Made for TV

Numbers 11: 25-29; James 5: 1-6; Mark 9: 38-48

What a crazy week.  Just when you think things can’t get any crazier we find a new way as we continue this reality TV program that we’re all a part of.  The week started with the conviction of Bill Cosby.  I can’t imagine being in my 80s and now having to spend the rest of my life in prison, and for what.  Of course, as the week continued we found ourselves glued to the television again for the Supreme Court hearings.  I’m not convinced, though, just how much hearing and listening actually went on in that room.  I’m not sure you can say you’re open to hearing the other when your mind is made up and judgment has already been cast.  There was one thing that struck me, though, from the press conference following the conviction of Cosby that I believe transcends much of reality TV.  I believe it was the prosecutor who simply said, “This was a man who hid behind his character.”

All of know that character.  He was America’s dad.  He was funny and loving.  If you didn’t have the best family life he somehow showed the ideal parent and family through his character.  Yet, now we see how hard it is for us to reconcile the character from the real deal and the trauma that he was inflicting upon women.  All too often we prefer the character to the real deal because of what it so often offers us in return.  If you’ve listened to the reading from James the past few weeks, especially today, he has laid it on thick.  These characters become a source of two things for James, power and wealth.  The two most ardent of idols, jealous of all the rest and have a way of taking hold of our lives, and more often than not at the expense of those we have deemed less than ourselves, the powerless.  When they team up, watch out.  James warns that they will lead to the impending doom of humanity when the real God is abandoned and these idols take center stage.

Center stage is where they continue to take and the characters begin to believe that they are untouchable.  It certainly played itself out with Cosby but we were also witnesses to it in these hearings, again, where very little listening and hearing takes place because of power and wealth.  Once we begin to believe that our power is being stripped of us we start to lash out and react in order to hold on more tightly.  I’m not sure what kind of example we leave for future generations when we find elders lashing out and screaming at one another, supposed to be adults yet looking more like characters, clinging to a reality that no longer exists.  If that’s what it means to be a man, well, then I’m embarrassed to be a man.  If you think any of this is about justice, well, we’re sadly mistaken.  Power and wealth, as part of the American way are symbolic of strength and success.  But it’s not the gospel.  It’s not the good news.  It simply makes for good reality TV where division and conflict rule, separating ourselves from one another, making judgement, and no longer seeing the humanity of the other person.  There’s no room for faith nor for God because these gods consume the space.

They are hard readings.  It is, though, the reality of human nature to desire power and to think we can control and contain that power.  It’s certainly what Jesus and Moses both contend with in the first reading and Gospel.  In both situations the Spirit is given and yet, no sooner they witness people outside their “trip” and “group”, they immediately demand it to stop.  They hold the truth.  They have the power.  They believe they control God.  No sooner you believe that, there is no room for God, for Mystery.  It becomes about idols.  Last week the disciples argued about who’s the greatest and today it continues about power and holding onto that power.  It becomes about their place of prestige.  Somehow we believe that if we play the role and live into that character, dress the part, that’s all that matters.  All we do is sell ourselves short and sell our souls for something other than God.  We sell ourselves for power and wealth because we’re convinced and told to believe in the gospel of the Western World that life is about power, success, and wealth.  If we have done all three, we’ve done it well. 

Well, if you believe that, James has a warning for you.  He tells us this morning that that’s what eventually does in the righteous one on the Cross.  It will fatten your heart.  It will lead to condemnation.  It will lead to division and often unnecessary conflict.  Heck, for that matter, it leads to death threats to this day.  That’s what we become.  It shows just how much we have separated ourselves from the other and are being held hostage by our tribes, our camps, whether liberal or conservative or whatever you call yourself.  It’s amazing how we can believe that our group holds the total truth and the other is complete evil.  How have we gotten here?  Well, money and power certainly play a part in this reality TV program.

Yet, true power is shown, over and over, to the disciples and throughout the gospel through the one who is powerless.  The great power arises when the righteous one is nailed to the Cross.  But that doesn’t make for great TV.  It makes us turn our heads in shame.  We don’t want to admit that that’s what we continue to do by clinging to our idols.  More often than not the prophetic voice never rises from within the insiders of a group or tribe.  Each one is too blind to see itself for who it is and its own shortcomings, whether politics or religion.  There needs to be a restoring of humanity, the real humanity, not some character.  We need the space in order to truly hear and listen to the other while being open to what is said, dialoging with one another and not through a screen.  We must first remember that we are brothers and sisters.  We must first remember that we are sons and daughters of God, not of power and wealth.  That may all work well for reality TV, but not so much for the real reality, our lives, which take the hits and the brunt of the pain that it’s causing.  We pray for the grace to have that space in our own hearts and souls to listen and to see the other for who they really are and not some character to be destroyed on a screen.  It’s so easy to hide behind all of these characters, for all of us, but it will never lead to the fullness of life we desire.  It will never bridge the gaps and gaping holes that exist in our politics, Church, and beyond.  It is an acceptance of our own power in our powerlessness where we will find the strength to “cut off” the characters that cause us to sin and inspire the idols of our lives, and rather be who we really are.  It is only there that we see each other as ourselves.

