February 1, 2015


What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? – Mark 1: 24

   This strikes me as a truly contemporary question. It reflects the uneasiness & even fear which attend that moment of recognition when the demons within us (both individually & collectively) come face to face with the awesome demands of love that God makes upon us. That terrible truth about ourselves that we have for so long avoided, ignored, suppressed & fled can unexpectedly break over us like a giant wave that knocks us down & threatens to drag us into the sea of the divine. It comes with the flash of insight that we are not created to live for ourselves & our own satisfaction, & that we will never be happy until we can bring ourselves to give up our selfish stupidities.

   Too often we resist such a moment of truth, like the great wave, with a might born of panic because it turns our world of values upside down & makes everything we thought to be so indispensable seem absurd. We seem to be more than a little ridiculous for having held them to be so. We cannot tolerate the idea that we might have been dreadfully wrong in our judgment, & so we do anything to prevent such a moment from happening.

   We tell ourselves that Jesus (& by extension, His Church) is a nice enough fellow, but harmless really; & in any event irrelevant to our lives. Alternatively, we might make Him over in our own image – be it sentimental & pietistic or radical & avant guard – so as to have His stamp of approval on our comfortable status quo. Thus it is that some, indeed many, manage to live on in a darkness of their own making, & delude themselves into thinking it is light.

   But truth has a nasty habit of refusing to be treated in such a cavalier fashion. We can ignore Christ, but we cannot dispose of Him. We can open ourselves to Him selectively, but we cannot manipulate Him. We can refuse to act in accordance with His word, but we cannot change it. His word haunts us, even taunts us, with the pointed question “Why do you call me Lord, Lord & do not what I tell you?”

   From beginning to end, Scripture emphasizes God’s relentless demand for choice. “Turn to the Lord your God with all your heart & with all your soul,” said Moses to the people of Israel, & Jesus agreed that this was the first & greatest commandment.

   In today’s Gospel, Mark tells us that “The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority…..” It is with that same authority (not her own) that the Church speaks in His name today, & we scoff at that voice only at great peril to our eternal souls.

   “What do you want of us, Jesus of Nazareth?” Says He, with divine authority, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, & you will know the truth, & the truth will set you free” (John 8: 31). Again, He says “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13: 35). Finally, “I am the vine, & you are the branches. Whoever remains in me & I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (John 15: 5).

   There is a church in Copenhagen which contains many pieces of sculpture by the Danish sculptor Thorwaldsen. The most noted piece, perhaps, is a statue of Christ with outstretched arms inviting one to come near. An interesting feature is that one cannot see His face when standing in front of it. Only when one kneels can he see the face of Jesus. An American clergyman reacted to this phenomenon with these words:

“To be sure, this is a parable of life. When we kneel before Christ & commit all we have & are to Him, every worthy loyalty we possess becomes exalted & strengthened, & life finds the true master for whom it was created in the beginning. – J.K. Shamblin, “Life comes as choice.”

   Fearful though we may be, each of us needs to face our moment of truth, fall on our knees & exclaim as Saint Thomas did, “My Lord & my God!” Then & only then will we come to know what spiritual health is all about.  AMEN!