Who knows where we are going?
Thoughts on 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 11, 2018
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark gains in meaning when placed alongside the same story of the healed leper in the other two synoptic gospels – Luke and Matthew. The spare, yet complete, detail which so often characterizes Mark’s text reveals a certain helpful lesson about freedom.
In Mark’s account Jesus tells the healed person to tell no one, only to go to the priests as the Law of Moses prescribes. But the person disobeys Jesus and tells all to anyone who comes along. For me the fact that Mark’s was the first gospel written down, and because of that it is the one that is closest to the event itself, I’m inclined to think that this is closest to what actually happened.
By the time the Gospel of Luke was written the account says only that Jesus’ “reputation spread more and more” (5:15) thus removing the healed person from the rest of the story. Then the story was included in the Gospel of Matthew (8:1-4). It ends abruptly when Jesus sends the person to the priests.
Only Mark provides the detail of the healed person exercising the freedom to spread the word about Jesus, despite Jesus telling him not to do so.
Let’s explore this notion of freedom. Our community practices freedom against some clearly stated institutional barriers. In short, we are told not to spread the word of freedom.
We could begin with the notion of what catholic means. John Haughey, SJ wrote a book titled, “Where is Knowing Going?” It contains a series of connected essays focused on the idea of catholicity. He makes the point that a significant difference exists when referring to the church on the one hand, as universal, and on the other hand, as catholic.
To say the Church (big C) is universal is to imply “over all.” To say the church is catholic (small c) is to imply “throughout the whole.” The former, with its implication of domination conveys a certain, one might say, institutional message. The latter, with its implication of permeation (that is, throughness), conveys a certain communal message.
Haughey’s main point is about knowledge and how the church treats all things that can be known. A dominating, universalist treatment differs from a permeating, catholic treatment. The catholic sense of where knowing is going is to become a leavening presence that transforms knowledge on its own journey to the good.
Haughey acknowledges receiving this notion of leaven from Walter Ong, SJ and his use of Jesus’ parable of the yeast in the dough. It does not change the dough, rather it transforms it into bread – once it is baked, of course.
What will the leavening relationship between catholicity and knowledge produce? In Ong’s article, “Yeast,” that appeared in America magazine, April 7, 1990, he wrote:
“We need to bring present knowledge of the actual universe to bear on such things as our thinking of God’s creative act, of the life and the life expectancy of the church, of eschatological time, of the Incarnation and the Second Coming, and so much more.”
I am intrigued by (and therefore highlighted in bold print) the phrase “life expectancy of the church.” Here’s why. I can see a catholic church that is a permeating (read: transforming) community existing to the end of time. I can at the same time see a Universal Church that is a dominating institution ending long before the end of time. But consideration of this possibly takes us too far afield.
Let’s get back to the healed person who disobeyed Jesus and spread the word about him. This person’s assertion of freedom helps me put a twist on Haughey’s title, “Where is Knowing Going?” and fashion it anew as, “Who knows where we are going?” Our community of Mary of Magala settles on freedom. Wherever we are going – for however long – and to serve whatever purpose – we celebrate the heritage of catholicity. It is the heritage which acknowledges priests who are both female and male. The heritage of all persons exercising their freedom to marry. The heritage wherein communities act freely and responsibility to interpret and apply Jesus’ message.
I am further intrigued by St. Paul’s message when he says in today’s first reading from 1 Corinthians, “…I try to please everyone in any way I can. I do this by seeking not my own advantage but that of the many, that they may be saved. Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” (10:33-11:1)
With an understanding that to be Catholic is to practice catholicity, that is, being a leaven in all that we know, how does one apply what Paul says? I would say it is to freely spread the word which entrusts each person and community with revealing Jesus to the world.
A Prayer (JR)
Far horizons merge ocean and sky.
As we look afar we envision the meaning of your Word,
As we judge your truth we declare the power of your healing.
As we act on your guidance we spread the word of your love.
Far horizons give vision to our catholic heritage. We gather at this table to share Word and Sacrament. Heal our sores and wounds. Make us willing to touch the sick, the wounded, the cancer affected, and the lost.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Blessing (JR)
May winter’s long nights not be fearful.
May lengthening days bring hope.
May the promise of light and warmth
heal that which separates us.
Let today’s blessing confirm us in faith,
encourage us in hope,
and make us happy in love.