Inside Out

Wisdom 2: 12, 17-20; James 3: 16–4: 3; Mark 9: 30-37

One of the themes of Mark’s Gospel is that of “movement”.  The disciples and Jesus are always on the go as the gospel proceeds, at least until the passion when it will come to a screeching halt.  Mark, though, would not be the one to read if you want a geography lesson on this part of the world because they’re all over the place!  But there’s another more profound movement that takes place in Mark’s Gospel and we hear it today, “once they were inside the house”.  There’s a movement from outside to inside with this Gospel and when we hear that they were inside the house our ears should perk up because it usually indicates something important is about to be taught.  It’s not just about being inside the house.  It’s a symbolic move that shifts them to their own interior life, within their hearts, that this message needs to penetrate.  It’s here where what really needs to happen in moving to a changed heart for the disciples and us and where their own interior struggle is revealed.

The crazy thing of the story is that Jesus isn’t even dead yet and they’re already fighting about who’s the greatest, who’s the most important, who has the power, and all the rest.  You could just imagine them bickering about all of it as if they were waiting for that moment.  Yet, there’s Jesus just going along with them until they enter the recesses of their own hearts where the shallowness of the argument begins to reveal itself.  He goes to the extent of bring a child into the center to teach them what this life as a disciple is all about because the child would have no place in society and certainly no standing.  Such as it is with the disciples.  No bickering of greatest and power and who’s the best but rather of service and humility.  When we remain on that level of conflict there is a lack of humility and conflict continues.

It’s what James tells us in today’s second reading.  He goes onto say that we shouldn’t even have to ask ourselves why war, conflict, division, and this clamoring for power exists because even to this day we refuse to do our interior work, to get our own house in order.  All these writers would remind us even to this day that life is about being lived from the inside out; that if we get our own house in order, our own interior life, then there is less need for jealousy and selfish ambition as he tells us today.  As a matter of fact, he’d go onto say that if we have the need to boast about how wise we are, how great we are, how smart we are, and all the rest then it does quite the opposite.  It goes onto show just how empty we can be in our own interior life and how empty the house really is.  Yet, it’s our culture in the Church and certainly in our nation, that we believe that all the externals are in place, we dress the part and play the part, then all is fine, despite the fact that more often than not we’re living a lie.  The more we neglect our own house, our own interior, the more we tend to act upon our jealousies and selfish ambitions.  Quite frankly, it’s easier to live the blame game and blame everyone else for our problems.  Yet, James reminds us they are still there, lurking below the surface in our own homes, our own interior lives.

Solomon, the writer of Wisdom would tell us the same.  He speaks of that wickedness that tends to dominate our interior when we neglect it.  He portrays for us in many ways the image of the true Israelite.  Yet, the wicked ones, who claim power and wisdom, are doing everything to undo him and to expose him as a fraud, not realizing that they are the frauds in it all.  They don’t quite know what to do with themselves because once Solomon does his own work and gets his own house in order, they no longer have control or power over him.  It’s what pushes them to try to undo him and prove him as a fraud.  Yet, Solomon has nothing to prove.  Solomon recognizes his own wickedness and has learned to reconcile it within himself.  War, conflict, division, and all the rest continues to plague us on all levels because we refuse to get our own house in order.  It’s easier to blame and to allow our own “wickedness” to come out towards others, all along emptying of us of the very fullness of life that we desire within our own interior life.  We begin to separate ourselves from our own humanity and cast our sin upon the other.

We need to get our own house in order.  The invitation of Jesus this evening is the invitation to each of us, to come inside the house.  Sure, we often fear that place within ourselves, but it’s the only path towards healing and reconciliation and a change of heart.  The path of discipleship is not only of service but of humility and that humility is revealed in the interior wisdom when we begin the oft painful process of getting our house in order.

We pray for the grace this day to enter the house over and over again, to our own interior lives and confront our own wickedness that torments us as it did the ideal Israelite and will certainly torment the disciples as they face Jerusalem.  The appearance of humility and wisdom is just not enough.  It continues to reveal how bankrupt our culture can become and that culture in turn influences our politics and our Church.  We become what we hate and settle for lies over the stream of wisdom that flows within the house, our very hearts.  We all desire that fullness of life but it will never come by focusing solely on the exterior world of power, success, wealth, and all the rest.  They will only leave us more anxious and empty.  The fullness of life we desire lies within, when we can live our lives from the inside out.

