Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thursday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time (Year I)

Hebrews 7:25 - 8:6 / Mark 3:7-12

Most of us like to take vacations. We like to be able to withdraw from the daily grind of our lives, from the persons and obligations that crowd around us. In place of such responsibilities, in place of the familiar, we enjoy a change of scenery, a different pace of life. Whether we prefer our vacations to be quiet or filled to the brim with activity, the whole point of it all is to step away from what we ordinarily do.

Even so, we are not accustomed to associate vacation or withdrawal with being useful. Indeed, when our sense that something needs to be done begins to assert itself, when we find ourselves wanting to be helpful, to be of use to others, we tend to tell ourselves that the vacation must come to an end. However sadly, we insist that we have to return to the ordinary scheme of things if we are to meet the needs of a world in want.

This is why the Scriptures we read today are so striking. In the Gospel, it is not by plunging himself into the crowd, but quite the opposite, by withdrawing to the sea that Jesus is able to exercise and effect the overabundant fruits of his saving presence — He had cured many and, as a result, those who had diseases were pressing upon him to touch him. And whenever unclean spirits saw him they would fall down before him  and shout, “You are the Son of God.” The same claim is affirmed directly in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is precisely to the extent that Jesus is unlike other high priests that what he offers us as gifts are so effective. Indeed, it is insofar as he is separated from the rest of us, higher than the heavens, that he can fulfill that high priestly ministry for which he was sent and of which we are so deeply in need. In short, Jesus is not less, but abundantly more helpful, as so much more excellent a ministry, to the extent that he, even in his earthly sojourn, was separated out from those to whom he ministered and with whom he lived, preached, and healed.

We, too, who would follow Jesus Christ, must likewise live a life of withdrawal. It is not that we should take a vacation to escape responsibility or indulge in a trivial waste of time. Rather, we must withdraw to take part in the service of that truer Temple, of which our earthly affairs, concerns and responsibilities are only the palest of copies. It is only as separated from the waywardness of the world that we will ever have the perspective to speak the word that the world needs to hear. It is not from the midst of the crowd that we best respond to the world's suffering, but from the calm of the divine see that we can best make God known.

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