07 February 2011

Icon of the Goodness of Creation

5th Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula, LA

What do we hear when we hear read together the opening verses of the Bible—“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth. . .” and Mark's account of Jesus healing the sick on the shores of a sea near Gennesaret? On first hearing the two read together we might think that the lectionary cycle had been spun like a roulette wheel and these two very different readings just happened to land on this day's Mass schedule. How else could the Bible's best known chapter end up paired with a few innocuous verses from the smallest gospel? While pondering this mystery, it would help us to remember an ancient Catholic principle of biblical interpretation: the New Testament fulfills the Old; each of the Bible's testaments to God's covenants explains the other. When Jesus heals the sick in the land of Gennesaret, he heals his Father's creatures, returning them to their originating goodness. As many as touched the tassel of Jesus' cloak were healed, and he saw that it was good. God did not create us to suffer nor did he create us to die. And when we return to Him through Christ, we are healed and the goodness from which we were created is restored to us.

There's another connection between the creation story of Genesis and Mark's account of Jesus healing the sick in Gennesaret. The Jewish historian, Josephus, describes the land of Gennesaret as "wonderful in fertility as well as in beauty." Ancient readers and hearers of Mark's gospel story would immediately associate Gennesaret with images of the Garden of Eden, the original paradise of creation. Josephus writes, “[Gennesaret's] soil is so fruitful that all sorts of trees can grow upon it . . . for the air is so well tempered that it agrees with all sorts. Thus the palm-tree, which requires a warm atmosphere, flourishes equally well with the walnut, which thrives best in a cold climate. . .” This is exactly the sort of fertile balance that we would expect from a land undefiled by sin, from a place unmarked by the imbalances of sickness and death. Knowing that Gennesaret in Jesus' time was known to be a paradise of fertility and fruitfulness, we can easily imagine that the goodness Jesus restores in healing the sick is the original goodness of his Father's creating love. 

If Adam, the first man, lost God's original goodness by an act of disobedience, then Jesus, the first and only God-Man restores that goodness by an act of obedience. Jesus restores us not only by freely dying on the cross for us, but also by living among us as an icon of the goodness of creation, as a window through which we see and hear God's creating and re-creating love. He arrives in Gennesaret—fertile and fruitful—and his presence, just being there, heals, makes whole again, the broken and diseased creatures that his Father created to be good. Christ fulfills God's promise—made at the moment of creation to all that He has created—that His love will endure to the very end. Though we may suffer now and die later, we are not made so that we might suffer and die. 

Jesus is the icon of the goodness of creation. We, his Body, the Church, live as that icon now. Healed of our disobedience, restored to our originating goodness, wherever we go, we too are charged with making whole again everyone we touch, everyone who touches us. May the Lord be glad in His works. And when He looks at His people, may He say again, “It is good.”

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1 comment:

  1. Sawyer12:57 PM

    Yes, the account of creation can be understood as God bringing being out of non-being, order out of disorder. When Adam and Eve sinned, they fell from their state of grace; they corrupted their being (and that of their offspring) and introduced disorder into their existence (and that of their offspring). Christ initiates the redemptive work of God to order the fallen and disordered state of creation after Adam's sin, especially by healing human beings' sinfulness. Christ perfects the being of human beings, which he can do because he is the divine source of being. The Holy Spirit continues the redemptive work begun by Christ, and his indwelling in our souls fashions them into the image and likeness of God: the image and likeness of Being itself. The two readings today beautifully express both creatio ex nihilo and creatio continua.