Suffering Silence

Isaiah 50: 5-9; Mark 8: 27-35

If you follow Church politics, and it’s really hard not to at the moment, then you know there’s been this debate about Pope Francis being silent on the accusations brought against him, and many others for that matter, except the guy making the accusations.  Now I’m not here to judge whether it’s right or wrong.  I don’t know it all nor all the facts so it’s hard to make such a judgment in the first place.  However, in the age we live we demand answers and justice.  We somehow think we deserve to know it all.  We want to react and overreact to everything without ever taking the time to step back and allow things to sink into the silence.

All that said, it’s important to keep in mind that both have been silent on it, both Pope Francis and the former diplomat who made the accusations.  There is, though, a difference in their silence.  The former diplomat is in hiding, not unlike the disciples on that first Easter when they were locked in the upper room out of fear.  Quite frankly, it’s easy to throw a lot of dirt and then run, but that is a silence rooted in fear.  It leads to secrecy and shame, a silence we’re all too familiar with in our own lives and from the Church for that matter.

There is, though, a silence that accompanies suffering.  It’s a silence we’re often less familiar with because we do everything in our power to avoid it.  It’s a silence that creates space for uncomfortableness, rather than fear and anxiety.  It’s a silence that moves us to deeper places in our own hearts, to a place of freedom, a place where the truth can be revealed.  It’s a silence that requires patience, quite frankly, to simply be in our suffering rather than reacting demanding truth, because, quite frankly, for us, it’s a truth that will never satisfy our own restlessness, other than maybe a few days or so, it’s thinking as humans does rather than as God, as Jesus points out today.

It’s this type of silence that Mark writes about throughout his gospel including what we hear today where he warns them not to tell anyone.  However, it doesn’t take long for Peter, and the others, to start doing the inevitable.  With each passing story there is a small bit of information and fact that is revealed, just as it is today, and they immediately think they know it all.  They think they have all the truth and will begin to abuse it.  They know what they know but they don’t know why and certainly don’t know what they don’t know.  The rest of Mark’s gospel will begin to reveal that mystery until it’s ultimate climax in the paradox of the Cross, the crossing of life and death that will reveal the deeper truth that they desire.  So when Jesus warns Peter today about shooting off his mouth, Mark tells us he looks at all of them to do it, warning the crew about their inevitable sin of not being able to sit with what is revealed and allow the deeper truth to continue to be revealed.  The next scene is the transfiguration in Mark’s Gospel and following that they will begin to argue about who’s the greatest, who’s has higher stature in the group, and so on, unable to allow the pieces of the puzzle to be revealed, step by step, and learning to live into that mystery, into that silence.  It’s painful, and like us, they want nothing to do with any of it.  Yet, it’s the only way for truth to be revealed, a truth that goes beyond facts and knowledge.  That forces us to stay on the surface and never delve into the deeper problems of a broken humanity.

It is also Isaiah’s struggle in the first reading today.  This is a reading we normally hear on Palm Sunday so it accompanies the passion and death of Jesus.  He reveals elements of the suffering servant.  He too, learns to sit in the silence and allow the deeper truth to be revealed in and through him.  Quite honestly, people have had enough with Isaiah at this point.  They’re tired of hearing what he has to say.  Not unlike us, they’re bombarded with it all.  They’re quick to judge, demand stuff, feel abandoned, and getting swallowed up in their own suffering.  Isaiah, though, today tells them that God has given him an ear to hear.  Sure, there is that physical ear he has like the rest of us, but that’s not what he speaks of here.  He speaks of the eyes and ears of his heart.  Our physical ears and eyes are too quick to judge.  They want proof.  They want answers.  They demand justice.  All Isaiah can do, though, is sit with it.  He’s aware they don’t want to hear it.  He learns to sit with the suffering and allow that silence to deepen they mystery and allow that truth to be revealed.

In an age when we are bombarded with noise, silence becomes all the more necessary.  We have politicians that are constantly throwing stuff at us and more often than not out of fear.  They try to manipulate and deceive with perceived facts and truths and all the rest and more often than not because we can’t sit in our own suffering.  We want to share it with the world rather than learning to sit in silence with it.  It’s the only way to transformation and the only way to move to the deeper places in our own hearts in order to experience the real truth.  We can demand and expect all we want, as human beings always do, but only leads to greater dissatisfaction and it’s never enough.  We end up acting upon our fear, our anxiety, our own uncomfortableness in life rather than allowing truth to be revealed.  It is only in the paradox of the cross where the deeper truth is revealed, not in facts or figures, but in Christ crucified.  It’s the piece of knowledge that Peter and the others didn’t want to hear and we often don’t want to hear either.  It really is easier to judge, invoke fear, accuse, demand, react and overreact, but it’s a whole other thing when we can simply sit in the uncomfortableness of the suffering that comes with the silence Jesus demands, for, in playing the long game, it is the only way in which the real truth will rise up and be revealed.

