20 February 2012

Exploring St. Mark's Gospel

And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd about them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed, and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, "What are you discussing with them?" And one of the crowd answered him, "Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a dumb spirit; and wherever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able." And he answered them, "O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me."
St. Mark 9:14-19

As Jesus, along with Peter, James and John returned from the experience of the Transfiguration to the rest of the disciples, the reality of life hit them straight on. We can understand why Peter had suggested that they stay on the mountain-top, as they came back to this scene of a huge crowd gathered around the disciples who had stayed behind, and with scribes arguing with them about something… What was the situation? A father had brought his boy to the disciples, and the boy was an epileptic. All of the symptoms were there. The disciples had been unable to deal with it, and their failure had given the scribes their chance. The helplessness of the disciples was a terrific opportunity for the scribes to not only belittle them, but also their rabbi, Jesus. Then Jesus arrived. The crowd was astonished. Why? It wasn’t because the radiance of the transfiguration was somehow lingering on him; rather, the crowd had thought that he was still a long way off, up on the mountain. They had become so engrossed in their argument that they hadn’t seen him come – and now, just when they were talking about him, he arrived unexpectedly. Have you ever had that experience, of saying something about someone that perhaps wasn’t the nicest thing, and then have them walk in unexpectedly in the middle of your sentence? The way you felt was how this crowd felt. Perhaps “amazed” isn’t the best word!

We learn a couple of things about Jesus. First of all, just as he was ready to face the cross, so he was also ready to face a much more ordinary situation. If only we could be like that – we get ourselves ready to cope with some great thing that’s going to happen in our lives, but we get thrown by a loop when we discover the car is low on gas! This is one of the day-to-day tests of our faith: how do we cope with the little things? Remember Jesus told us that if we can’t be faithful in the little things, we won’t be faithful in the big things.

And in this passage we see something else about Jesus: even though he had come into the world to save the world, he was always ready to give himself completely to any individual who was in his path. It’s easier, sometimes, to talk about loving mankind than it is to love some particularly unattractive person whom God puts in our path. There are those who can wax eloquent about the human race, and yet still ignore the individual stranger in need. Here’s another test of the reality of our faith. Do we give ourselves to individual people in their need, or do we just keep things more “general” in what we say?