Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Homily for Mark 10:28-31

We are at the final stages of the earthly ministry of Jesus in Mark's Gospel. In each segment, we see Jesus asking his friends for a personal response to him, and most times they fail. Yesterday, we listened to the story of the rich man who walked away from the potential relationship with Jesus because he was too preoccupied with his possessions. The statement of Jesus was harsh - few can enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Today we hear the perplexed Peter pose the weighty question, "what about us? We've given up everything to follow you. Will we make it?" You can tell it is a frightening question to ask because it is laden with the fear of rejection and purposelessness. On a personal level it asks, "do I matter to you? I thought I did." You can sense an unspoken dialogue behind the few stated words. Although the words of Jesus sound harsh to many, he means them as a compassionate response to their anxiety. Yes, they have a place with him, and yes, their reward will be more abundant than they imagine.

This passage does remind us of the primacy of our relationship with Jesus, and that can be frightening. I have often heard concerned people pray for their loved ones who turned away from the church and/or Christ. It breaks their heart. They want the best for their loved ones and they want to know they will be with them in the eternal life that is to come. Their love is so strong that it sometimes gets in the way of following the direction Christ sets for them.

Family bonds are impenetrable. We are extremely interconnected and we know that we cannot erase the bonds that exist, and as a reconciling people, we want to reach out to others and settle disagreements. As Christians, we want to heal the rift between the estranged. This is in the fabric of our understanding of charity. To reject property or family or lands for Jesus is fantastically too difficult to digest.

The key to the story is held in the passage we heard yesterday when the rich man walked away from Jesus with great sadness. He gave up on the potential friendship. He walked away and left Jesus. The chance that Jesus could become meaningful to him was snuffed out. He closed his mind, heart, and attitude to the possibility of a friendship. We haven't done that, and we are not likely to do so. In this, we can find great comfort.

But it also tells us that worrying about relationships with others, especially families, doesn't help us. We are to go where he leads us or be where he wants us to be. If we trust in Christ strongly enough, the other stuff matters, but it is not within our control. He will take care of the relationships that we can't shape. The best thing we can do is to share our desires with him. We can't control or change anyone else and it is very wrong for us to try. We look to God who gives us freedom and we follow God's example. God doesn't manipulate. God doesn't intervene to control a situation. God gives us freedom - and we are not used to living in freedom.

I think of Walter Ciszek of the Society of Jesus who was imprisoned in Russia, mostly in Siberia, for nearly a quarter of a century. Each day, the prisoners were lined up for roll call. They stood before the guards hands behind their back. On the day of his release, his name was called by the guards, and he lined up in the usual formation, hands behind his back, awaiting words from his captors. He followed the same routine that saved him each day, and now that he was free, he did not know what to do. His captors laughed at him as they shouted, "You are free. You can go." Those rhythms necessary for survival are painful to break.

And it tells us that our freedom comes from the outside. We know we can't fix what is broken within us. We've tried. We haven't succeeded, and yet we keep trying to make our situation manageable. No matter what we do, we can't solve ourselves. Only Christ's concern for us can achieve this. Christ himself can unlock to door to our prison. We have to let him be the one who releases us from our captivity, and then we have to learn to live like him - like one who savors the victory of his freedom.

The first reading tells us of the just one who finds joy in freedom. One who is free is marked by generosity and gratitude with a spirit that impels one to offer oneself for others. We notice in this person a change of disposition or attitude. Who among us wants to be with someone who is also grumpy and critical? No one. We can offer our care and concern, but the person who constantly speaks and acts negatively is seldom willing to allow Christ and others to affect their lives. They reject the assistance they may inwardly crave. Little good will come to a person like this until one avails oneself of the love that hovers around the person. And yet less and less love hovers because the person makes himself or herself unlovable.

Who doesn't want to be around one who is happy and content? Happiness is very attractive. When we realize the amazing affection God has for us, we become like Mary as we sing our own Magnificat. We sing our own song that tells of God's goodness to us. This is a song that needs to be sung because so many others are yearning for the freedom Christ offers. It is a tune that helps us remember the gratitude of the one who saved and saves us. It is a single note, pure and easy, playing so free like a breath rippling by.

Although we carry heavy concerns on this retreat, let us find some time to offer praise as our sacrifice. We traditionally think of sacrifice as giving up something meaningful. It means denying oneself and going without. It means making one a little less comfortable for the sake of a greater good. This traditional definition has its place, but today let's offer praise as sacrifice to the Trinitarian God for the goodness we receive each minute of our day. Let's offer essentially who were are - our feelings and desires, our freedom, our good and bad memories, our comprehension of life's events, and the toughest one of all - our will. Take time today to give generously and have a cheerful countenance.

Though we have given up lots to follow Christ, he tells us we will receive much more than we ever give up. This is the abundance of God in the kingdom. This is the God who has given you yourself as gift and wants you to return it joyfully. This is the God who delights in you and gushes over you, just as proud parents tells friends about their beloved children. Let God make you feel special today. Let God gush over you and feel proud.