Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Leap, and the net will appear." (Tuesday, Week VI in Ordinary Time, Mark 8:14-21)

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread,
and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.
Jesus enjoined them, “Watch out,
guard against the leaven of the Pharisees
and the leaven of Herod.”
They concluded among themselves that
it was because they had no bread.
When he became aware of this he said to them,
“Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread?
Do you not yet understand or comprehend?
Are your hearts hardened?
Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?
And do you not remember,
when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand,
how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?”
They answered him, “Twelve.”
“When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand,
how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?”
They answered him, “Seven.”
He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

* * * * * * * *

There’s a lot of humorous material in the bible. And today’s reading happens to be one of my favorite funny stories in the New Testament.

You got the crazy disciples, always thinking about food. Remember how they got Jesus in trouble once for snacking on the grains on a field one Sabbath? Well today, in a boat, with Jesus presumably speaking about something serious, and no doubt in a grave and somber tone of voice, telling them: “Beware of the leaven of Herod and the Pharisees…” he hears them whispering to each other. “Is he talking about food?” “Man, we didn’t bring extra bread. Are we in trouble again?”

Jesus must’ve overheard their conversation and says: “Why are you guys always thinking about food?” Have you forgotten how I fed thousands a few days ago?”

The humor aside though, Jesus is telling the disciples something very important in the gospel. He warns them of what he calls the “leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod”. For the Jews, leaven is a symbol for evil, which is why Passover bread is unleavened. It’s a symbol for something so small yet manages to affect the entire whole.

The leaven of Herod and the Pharisees was their unbelief that poisoned them to the teachings of Jesus. For the disciples in that boat, it was something else, something that we all face from time to time: the “leaven” of “worry”. The disciples were so worried about not having bread, and so Jesus gently reminds them that he had just fed thousands with five loaves and two fish.

Worry, like leaven, is something that begins as a tiny portion. It’s a small uneasiness inside us. But then it grows and, if we leave it unchecked, it could spread and poison our minds and spirits, paralyzing us.

Years ago, when I started teaching I had a student who was in quite bright and hardworking. Yet he was always extremely worried about exams. I always thought that he was just scaring himself. And in fact, I knew that he would tell other seminarians how worried he was about exams. During our oral exam, the first thing I noticed when it was his turn to give his presentation, was that he was literally sitting on the edge of his seat. He kept taking deep breaths and was obviously too scared.

The thing is, the more I tried to be helpful and kind and gentle in my questioning, the more he got worried and scared, until the poor kid probably couldn’t take it any more, without him realizing it, he grabbed my cup of coffee sitting on my desk and began taking sips from it. I guess he forgot that he didn’t have a cup when he came in the office. He just sat there sipping coffee, unable to answer. Poor thing was totally mortified when he realized what he did.

When he was ordained four years ago, he sent me a card, which I’ve carried around with me and put in a small frame. It hangs by the door in my room. “Leap”, the card says, “and the net will appear”.

Leap and the net will appear. One who puts his faith in Jesus will have nothing to fear, because he knows that if he does take that leap, there will be something there to catch him.

Worry does absolutely nothing to help us. In fact, all it does is mess us up. It adds nothing to us, and in fact drains us of energy. This is true not only of our studies or our life in seminary; it is true of all life.

A Christian author once said: “The cure for worry is to crowd it out of your head. Crowd it out with faith, with confidence, and with trust: in yourself, in your abilities, and finally, in God.

The next time you find yourselves worrying about anything, just remember those words: “Leap, and the net will appear”.

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