Reflection on the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
When I went to El Paso in 1969 to teach English and religion at Loretto Academy, I was qualified to teach English, but didn’t share Matthew Marie’s optimism that I was automatically qualified to teach religion. I went to the University of San Francisco to take some Scripture courses and during the six weeks I was there, I found out what Mark Twain meant when he said that the coldest winter he had ever experienced was his summer in San Francisco. I also had a wonderful learning experience with two women who used a fresh, creative approach to the study of Scripture. I learned a lot.
I learned that the Gospels are faith summaries — not historical accounts. Each Gospel was written for a particular audience, and knowing about the audience helps to a better understanding of the message of the Gospel. Mark’s Gospel is thought to have been written for a Gentile — probably a Roman audience. My teacher said that one of the most wonderful and fortuitous things that could ever happen to a seasoned Roman was to find a dedicated Greek servant who had state- of-the-art knowledge and expertise in diagnosing problems and applying solutions to current problems. In the care of such a person, one could feel fairly safe — especially in case there was a persecution, which was a threat at the time.
Jesus, as presented in today’s Gospel, would probably have appealed to a Roman looking for that kind of help. He is energetic, knowledgeable, powerful and available. He is the one who suggests that they “cross over to the other side,” although it was evening and probably a good time to call it a day. Of curious note also is the fact that the passage says that they took him “as he was.” When I see “as is” on an item in the consignment store, I look for some hidden imperfection. Was Jesus apparently in need of some self-care or was he obviously exhausted as the fact that he immediately fell asleep might suggest? When the storm came up they awakened him to ask him if he cared that they are perishing. He responded with questions asking them why they were terrified and did they not yet have faith? Jesus was able to quell the storm, but this miracle did not solve their problem of fear and lack of faith once and for all. According to abundant sources, fear is still around. It seems to be ubiquitous in human beings and shows up everywhere for everybody all of the time. Scripture records 103 direct admonitions telling us not to be afraid. Apparently, having faith doesn’t mean that I won’t be afraid or that I won’t suffer. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus demonstrated a faith that was willing to believe and to love to the end — regardless of the difficulty or the personal consequences.
So how can I be less afraid, and how can I have more faith? As I search for answers to life’s deepest questions about how to be and what to do in our ever more complex and ever-changing world, the question seems to get heavier, darker and more complicated while the answer seems to become more and more simple. All of my spiritual teachers are saying the same thing and seem to be in agreement that the main culprit in all of the chaos is the mind-based sense of self which never stops thinking — the ego. The ego feels a compulsive need to fix, manage and control every detail of life, using danger and scarcity as the ultimate and highest imperatives. As a matter of fact, my teachers also say that the problems of the world can be described as a larger version of this same dynamic — the struggle of mind-based collective egos, be they national, political, philosophical or ideological, operating with myopic-dedicated focus on the perceived realities of scarcity and danger. The solution is very simple. Let go of compulsive thinking and awaken to the presence of our loving God in whom we live, move and have our being with one another and all of creation in this present moment. In other words, my only task is to surrender to God’s will, which I can easily do by doing the next right thing to the best of my ability and responding to each person I meet with loving kindness. The problems of the world can only be solved by the surrendering of one ego at a time. In AA we say, “ Let go and let God.” Simple. Doable. Not easy.
Jesus is our master teacher with state-of-the-art knowledge and expertise to help us in this matter of fear and lack of faith. He always made strong use of similes, metaphors and wise sayings to drive home his message. He offers us a powerful image to ponder. When they asked him “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of God”— or maybe who has his or her act together, he pointed to a child and said, “Unless you become like this little child,” (presumably a well-parented child who has not been abused or altered), you are missing the main ingredients of the life I am offering you. Besides all of the obvious and wonderful gifts of creativity, joy, spontaneity, imagination, honesty and optimism, children also possess another very important gift — the gift of unwavering trust in the care of their loving parents. Perhaps we have seen them draped over the shoulder of a parent, dead asleep and being carried home after having spent the last ounce of energy they had doing what they were doing. I suppose I could say then that the measure of my trust is the measure of my faith. And the good news is that I can continue to choose to grow in faith and trust one moment at a time and one day at a time.
In closing, I offer this prayer of Theresa of Avila: “Let nothing disturb thee, nothing afright thee. All things are passing. Patience attains all things. The one who has God has everything. God alone suffices.”