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Tenth Sunday in ordinary time: Escape from God

Today’s readings: Genesis 3, 9-15; 2 Corinthians 4, 13 - 5, 1; Mark 3, 20-35.

It is fascinating how, despite being so dated, the Scriptures, particularly texts like today’s, can speak so loudly and clearly to our condition in times so distant from when they were written. This contemporaneity of the Scriptures strongly mediates to us today a message that runs deep through our modern consciousness and touches that basic needs and concerns that we experience daily.

In the second reading from Corinthians, St Paul highlights a basic truth about ourselves, namely, that our DNA includes “the outer man of ours falling into decay” and “the inner man renewed day by day”. Traditionally and from a faith standpoint this daily struggle is called ‘spiritual combat’. We all make choices in life and, whether we are believers or not, we all experience the test of our freedom in the face of ever-present and tempting evil.

Evil’s existence in the history of humanity has always been a major concern for philosophers and theologians alike; as has the extent to which we are free in the face of evil. In our religion, evil became associated with Satan and it was natural to point towards this evil spirit whose prime job is to be the tempter. Many today refuse to acknowledge Satan’s existence because it may sound too mythological for the secular culture we live in. Yet, Satan or no Satan, our struggle with good and evil, and the extent to which we are free remain issues we need to come to terms with.

In today’s first reading from Genesis, we can easily associate ourselves with Adam and Eve in their struggle to escape from God. God Himself searches for them and the questions posed then are still pertinent for us today: Where are we? What are we hiding from? From what or from whom are we trying to escape? Why are we afraid of our nakedness? The moment Adam acknowledged his nakedness, he discovered himself ‘alone’, disconnected, and was afraid.

Paul Tillich, one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century, in one of his sermons said: “The modern way to flee from God is to rush ahead and ahead, as quickly as the beams before sunrise, to conquer more and more space in every direction, in every humanly possible way, to be always active, to be always planning, and to be always preparing.” From the Genesis reading many a time we imagine God chasing Adam and Eve out of the garden where they belonged. But as Tillich seems to hint, it was actually they who were chasing God out of their life.

This brings us to the text of Mark’s gospel where Jesus returns to his hometown with his disciples only to find he is no longer welcome there. In his hometown, Jesus was disowned by his relatives who “were convinced he was out of his mind”, and discredited by his political opponents and the scribes who accused him of being demonic.

It is against this background that we can understand the parable Jesus introduces here about the strong man. Significantly, St Mark says: “No one can make his way into a strong man’s house and burgle his property unless he has tied up the strong man first.” The “strong man” here can stand for the ‘inner man’, the true self in us that Jesus, particularly in Mark’s gospel, is constantly striving to liberate so that we may experience the joy of truly being who we are.

When the strong man in us is bound and chained to all that enslaves us in life, we become weak in spirit; we actually lose our true freedom, and lose sight of what really makes us whole and what we are called to be. Binding the strong man in us means letting ourselves become chained to the “outer man” and to whatever distorts our true being. It is the perennial temptation to flee from God under the illusion that far from the constraints of religion we can experience full liberty.

Mark’s parable makes it clear that when the strong man in us – the source of our inner force – is subjected to our whims, we lose the ability to protect and safeguard in us what is most valuable in our humanness. Losing this inner strength results in us drifting away from who we are and from where we belong, experiencing the fear of our aloneness.

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