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The Devil In All Of Us

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Scripture Readings: Job 7:1-4, 6-7; Psalms 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6; 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23; Mark 1:29-39

My dear encountered couples:

There is an old joke that goes something like this. An elderly man who was quite ill said to his wife, “You know, Mary, you’ve always been with me – through the good and the bad. Like the time I lost my job -- you were right there by my side. And when the war came, and I enlisted – you became a nurse so that you could be with me. Then I was wounded, and you were there, Mary, right by my side. Then the Depression hit, and we had nothing – but you were there with me. And now here I am, sick as a dog, and, as always, you’re right beside me. And then he continued, “You know something, Mary, you’re bad luck!

My dear friends: Most of the time, we blame somebody to blame for all the things that go wrong in our lives or when things don’t go as we had hoped; and, more often than not, the people we choose to blame are the very people we once looked to as an answer to all our problems.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is pictured as a very busy man with never-ending stream of people coming to him with problems to be solved and afflictions to be cured. He is at the peak of his public popularity. The entire countryside is at his feet. He could have asked for anything and people would have obliged.

If he had proclaimed a holy war against the Romans, people would have taken up arms and started marching. If he had proclaimed himself as Messiah, the new king of Israel, the triumphant procession to Jerusalem would have begun right then and there. In other words, Jesus had people right where any political leader would want them – in the palm of his hand.

But, what does Jesus do in response to this marvelous opportunity? He sneaks off early in the morning before anyone is awake so that he can be alone by himself. Then, when his friends and disciples literally ‘track him down’ in order to inform him that people are hanging upon his every word, what did he say? He says, "Let’s go someplace else so that I can do what I came to do."

What is it that Mark wants us to see about this behavior of Jesus? Well, it is hard to be certain. G. K. Chesterton once bemused that Jesus went off by himself in order to laugh. In other words, when he couldn’t stand the kind of ridiculous expectations that his friends and followers kept making of him, so he went off to laugh just to keep his sanity. Well, maybe. Or maybe he went off by himself just to get some peace and quiet for a change. Who knows?

But, one thing is certain. Instead of cultivating the popularity that his words and deeds had won him, Jesus seemed to be not interested in the kind of success other people wanted for him. He was just not the kind of hero that eventually makes it to the White House. He wouldn’t listen to the kind of instructions his handlers wanted to give him. He simply didn’t have the goal of making a big name for himself – because Jesus knew what was going to happen.

The cheering crowds would eventually become capricious. His star-struck disciples would, in the end, become totally frustrated and disillusioned.

And Jesus would fall from being the golden-haired hometown kid who was going to make everything right for everybody to being a national disgrace and a public embarrassment.

He would turn out not to be the kind of messiah, leader and hero people hoped he would be. Knowing that, who knows what he went off to think about. The reason people became disenchanted with Jesus in the end is precisely because he wasn’t interested in saving the Free World, organizing an evangelical campaign or founding a new religion. All Jesus wanted to do was to preach the Good News.

The Good News, of course, required that people change themselves before they try to change the world or other people.

But transforming our own lives to become the very best that we have -- sounds just a little scary because it is obviously going to mean work, risk, personal sacrifice, dissolving old habits and constructing new ones.

In that light, going after other people looks like a much preferable option; for it is much easier to accuse others of fakery and hypocrisy and moral turpitude than it is to examine our own nasty defensiveness and insincerity.

Anybody who insists on preaching a vision of God’s love that insists we change ourselves as well as the social, religious and cultural order around us had better check over his or her shoulder every once in a while.

For it seems that, at least a good part of the time, we are quite willing to believe Good News that demands we change other people’s lives, but we are quite unwilling to accept Good News that demands we change our own lives.

The passage from Job for this week may sound oddly reminiscent. It is, in fact, a work of poetry that people have borrowed from over the centuries. The night drags on. Are lives are filled with restless waiting for the dawn. Our days are swifter than the weaver’s shuttle. Our lives are like the wind. We see an end without hope and we wonder whether happiness will ever come back.

It is to such fears that Jesus came primarily to preach. One would have thought that a preacher with a message of such deep consolation would have been far more successful than any political or nationalistic messiah.

Unfortunately for Jesus and unfortunately for the complacency for which we often settle, the Good News is that we can overcome the restlessness that so dogs our days, we can be gifted with the hope that this day’s reality does not have the last word, and we can rediscover the joy of living by finding new ways of loving; but, the Good News can be ours only when we abandon our quest for security and give up the rigid defensiveness by which we continue to congratulate ourselves and keep others at bay.

The kingdom becomes a reality within us when we realize that peace, joy, contentment are found in living trustful, open, gracious lives no matter what happens.

That is not an easy game to play; and whoever preaches such a message isn’t going to be popular in our town for long. We much prefer heroes instead.


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