Genesis 6:5-8; 7:1-5, 10
Psalm 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10
Today’s gospel reading is from a decisive place in the structure of St. Mark’s gospel. It is from the middle of the gospel. What precedes it is the ministry of Jesus in Galilee; there he gathered disciples around him, preached the Kingdom of God and healed those in pain. And for the most part he was heard and accepted by all, the crowds as well as the disciples. His ministry and its acceptance seemed clearly on the ascendancy.
However, as we know so well, that acceptance of Jesus was not to last. When they reached Jerusalem the tide turned and Jesus was met with not only a lack of understanding by all but a complete reversal of fortune. The last words of our reading today make it clear that not only the crowds but even the disciples he called failed to understand him and what he was about: “He said to them, ‘do you still not understand?’” Jesus would not be the kind of Messiah that the crowds and the disciples expected; he would not be a conquering hero or a king (as the people expected), but a Messiah who was to be mocked, humiliated, beaten, and finally cruelly murdered for them.
Jesus warns the disciples “watch out to guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” But they misunderstood these words to mean they had forgotten to bring bread (leaven) with them as they had when Jesus miraculously multiplied the food for the crowd in the desert. But here Jesus was challenging them at an even deeper level; he was calling them not to be like the Pharisees who misunderstood him. The truth is that it is already too late – the disciples really do not understand the man they had been called to follow.
Where is the good news in that for them or for us? Jesus is clearly not happy with how obtuse his close friends are and he goes after them with seven very abrupt and searing questions that had to have gotten their attention even if they didn’t know how to respond.
For us there is a hidden consolation in acknowledging that even his closest companions did not hear his message very clearly so as to understand what he was ultimately about. We can be deceived into thinking that the friends of Jesus have the advantage in seeing him, in hearing his words, and in personally watching him as he dealt with them with the crowds and with the situations they encountered together.
But despite that closeness to Jesus they were fallible human beings just like us who struggle in faith, hope and love so as to grow in our understanding of and, more importantly, in our intimate relationship and union with Christ. We see how we misunderstand his message and are slow to respond with open hearts to the situations and to the people around us. In this we are not that different from the close friends of Jesus who walked with him and grew in their relationship with him. Can we open ourselves to the vastness of God’s love for us in Jesus? The disciples show us the way here. Ultimately they gained strength not just to walk the roads of Palestine with Jesus but to walk through the crushing defeat of his crucifixion and to be buoyed up by his resurrection.
Help us, good Jesus, to understand who and what you are for us and to rejoice with you who conquered even death for us. Be with us as we walk with you in the situations and events of our lives. Help us to understand not just with our minds but with our hearts: that you are indeed the Lord of our lives. What a source of joy that is!
By Tom Shanahan