Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Healing, Teaching, and Holiness

Every so often, we see in the news stories of parents or bosses who use cameras hidden in teddy bears or coffee pots to capture abusive nannies or lazy employees. Of course, we should make every effort to protect our children and bosses are responsible for the future of their companies. What is interesting, however, is that the 30-second clip of abuse that goes viral on YouTube or that makes the news is usually only a small bit, a fragment, of a lot of tape. Hours and hours and hours may have gone by before anything out-of-the-ordinary was captured.

I suspect if we installed video cameras throughout our homes and workplaces, cameras that recorded each and every move, we'd learn a great deal. We'd learn which of our children doesn't unload the dishwasher, doesn't wash hands after using the toilet, does drink milk straight from the jug. If we watched the replay of several weeks, we might come to realize that we have a pattern for dressing, a distinct way of playing with one's hair or walking, that we spend an awful lot of time "working" on Facebook.

If we had several weeks, or even months, of video to review, I think we'd be struck most of all with how typical our routines are. With some exceptions, the skeletal structures of our days tend to be pretty much the same day in, day out.

As we enter liturgical Ordinary Time, the Evangelist Mark gives us early in his Gospel an image of Jesus' routine. The readings for today and tomorrow, covering Mark 1:21-39, could be called "A Day in the Life of Jesus." If we had a camera set up to record this day, what would it pick up?

Two actions seem to dominate Jesus' day: Healing and Teaching. When we read both passages, we take note immediately of the healing miracles: Jesus begins his day in the synagogue where he cures a man with a demon, goes to his friend's house where he heals an ailing woman, and then at sundown people begin to carry their sick loved ones to him.

Yet what brings Jesus to the synagogue is not a desire to be a fancy miracle worker but, rather, to be a teacher. His teaching astonished listeners and his words alone were enough to compel demons to leave the possessed. Indeed, Jesus' role as teacher keeps him from getting pinned down: he knows his calling to be that of proclaiming the message throughout neighboring villages.

It is easy to focus on one or other aspect of the story, but if we look at the whole "video," I think we see that Jesus' whole day was given over to the service of the Kingdom. He did what he preached, and what he preached was God's Reign coming into the world to make all things new. He wasn't trying to pitch a new plank in a political agenda. Instead, he was throwing out all the old agendas and replacing it with one directly from the Creator. From dawn to dusk, Jesus worked tirelessly for one aim: to proclaim, by word and deed, the Kingdom of God.

If we were to watch a video of our lives, whether from one day or many, would we detect a similar coherence? Would we be able to say, "Ah, Yes! See how everything rotates around one common conviction!" or, if you're like me, would you lament, "Ah, No! I seem to be busy about many things, confused and scattered!" Would the video of our lives, watched in playback, be something we are proud of or something we would regret for lacking any internal coherence, any structure or story?

Jesus' invitation to discipleship always asks us to "follow along." He will give the notes for us to play and help us to play them, he will give us the pattern and help us to follow it. Jesus never tells someone to go out and live a different life. He loves people and because of this love they live their lives differently. He shares with them the story of his own life, a video clip we glimpse in these readings, and encourages us to take his story for our own and to anchor our lives in God's Kingdom.

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