On the Road (Again)

Mary Magdala Community

On the Road (again)

3rd  Sunday in Ordinary Time —  January 21, 2024

Rev. Jim Ryan, M.Div., Ph.D.  — jimryan6885@gmail.com

Pastor,  Mary Magdala Community,  maryofmagdala-mke.org

We are at the start of Year B in the 3 yr. liturgical cycle.  I am a great fan of the Gospel of Mark, the synoptic designation for Year B.  This author gets to the point when storytelling.  In a straightforward and almost hurried way the word “and” is used as all that is needed to move Jesus from one event to the next.  This Gospel is a sparingly written account, specializing in presenting the main point, namely, that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the center point of this faith we share.  In some circles the Gospel of Mark is referred to as a Passion Story with an introduction.

Today’s gospel passage about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Mark 1:14-22) tells us of him getting on the road with 4 others who may be referred to as the first community.  He calls 4 individuals who fish for a living to come with him.  Let’s, you and I, accept this invitation also and travel the road with the Teacher.

Now, take a closer look at what is happening here.  We want to be included in the experience, but we also do not want to over interpret it.  This is just the beginning, after all.  Jesus calls people who, likely, already had spent time with him, getting familiar with this new Teacher who liked to hang around boats and the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee.  Since they had this time together, it probably wasn’t such a life-shattering thing to go with him on his trip to the towns around the Sea of Galilee, including the city of Capernaum.  These 4 fished from their boats in the Sea of Galilee.  Just for comparison, let’s take a look at the area which is their home.  The land mass covered by the Sea of Galilee is 64 sq. mi.  The land mass of Lake Winnebago, which for you non-Wisconsinites is the lake whose shores include the cities of Oshkosh, Appleton, and Fond du Lac, is 206 sq. mi.  So, the Sea of Galilee is a good size, but in the larger scheme of bodies of water it is a drop in the bucket.  Lake Michigan is 22,406 sq. mi. – to put a finer point on it.

My point is that Jesus’ start-up band of travellers made up as it was of 1 carpenter and 4 barely professional fishermen were setting out on a journey around a body of water which they knew pretty well and which they could circumnavigate fairly easily.  Taking part in this little trip was no great sacrifice in the beginning.

Being a small slice of territory it seems reasonable to assume that word got around about this Teacher.  With a message of, in his own words, good news (Mark 1:38) and a penchant for healing the sick, the psychically troubled, and the physically disabled, his popularity grew, as did his little band given that he called others to join him on the road.

Now, let’s stop here and remind ourselves that this was just the beginning.  But, how exciting it must have been.  Love, Peace, Healing – who wouldn’t want to be included in that?  We, in this Mary Magdala Community have often shared similar feelings and thoughts that resonate with those early days of Jesus showing people how good it was to be united and at peace.  In our 12+ yrs. people have shared with us their own sense of how such a time would be attractive to them as well.

I would like to remind us this morning of individuals who have seen in us a way to put into practice these basic teachings of Jesus, the Teacher on the Road.  From them we received insight in three areas, namely Justice, Priestliness, and Freedom.

Christina Gschwandtner, faculty member at Fordham University in New York is first.  She had written an article on the experience of Eucharist as being one of intentionality and integrity.   The Eucharist should reflect and deeply mirror the life/lives of those who celebrate it.  Justice becomes real in liturgy when those who celebrate it see the application of grace in and through this sacramental event.  I wrote to Crina (as she said she preferred to be called) to tell her of our Mary Magdala Community and its celebration of Eucharist.  She responded with great enthusiasm, and wrote a 4 page reflection specifically addressed to us.  In it she wanted to address, “how a Christian community concretely experienced Eucharist.”  On the question of a just application of Eucharist to real life she challenged us with the question, “How might the “experience” of a “ritual” be related to the “intentionality” of a life lived in a certain manner?”

A second individual who has offered helpful thoughts in our growth in understanding of who we are as community is James Carroll.  James, noted author and former priest, wrote an article in the Atlantic magazine in June, 2019.  Its title is, “Save the Church, Abolish the Priesthood.”  Its message warns that clericalism is, to a great extent, the cause of the Roman Church’s deteriorating authoritative presence as an interpreter of the message of Jesus.  Carroll advocates for local communities, as was the practice of those first communities of Jesus’ followers, to decide for themselves who would lead the community in prayer and in preaching the Word.

In any case, James provided me a clearer path to the understanding that we are all priests, and we priests select one from our midst to guide the spiritual and liturgical life of the community.   The text of 1 Peter 2:9, “You, however are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart…”  has become a basic text for us at Mary Magdala Community as it undergirds Carroll’s proposal of a democratic church that chooses who will be priest.   (I must confess, though, I wrote to James but he did not respond.)

The third, and final, person who has offered insight to us on our own being on the road is Richard Kearney.  The Irish philosopher is a leading thinker in the area of hermeneutics and philosophy of religion.  He has a personal connection with our community.  I wrote to him (we had once met in the late ‘80s) not only to recall our meeting, but to introduce him to our Mary Magdala Community with its commitment to freedom.  His response was to say that if he lived in Milwaukee he would certainly want to be a member of our community.

Richard’s own work has taken him to the exploration of the implications of embodiment in so many aspects of life.  As it may guide our own community life, I see that an embodied life is a free life and not one that regards the senses as mere features of mortality.  In our application of this freedom we prioritize free choice over institutional constraints.  Such freedom allows us to be open to new ways of making social justice fundamental to how we apply the Teacher’s message of good news.

With such guidance from these three individuals as well as sharing with so many who have been on the road with us we gain, I believe, a deeper sense of the excitement of those first days and months of Jesus’ band of followers forming community.  We add ourselves to that first band of 1 carpenter and 4 fishermen and go on the road again acknowledging that people are hungry for just such a message.  When the later days of confrontation and threatening peril inevitably come, we must recall the days of freshness, excitement, and solidarity.  But then this will embody our reflection later in the lectionary’s year B.

I already have the title for my book that tells the story of the gathering of our community.   It’s a story of fundamentals – from Crina comes Justice, from James Carroll comes Priestliness, and from Richard Kearney comes Freedom.  Thus the title, “Just, Priestly, Free:  A Gathering of Searchers.”  Do you suppose I will ever get around to writing it?    

A Prayer   (JR)

Life with you, O Christ, becomes one revelation after another as you preach the Good News while being on the road.  The ministry to which you called your followers is one of open sharing in ways of justice, peace, and love.  We, like them, act sometimes with the assurance of these truths.  And sometimes we run away from the good fortune of being your companions on the road.

May we join your band of travellers and care for one another as a community of faith and love does in response to your call.

We pray in Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

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