Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"And he looked at them with anger..." (Wednesday Week II in Ordinary Time, Mark 3:1-6)

Jesus entered the synagogue.
There was a man there who had a withered hand.
They watched Jesus closely
to see if he would cure him on the sabbath
so that they might accuse him.
He said to the man with the withered hand,
“Come up here before us.”
Then he said to the Pharisees,
“Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil,
to save life rather than to destroy it?”
But they remained silent.
Looking around at them with anger
and grieved at their hardness of heart,
Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”
He stretched it out and his hand was restored.
The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel
with the Herodians against him to put him to death.

Rarely is Jesus described as “angry” in the gospels. In fact, the term the gospel of Mark uses to describe Jesus’ disposition (met orges—“with anger”) is not even used by the other evangelists in their accounts of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple. The description of Jesus as “angry” occurs only once in all four gospels—and it is in this particular account in Mark.

Why was he angry? The answer lies in the hardness of heart of the Pharisees who knew fully well the answer to the question Jesus had posed to them. It is “lawful to do good on the Sabbath”; it is “lawful to save a life”. They knew that. But to give an answer would be to admit, not only that they were wrong, but that there was something that was staring them in the face—something, or better yet, someone who was the very essence of the goodness and salvation they refused to recognize and accept.

Jesus was confronting men who had essentially blinded themselves to what stood right before their eyes. Like horses, they wore blinders that served to narrow their vision. In fact, they were worse; blinders at least serve to focus an animal's field of vision, allowing it to see more effectively. These men simply chose to blind themselves.

We too can be like them sometimes. We have our own "blinders". They’re our biases and prejudices; they’re the labels and categories we put on ourselves, the boxes into which put ourselves, other persons, even God himself. Sadly, a lot of times, no one can escape these boxes.
But these blinders, these boxes, stifle our growth; they suffocate our souls, and hinder us from seeing Christ, and from seeing the goodness that’s usually all around us.

When I was new to seminary, my old spiritual director always reminded me: “be a tabula rasa, a blank sheet in the hand of God; allow him to write whatever he wishes to write on the blank parchment of your life”. It’s a good reminder, not only when we’re beginning something; it’s a good way to live life, to come to the Lord with only one thing: our very self, and a willingness to be molded and formed by Him in whatever way he chooses—with no preconditions, no hesitations, no blinders. Only when we ourselves have become empty, can God come into our lives and fill us completely.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)