Monday 4 February, 2019 – I will not fail you

The heroes of faith listed in the reading from the Hebrews 11:32-40 were, “weak people given strength.”

In today’s Gospel text Mark 5:1-20, we hear that no one had the strength to control the demoniac.  He was possessed by something very powerful.  Our world today is also possessed by many powerful spirits over which we have no control; greed, waste, lust for power, false self-images ……. 

We also know the movements within ourselves that possess us.  These are our weaknesses.  We come often to open ourselves to the grace of God that we too may be made strong through grace at work in us.

In these matters we place our trust in the ways of God. We proclaim with the psalmist; “Let your heart take courage, all who hope in the Lord.”  This is the source of our energy for mission.  When we know ourselves changed through no effort of our own, but through the goodness of God towards ourselves.

Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith.  He has complete trust in the Father whose Spirit is fully alive within him.  Jesus stays connected with the One who enables him to live through suffering and death.  It is not by some triumphant act of self that he faces the realities of his life. It is from deep within his human vulnerability that he connects with his confidence in the Divine nature within.

The thoughts of the woman with the hemorrhage are, ‘If I can touch even his clothes, I shall be well again.’  Her desperation reaches through the human experience of her pain and shame, risking a connection that is fired by hope in the restoration of her wholeness and dignity.  He reconnects her and calls her daughter.  She is no longer unclean and separated.

In 2010, shame and empathy researcher Dr. Brené Brown explored the uncomfortable vulnerability and self-acceptance required in order to truly connect with others.  She says, “rarely can a response make something better — what makes something better is connection.”  In the face of pain and shame we often ask “why?” and yet finding answers seldom bring the kind of peace that comes with deep authentic connection. 

Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith. 

“What is this wisdom and where did it come from?” 

Mark 6:1-6

In 1597 when Paul Miki was condemned with twenty-six others in Japan, he told the audience at his crucifixion: “I am Japanese like you, I am not a foreigner and it is because of my faith in Christ that I am condemned. Christ wants us to forgive those who hurt us and pray for them.” And all his companions also smiled and sang prayers from the top of the cross.

Pain is an unavoidable part of the experience of being human.  Suffering is what we endure when we attempt to escape the reality of our pain.  This is the perplexing wisdom, the “road less travelled”, that suggests peace and happiness come via acceptance and by passing through the realities of life and death.  This is the Wisdom we seek.

In Christ the opposites are reconciled to each other, the folly of the cross is our strength.  The Christian symbol of this is the Vesica Piscis or Mandorla; where two circles overlap.  The Christian mind is non-dualistic.  Christian wisdom the place of wholeness.

At the time when Mark wrote his Gospel, around 66-70 AD, the Christian communities lived a difficult situation.  There was no future for them.  In the year 64, Nero began to persecute the Christians. In the year 65, the Jewish uprising against Rome broke out. In the year 70, Jerusalem was completely destroyed by the Romans.

This is why the description of the sending out of the disciples, after the conflict in Nazareth we read yesterday, was a source of light and of courage for the Christians.  The disciples participate in the mission of Jesus as they are sent out in pairs.  Two persons represent the community of Christ. They are to help others in suffering and open the door for direct access to God. They should go without taking anything. Jesus obliged them to trust in hospitality, because one who goes without taking anything goes because he trusts people and thinks that he will be well received.

I’m reminded of a difficult and divisive situation we were asked to deal with in one place.  After some days of intense prayer, two of us felt called to go out to the place together.  Our prayer was clear.  We were to go together in everything we did.  To give witness to the Body of Christ by our unity.  We took no agenda with us.  No judgments.  We sat with each person and listened.  We received their hospitality, their trust.  A beautiful bond grew.  They received us well as we required nothing of them, only a hope for all that is good and wholesome.  Their willingness increased with their trust and they gave way to their desire for unity. 

The Letter to the Hebrews is originally a homily that was written down and later distributed. And it seems to be old: most scholars think it was written around 63-64 AD, or about 30 years after the Crucifixion. This is a window into the life of one of the earliest Christian communities.

At either end of the letter there are two brackets. The opening bracket says, ‘Let mutual love continue’, and the concluding bracket, ‘Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have.’ 

In the middle, like the filling of a sandwich, is the message that enables us to ‘Let mutual love continue’. It says, “God himself has said: I will not fail you or desert you, and so we can say with confidence: With the Lord to help me, I fear nothing: what can man do to me?” 

Let us build our day on this, “I will not fail you or desert you”.