18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I wish, dearly wish, that as the letter to the Romans says, nothing could separate us from the love of Christ. It is difficult, if I am honest, to express what I mean by my own love for Christ, but how I experience his love is something else, elusive, there, but intangible. Yet deep in me, I know that I must have met Him along my way because I search for his love again, also catch the echoes of it in my own life and loves for so many things, and I long to meet Him face to face, a friend like no other, glimpsed in all my earthly friendships, a brother or sister, mother or father, seen in my own experience of family life, a shepherd whose compassion for all life I find in my own love for animals and nature.
These are the glimpses, but there is something more, like the crowd he fed with loaves and fishes, I know that I too have been fed, heard and been touched by God and I search for that encounter, just as a well known antiphon for psalm 42 puts it so well: "My soul is thirsting for the Lord; When shall I see God face to face?" How can we help people find this Christ?
Isn't there a clue to be found in the story of the feeding of more than 5,000 people, which we hear today in Mark 14? I just let the story speak to me without inserting into it any doctrine or theological reflection, I read it, and then imagined it, both from the point of view of being a disciple and then one of the women or children on the edge of the largely male crowd. What I began to understand is that before any teaching seems to have taken place, Jesus recognised the hunger in those people, not only for his words, something that entranced and called them to gather, but also fed them with hope, as well as in other ways, their yearning for healing, to be forgiven, restored to a better way of life, or simply having their basic hunger assuaged, After all that has been dealt with it is then and only then that Jesus can speak and teach.
Isn't this what we too seek if we are really honest, a basic relationship with God, found through Christ? The spiritual language of the Church, the scriptural explanations about Jesus, the doctrinal descriptions about God can only go so far, for they are nothing compared the real encounter we really want. The problem is well meaning people of faith rush in with their experiences, their thoughts, even theories and it distracts, it does not take us to that love we need. But in this passage from Mark, we see just how we can begin to approach God, simply by letting the Living One approach us and feed us, enter into our lives through the basic things that matter, sickness, healing, our grief at sin and loss, the fragility of life, such as we seen now in Covid. God comes when we are hungry for healing, feeding, consoling. when we let go of all preconceptions and become 'real people' not those who clothe themselves in platitudes and piety. Isn't this precisely what Isaiah is calling us to do? I hear his voice as of a neighbour next door calling to me:
'All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, receive grain and eat;
Come, without paying and without cost,
drink wine and milk!' (Is 55:1)
The invitation is to meet God through real events, real encounters, it is those like Isaiah, who have really encountered God, these that have a power in their voice to entrance us, call us like Jesus to follow and find, isn't this the real one thing needful? Faith should be an adventure of love, not a shopping list of pious activities to tick off, or intellectual disputes. The real adventure is simply to become rooted in God. We have a vocation to love God, neighbour and self,that is the route as well as how we become rooted.
As Simone Weil wrote;"To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul", but that is what Christ recognises in us and lovingly gives us.
"It's a strange thing to discover and to believe that you are loved when you know that there is nothing in you for anybody but a parent or a God to love."
Graham Greene, The End of the Affair
"In me there is darkness,
But with You there is light;
I am lonely, but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help;
I am restless, but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways,
But You know the way for me."
"Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man's troubles;
You abide with me
When all men fail me;
You remember and seek me;
It is Your will that I should know You
And turn to You.
Lord, I hear Your call and follow;
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
Fr Robin is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. You can follow him on Twitter: @RobinGibbons2
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