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When have you been surprised by God? Or are you too afraid?

COUPLE IN RAIN
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If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great.

Jesus came home with his disciples.
Again the crowd gathered,
making it impossible for them even to eat.
When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him,
for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said,
“He is possessed by Beelzebul,”
and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.”

—Mark 3:20-22

Because of the distance of time and space, we are able to read the gospels from a sort of ivory-tower perspective. Not only do we know the stories presented in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we have the benefit of nearly 2,000 years of theological and philosophical reflection on the truths they present. This long view is a luxury that our spiritual ancestors simply didn’t have. As they handed down the stories of the wonders and signs performed by Jesus, they were confronted with the very real question of who Jesus was and what was the source of his power.

Each of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) includes some variation on the story that we hear in this Sunday’s Gospel (cf. Matthew 12:24-32 and Luke 11:15-22). This hints at the fact that, even decades after the Ascension, believers and non-believers alike were still trying to understand who and what Jesus was. One of the challenges presented to us by this story is to see that the doubts of the scribes and even Jesus’ own family was not an unwillingness or failure to believe. It was, rather, an expression of their struggles to try to make Jesus fit into their faith system and way of understanding the world.

Anyone who was paying attention to what Jesus was doing would have recognized that he wasn’t just a magician performing tricks for amusement or distraction. Instead, they would have seen how Jesus was changing lives, raising up those who were weighed down by illness, fear, and isolation, as he offered healing and wholeness. But in the mindset of the times, there was also a belief in sorcery and that even good actions could be the work of malevolent spirits, seeking to draw innocent people into the realms of darkness. The critical mistake of the scribes was their confusion of God’s liberating power at work in Jesus with demonic forces that sought to separate people from God and the community.

As we reflect on this gospel, particularly in light of our First Reading, we recognize the fear that is at work in this story. Fear of God’s reaction in the moments after the Fall is what prompted Adam and Eve to hide themselves from God. It was fear of the unknown—remember, Jesus didn’t fit into their categories and ways of understanding God—that prompted the scribes to condemn Jesus as being part of Beelzebul’s cohort and Jesus’ relatives to say he was insane!

As we think about the role fear plays in this passage, this Sunday’s Gospel also invites us to reflect on the virtue of discernment as we consider how the Spirit of Jesus was and continues to be at work in the world. As Pope Francis has pointed out more than once during his pontificate, our God is a God of surprises and God’s grace is at work even in the places and people we might not expect. Rather than dismissing the people, experiences, or ideas that might not fit comfortably into our carefully constructed systems, we might consider how God may be acting in surprising ways in the moments and encounters of our daily lives. As Pope Francis has reflected, “The Spirit is a gift of God, of this God, our Father, who always surprises us: the God of surprises … because he is a living God, a God who abides in us, a God who moves our heart, a God who is in the Church and walks with us; and he always surprises us on the path.”

As we continue to hear from Mark’s Gospel in the coming weeks of Ordinary Time, this question of who Jesus was and who he is for us will remain an important theme. Mark wants us to recognize Jesus as God’s great messenger who gathers together those who are to be saved. Part of this, especially for us today, is an invitation for us to discern how God is speaking to us, reaching out to us, and inviting us to join ourselves to Jesus, knowing, as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, that, “we too believe and therefore we speak, / knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus / will raise us also with Jesus / and place us with you in his presence” (2 Corinthians 13b-14).

When have you been surprised by God?

How do the doubts and questions of the scribes and Jesus’ family members challenge you to think about your own spiritual doubts and fears?

What perspectives and ideologies do you hold onto that could be preventing you from recognizing the power of God in unexpected experiences, people, and places?

Words of Wisdom: “Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? . . . No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great.”—Pope Benedict XVI

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