However…

Deut 4: 1-2, 6-8; James 1: 17-18, 21-22, 27; Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

If you want a snapshot of one of the underlying currents shaping up not only in the Church but also in our political system, look no further than our readings this morning.  Whether we care to admit it or not, purity codes and rules are ingrained in all of us but when they’re heightened to the institutional level, it only magnifies the reality.  We certainly see it in our two political parties where it’s all about being cleansed of anyone that thinks, believes, lives, or anything else differently than what is prescribed, and both are at fault for this.  It leads to us deeming the other as evil.  But the same is true in the Church.  There are battle lines drawn that go much deeper than abuse and now it’s all playing out on the world stage.  Yet, we never heed the warning that is presented to us through that very same Scripture.

Moses lays it out for Israel today in our first reading.  There is a place for purity codes, rules, laws, ritual, however you want to describe it.  For Israel it gave them a way to worship this God that has blessed them and continues to provide for them.  Unfortunately our reading ends there today.  It ends with the advantages to their fidelity to this God that always remains faithful to them.  The next word, though, if the reading were to continue is “however…”.  As much as Moses saw the value it in, it doesn’t come without warning.  The reading goes on to warn them of creating idols of the codes, rules, rituals, that it becomes more about that than it does about God.  It’s ingrained in us that way because we like to hold onto things, feel certain, and to know and all of this does it for us.  However, the more we hold onto these human traditions, as Jesus says, the more burdensome they become and end up becoming an obstacle for moving forward.  Its Moses’ warning to them and yet they don’t learn from their own history.  They’d rather toss out history.

The result is that when we get to the time of Jesus centuries later, it becomes like our government and Church, bloated by what we’d call bureaucracy.  Despite the warning from Moses about adding onto these traditions and the burden it would place on often the most disadvantaged, they did it anyway, which is where Jesus enters today.  He’s not there to chastise the codes, the rituals, or anything else, but rather that they had done exactly what Moses warned them of.  They made the laws, codes, rituals, into their own gods and then it misses the point.  All they become are idols that allow them to cling and hold onto, creating a burden on others.  The poor and marginalized often did not have the means to uphold these traditions and so of course they’d be attacked by the ruling class.  Yet, as we’ve seen in these weeks, they too become exposed in their own hypocrisy as Jesus points out today.  They miss the point.  It becomes about something other than God and the change of heart and simply about all the externals.  It’s about making ourselves look good before God with the hope of his love and to pour his grace on thee.  Heck, some will go on and use Jesus against it all when that wasn’t his point in the first place.  Jesus tries to lead them to live their lives from the inside out.  The rituals and codes are to be lived inside out, rooted in love.  When that become absent, well, we end up with what we have in our political system and our Church.

James, though, may say it the best.  He tells us today that religion is most pure when it’s about caring for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  For James it’s about both, as it was for Jesus.  For James, and for Jesus for that matter, it’s about a change of heart, a conversion of heart.  If that’s missing from the equation, well, none of this really matters in the end anyway.  It becomes more about us.  More about holding on.  More about the gods we create for ourselves.  It becomes about certainty and knowing which only creates an unnecessary burden because we can’t live that way, none of us.  Those that do and think they can, hypocrites as Jesus says today.  It’s not about eliminating others, but rather finding a way to reconcile and bring the two halves together to create one, to move forward rather than this continuous running into a brick wall.

We have a real problem on our hands and again, we’d be a lot better off if we’d learn from our history, both as a country and as a Church.  Yet, when all of this is so deeply ingrained, it only proves all the more that we’re missing the point.  It’s about our ideologies.  It’s about our team.  Heck, it’s about winning and when it’s about that we all lose.  All of us.  And maybe we need to.  It seemed to be the only way Israel learned despite the warning.  It seemed to be the only way the early communities learned despite the warning.  We too have been warned.  There is nothing wrong with purity codes, rules, laws, rituals.  It is but one half of the equation.  It’s the substance that we seek and will nourish.  It’s the substance that will change our hearts and open us up to greater depths of love.  It is only allowing ourselves to fall into mystery that will do it for us, into the great unknown, despite our desire to cling to what we see and know and think we can be certain of in life.  It’s our thinking more than anything and that’s all it is.  As Moses reminds, however, there’s something more important.