Sunday, February 5, 2012

In Good Time

   Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

So you’ve gone off to college and fallen in love
with a girl who just happens to be from the next town.
You come home for winter break and tell your family all about her—
certain she’s the woman you’re going to marry…
…even though you’re not really even going out yet.

Along with some other friends from school,
you invite her over to your family’s house.
And that’s when it happens:
Your kid brother—wearing one of those grins—
comes bounding in and asks,
“So is this the girl you’re gonna marry?”
And as you drag him down the hallway to lock him in his room
(all the while contemplating doing something much, much worse),
he just keeps saying,
“Why?  I was only telling the truth!”  (cf. R. Veras)

He did tell the truth.
But what your little brother didn’t do
is allow you the time necessary to develop the relationship
on which your heart was set.

Jesus drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Saint Mark’s gospel is full of lines like these:
Jesus telling talkative evil spirits,
the numerous people he’s just cured,
and even his own apostles
to keep a lid on what they know (or think they know)
about his true identity.
It’s not that Jesus fears groupies and paparazzi;
on the contrary, he seems surprisingly at ease
even with the whole town gathered at the door.
But what’s at stake here is allowing for a loving relationship
to mature as it should—all in good time.

Imagine if Jesus had arrived on the scene
boldly introducing himself by saying,
“Hi!  I’m the Son of God, and I’ve come to save you!”  (cf. R. Veras)
That probably wouldn’t have been a winning strategy.
Ever understanding of our human nature,
Jesus puts actions before words.
He speaks to the crowds with a healing touch
before beginning to preach to them.
Jesus knows they have some preconceived notions
about what kind of Savior God would send them.
(You can be quite sure they weren’t expecting a Messiah
who’d claim victory by dying on a cross!)
So Jesus is careful not to get the cart before the horse.
People will have to trust him,
to know for sure that he loves them,
before they’re willing to follow
and start living the new life he’s come to teach.

If that’s the pattern of how Jesus operated
in seaside Capernaum and throughout the towns of Galilee,
then why should we expect it to be any different today?

Jesus touches our lives in different ways at different times.
Sometimes his presence is strikingly obvious;
other times, it seems more like he’s absent.
Sometimes, we can practically feel his hand,
helping us up as he did Peter’s mother-in-law;
other times, we’re ready to commiserate with Job:
“Isn’t life on this earth a drudgery?”

It could seem that Jesus is simply playing hard to get.

And yet,
if we’re only prepared to recognize the Lord and his action
under one set of circumstances—
if we’re only ready for him to save us on our own terms—
then haven’t we, like a mouthy kid brother,
risked killing a potentially long and beautiful relationship
before it even has a chance to get off the ground?

As with any two people who fall in love,
the relationship Jesus longs to have
with each one of us, his disciples,
takes time—sweet time—to develop.
We often want to race to the finish—
to jump ahead to “happily ever after.”
(Just consider how drastically dating and courtship
have changed in recent years—and the effect on society—
and you can see what I mean!)
But growing in trust, growing in love,
is something which must be cultivated and best grows only slowly.
And no one understands that process better
than the One who invented it
while setting up the rest of the universe.
As Saint Paul would later try to imitate,
in Jesus the almighty God became weak
to win over us who are beset by so many weaknesses;
he’d probably have scared us right off if he’d come on too strong.

Yes, the truth is that Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God,
has set his heart on you,
and wants to take you to live with him forever.
Among other things,
he keeps inviting you here,
to the family house, to the family table,
to get to know one another better.
Allow the Lord to always be the one
who guides the course of this deepening relationship.
Trust him, and it will mature as it should—
all in good time.

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