“A Secret hidden in plain sight” ©
Thoughts on the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 23, 2018
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
As I mentioned last Sunday we are at a place in the continuous reading of the Gospel of Mark where Jesus announces his awareness that he will be handed over to authorities because of what he teaches and how he cares. He is clear about what will occur – namely, that they will arrest, convict, torture, and kill him in less than two days’ time. Also, as we know, he is clear that this does not mean the end of him (as they will hope). No, he will rise again. There is New Life.
Last Sunday’s focus, while often placed on the Suffering Servant aspect so formally embraced by scholars and institutional types, as I suggested can be seen as a very personal wondering on Jesus’ part. A subtext of Jesus’ question put to the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” is the further and deeper, one may say more personal question, “How do people experience me?” This is the depth that, it seems to me, you and I are called to explore. What is my experience of Jesus who is the Christ?
Today’s passage also has a surface story to tell. This is that other understanding of what scholars call “The Messianic Secret.” We’re told, “Jesus and the disciples began a journey through Galilee, that Jesus did not want anyone to know about.” The thinking among some is that Jesus is teaching in secret. Thus the mention of the details of the Messianic Secret that will be revealed in due time. And just like last week one can go down that rabbit hole and come back up with a book or two (as many have done.)
Well, here’s my take on the Secret for our consideration today. It’s a secret hidden in plain sight. The secret is all about shock at the truth, deflection, denial, diversion, and yes, even ultimately, truth.
Follow me on this one. This is an example of the living Word of God that truly lives in our time. First, Jesus teaches the disciples that if someone wants to follow him, the Teacher, then that person must understand and embrace the pattern of life that presents itself, the pattern being living by truth, suffering for truth, dying for the sake of truth, and rising to the truth of New Life. This clearly informs the disciples of what lies ahead for them.
If Jesus actually taught this as some sort of secret wisdom and the disciples fully embraced this wisdom, then why did they scatter immediately upon Jesus’ arrest? Why would they lock the door to the room that Jesus passed through to assure them of Resurrection? This doesn’t sound like much of an emboldening secret that is possessed by the chosen few.
The second thing that happens in this passage is deflection. This is the more likely reaction to what the disciples heard. In the face of Jesus conveying truth the disciples engage in deflection. Why deal with the prospect of death and resurrection when you can talk about who is most important? I might be going out on a limb here, but this occurs to me as a case of the “boys will be boys” – a reality all too real, you may agree with me, in today’s government and society. Stop me when it gets totally clear that the Word mirrors life. We live in a society of bright shiny things that deflect us from what really matters. We have “leaders” who continually focus on white nationalism, conspiracies of long past assassinations, and numbers that don’t add up – as in references to landslide elections. This one-upmanship that we see in today’s Gospel is only a deflection from what is true.
Thirdly, in this passage, Jesus rejects deflection, refuses myopic, male-exclusive societies. Have you heard the one about the church whose “leaders” believe they can solve their sex-abuse crisis by calling meetings of themselves, wherein – surely you have noticed – only male bishops gather to solve “their” problem? Do you trust your children with such all-male societies? You shouldn’t.
Jesus is not about to allow his followers to pretend they did not hear that he spoke death as well as resurrection. Often, maybe even most of the time, our reaction to Jesus placing the child in their midst is, “Oh, of course, he’s talking about innocence.” As true as that may be, It occurs to me that two other pieces are at work in Jesus’ care for the small child. First, is his message to those deflecting, self-important-ing disciples, “Get over yourselves!” Stop the deflection and embrace the pattern of death and resurrection. A message for today’s Catholic bishops as in, “Stop your male-only meetings (didn’t they use to have the aura of being called enclaves?) Get over yourselves and resign! If you won’t resign then accept lay leadership over yourselves. After all, what you have is not something wrapped up in spiritual language. What you have is a failed corporate structure and the executives need to be replaced.
That is required because the next feature of Jesus with the child is to nourish the child. If people no longer trust their children to be alone with a priest – THINK ABOUT IT – and, if a bishop really believes that people trust him to exercise executive authority because his all-male brethren have decided on a solution, clearly change is warranted.
Nourish this child with truth, care, nurture, and love. In the case of government leaders, If your children are so indebted when they start their careers that it will take years to pay off their school debt – don’t pat yourselves on the back. In the case of church leaders, recognize the truth that material resources are meant to be shared for the human and sexually well-adjusted development of all our children. Teach the social teaching which you have received. The secret that is hidden in plain sight these days is that we accept the pattern of Jesus’ path through death to resurrection when all God’s children retain their innocence in a society, and a church, that spreads its resources that they may flourish.
A Prayer (Prayers for an Inclusive Church)
God, who draws near, who lives at our level,
whose nature is revealed in power set aside:
give us grace to welcome you
the one who sets the bounds of our community:
in the child,
the one who comes with no power
except that of remaking our heart;
the same Jesus Christ who will be handed over. Amen.
Leader: You call us to faith.
Jesus, have mercy.
All: Jesus, have mercy.
Leader: Welcome me as the little child among you.
Christ, have mercy.
All: Christ, have mercy.
Leader: We live every day nourished by your love.
Jesus, have mercy.
All: Jesus, have mercy.
Presider: God of mercy and compassion, free us
from all that separates us.
All: May our faith be a training in holiness
through Jesus the Messiah.