Be Vigilant

prepared1Jesus told the disciples not to be afraid, but rather to get sturdy purses to hold all they will receive from God.  If they served God, their reward would be great—but it would not be the reward of worldly wealth.  In the second part of the Gospel, Jesus preached the message of watchfulness and being ready for his return.  In a servant explanation of his point, Jesus told them that God would be so happy to see them at the banquet that God would put on an apron and cook a meal for them.  This is similar to the message Jesus gave the disciples at the Last Supper when he washed their feet in service.

When the third millennium arrived, many people worried that the world would end.  We all read accounts of predictions citing signs and scripture.  Mostly the mood was one of fear and anxiety.  Today’s Gospel assures us that we have nothing to fear.  Our only responsibility is to be ready for Jesus’ return.  We also hear that we have been entrusted with this Good News.  So now what do we do with it?  Most likely we know we are basically good people, good parents, and good disciples.  But is there something more we can do, or does some part of our responsibility need attention?   During these summer days, we might quietly reflect on how we view the end times and check our readiness.  How are we doing with the Good News we’ve been given?

The final line of this gospel is most demanding and directly applicable to our daily paschal mystery living: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” We’ve been entrusted with much: furthering Jesus’ mission of bringing the Good News of salvation to all as his disciples. We have been entrusted with even more: we are not simply servants, but because of our baptism and being plunged into the paschal mystery we become members of the Body of Christ. We followers of Jesus are most vigilant for the master, that is, Jesus himself, when we are being who the Master is because his Life has been given to us. We are to be the presence of the Master himself, continuing his gracious ministry on behalf of others. Our faithfulness is measured by even more than doing God’s will; it is measured by our being the presence of the risen Christ for all those we meet. Any doing must flow from our being. Only then do we truly continue Jesus’ ministry. The real surprise of the gospel is that we ourselves, in our daily paschal mystery living of dying to ourselves for the sake of others, become more perfectly that presence of the very Master for whom we are vigilant. In a sense our vigilance is less about looking for Someone and more about being Someone.

Our vigilance is for our own faithfulness. If we are preoccupied by possessions, schedules, work, sports, entertainment, and so forth, our hearts are already filled with exhaustible, insecure, and corruptible matters. The challenge of this gospel is to redirect our hearts to what is our true treasure, Jesus, and then be faithful disciples. The gift is great. Our Treasure is Jesus

What Must I Do?

coins in handWhen was the last time eagerness welled up in us causing us to “run” toward something? Certainly when labor begins for a couple having their first child, they may literally “run” to the hospital eager to welcome this new life into the world. We tend to be most eager and run toward something when what we seek is significant for us. In our Gospel today, a man runs up to Jesus; it doesn’t say he sauntered or walked or simply approached. He ran. This gives us a sense that there is urgency. And his question reveals that urgency, “what must I do to inherit eternal life”?
His demeanor changes when Jesus, looking at him with live for keeping the commandments, challenges him to one thing further- give up everything and follow Jesus to enter the kingdom of God. His eagerness turns to sadness. He had many possessions. Unfortunately those possessions possessed him.
Following Jesus demands that we choose not to be possessed by things, but by Jesus himself. To be possessed by Jesus we must giver up our greatest possession: our very selves. Then Jesus looks upon us with great love. Dispossessing ourselves of things – distractions, worries, self-centeredness, busyness, helps our hearts set rightly on eternal life.

To Touch and Be Touched

Some things defy rational thought. The composers of the lectionary taking a scalpel to Mark 5:22-43 is one of those things.
In a probable attempt to keep the Gospel lesson short, the story of the healing of the hemorrhaging woman is excised from the context of the story of Jairus’ daughter, which bookends it. These are two radically different stories of healing woven together into one single story, with one single proclamation.

Differences? Both women were quite obviously from different social classes and positions in society. The girl’s healing was sought after by her father, in a proper exchange, while the woman covertly took her healing without asking. Jesus healed the little girl by reaching out and touching her, and the woman in mirror image reached out and touched him. The girl was twelve years old suffering from a sudden and acute condition, and the woman was suffering from a chronic condition for as long as the girl had been alive. And while the woman was healed, the girl wasn’t technically healed. She died, and was brought back to life by Jesus: She was resuscitated.

So, obviously, these two stories are very, very different. Almost inverse images set next to each other. And yet, at their core — and at their most basic level — they are the very same story. They are in fact the stories of two people who when they came in contact with Jesus, were transformed from death to life.

This is pretty obvious in the case of the little girl, because she died. When Jesus went in to be with the corpse; he reached out to her, touched her, took her dead limp hand in his and told her to get up.

And she did.

The move from death to life is a little harder to see in the second story. Blood was such a sacred, precious, and dangerous force in Jewish belief and practice because it was what God said constituted the very life of a being. (Which of course showers meaning on Jesus’ words, “take, drink, this is my blood.”)

So … when you have a woman who has been hemorrhaging — bleeding for twelve long years — she has in the Jewish sense, been ‘losing her very life’ for those twelve years. Life has been oozing out of her — seeping out of her. Like a toothpaste tube being slowly rolled from the bottom, she has been leaking life for a long, long time.

In fact, you could quite rightly say, that for twelve long years this woman was … dying.

So when she saw Jesus walking along the road with his entourage, and she squeezed her way through the crowd reaching out to touch his cloak, she was healed and the blood stopped oozing out of her. Her life stopped its flow out of her body. This unnamed woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years quite amazingly touched Jesus, and was thereby brought from death to life.

Both Jairus and the woman entrusted themselves to Jesus by coming to him. They had faith. They moved beyond the known – illness and death – to reach into the unknown of new possibilities for life. Risking disappointment, they reached out to Jesus with confidence that he would respond.

All of us are dying, all of us are having the life drained out of us like a toothpaste tube being viciously squeezed. — Until! — Until we encounter Jesus. Until we are touched and we touch.

We must reach out and touch — an act of blind vulnerability to be sure — to receive Life. When we smile at the children even when we are bone tired or take an hour out of our day to visit the sick, we are dying to self. . When we graciously allow ourselves to be touched by other broken arms to be truly alive; when we surrender to Jesus, Jesus offers us life and in all this, we encounter the Lord of life.

Do we have faith to touch and be touched so that whatever is dead within us may be restored to life?

Dying to Self

My father was a wine maker. He knew the answer to the question: How much time does it take for grape mash to be fermented into good wine? He always answered: it takes time! But the time involved was less critical than the change this time brought about! My dad’s wine making was real transformation! And it was a real experience for our family for over 60 years!
The transformation Jesus speaks about in our Gospel today takes a lifetime of time. We learn only slowly to accept the demands of discipleship. We embrace the Gospel challenge because Jesus has promised that those who serve lose their life, and die will be given fullness of life and a share in his glory. And this transformation is worth all the time it takes.
Our human instinct is not to die but to cling to life. So what Jesus asks in this gospel is counterinstinctual. To be faithful disciples we must hand over our life by serving, by putting others’ needs ahead of our own, and by dying to self-centeredness. Through such serving and dying God transforms us and gives us a fullnesd of life and glory that we canot even imagine. And this transformation is worth all the time it takes.