a messianic title from the Book of Daniel that can be translated as simply “human being,” does have the power to forgive sins. He then demonstrates this by physically releasing the sick man from his paralysis. The scribes are angry because Jesus has taken religion -- with its special agents, formulas, fees and sin offerings -- out of the equation. People have the power to release one another from hurt and guilt by forgiveness.

Imagine if, among our many other national holidays, we had an annual “Forgiveness Day” when thousands of feuding siblings, relatives, colleagues and former friends committed to making a phone call, writing a letter, or meeting for coffee to settle longstanding differences. Imagine the tremendous release of captive energy, the deep collective sigh of relief and gratitude at so many people letting go and moving forward. Imagine what this could do to heal our society and boost mental health.

If today you are praying for help to overcome past hurts, Jesus says, “Don’t you know that you have the power to initiate forgiveness, to set someone else free, to take the next step toward reconciliation.” The grace of the moment is before us. Rise up from your bed of pain and walk forward into the rest of your life.

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Messianic Secret

Posted on 15 January 2015 by patmarrin

“It was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly” (Mark 1:45).

Jesus heals a leper in today’s Gospel and, to head off growing confusion about his mission as so much more than just healing, he sternly tells the man to say nothing publicly. Predictably, the former leper tells everyone, and after that Jesus has to avoid towns because of the popular expectation that he will perform miracles.

As Pope Francis travels from Sri Lanka to the Philippines, we see a similar concern that his message not be overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of huge crowds to see him. For trip planners, it is a matter of public safety. Pope Francis, like other modern popes before him, is not just a spiritual leader but also a global celebrity, so every venue and route must be considered for its security and symbolic impact. At the same time, the pope’s call for justice for the poor and reconciliation to heal conflicts must not be lost in spectacular media events.

Mark’s Gospel has a central theme called the “Messianic Secret,” that Jesus’ true identity and mission as Suffering Servant was misunderstood by those who wanted a triumphant, even military, leader to overthrow the Romans. Each time his popularity rises to a fever pitch, Jesus withdraws to cool things off. But even his own disciples fail to grasp his mission to reveal the unconditional love of God and the call to service that will be revealed on the cross. Jesus will complete his mission not in triumph but by suffering rejection and death as the Passover “Lamb” sacrificed for the sins of the people. His "victory" will come with his resurrection, yet even this will remain a "secret" visible only with eyes of faith.

We are likewise called to keep our “eyes on the prize,” the ultimate advance of God’s mercy in a world torn by ideological conflict and economic competition that grinds under the most vulnerable of the world’s people as slaves to commerce and global refugees fleeing poverty and armed turmoil. The dignity of every human being is more important than the size of any crowd pursuing any leader, including the pope. Francis clearly understands this and tries to direct his state visits to emphasize places of great need and suffering amid the necessary protocols of meeting important people and being seen by massive crowds.

Jesus’ presence in our world continues to be an open “secret.” Our challenge and prayer is for eyes that see God among the outcasts and for ears that hear the divine voice in the cry of the poor.

The Hand of God

Posted on 14 January 2015 by patmarrin

"He went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee” (Mark 1:39).

In just 10 verses, Mark shows us Jesus moving from synagogue to house to wilderness and onto the road to take his ministry of preaching, healing and exorcism to all of Galilee. His campaign has begun, and Jesus loses no time in demonstrating his authority over all the forces that have held people captive to fear, disease and dependency. The Reign of God is at hand, and it transforms everything it touches.

We note especially Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. She rises from her sickbed and begins immediately to serve. She and other women who join Jesus understand what it seems to take the other disciples forever to grasp, that the reign of God is not about empowerment but about service.

After a long day of healing and driving our demons, Jesus retreats into the wilderness to replenish his spirit in prayer. The setting reminds us of his confrontation with the Devil, ruler of the world, whose authority he is now defeating everywhere.

Now that his liberating intent is clear, Jesus will meet stiff resistance from each force he is now confronting: the control of religious authority over temple and synagogue; patriarchal authority over women, family and household; and the pervasive evil embedded in the oppression of Herod and the Roman occupation. The stage is set for the rest of the story.

God is everywhere in our lives, helping us to turn back the influences that diminish us in our church, our families and in the larger culture and economy. The reign of God is more powerful than any other influence, but it requires our cooperation and courage. Jesus is everywhere healing and driving out the distorted impulses that wreck community and distract people from their own good. But, as we will see in Mark’s unfolding story, each miracle of restoration begins with faith. Without our faith, even God is excluded from our lives and our world.