14 February 2006

What's to understand?

6th Week OT (Tues): James 1.12-18; Mark 8.14-21
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Hear it!

What’s to understand?! What is there for the disciples to understand? Taking almost nothing—a few fish and loaves—and increasing it to an abundance—enough for thousands—, Jesus shows, literally shows, the disciples what he is all about: growing the meager into the plenty, spreading a little around until it becomes a whole lot more. The disciples don’t grasp what Jesus is trying to teach them about the blessing and abundance of the Father, about the proper disposition of the heart to see and hear how the Word works in the world.

Jesus warns them not to allow the “leaven,” the negative influences, of the Pharisees and of Herod to poison their thinking about what they have heard and seen. The disciples take this to be an admonishment about forgetting to bring some bread along on their boat ride. You can almost see Jesus rolling his eyes and barely restraining himself from slapping the nearest disciple! He says, “Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or comprehend?” What’s to understand?! And why don’t they get it?

At least part of what’s going on with the disciples is that they are being tempted by the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod. And who isn’t? The Pharisees are swallowed in procedure, scrupulously cataloging their behavior and comparing it to the perfection they believe the Law represents. They demand signs from Jesus because they are unable to bring themselves to believe beyond the available evidence and experience the workings of the Holy Spirit. Where the Pharisees reject Jesus with a kind of anxious longing for proof, Herod simply mocks Jesus, thinking of him as John the Baptist risen from the dead to haunt him. The Pharisees needle Jesus constantly for proof of his Sonship. Herod is a politically motivated skeptic. And Jesus is warning the disciples that both these attitudes toward the blessing and abundance of the Father are dangerous. Deadly dangerous.

Jesus questions the disciples to make sure they remember what they saw and heard when he fed the thousands. They answer correctly and Jesus concludes: “Do you still not understand?” What’s to understand!? With a heart settled squarely in the covenant, resting peacefully in the revelation of grace that Christ is for us, there is little to understand but the generous abundance of the Father’s mercy for us, the plenty of His goodness freely given and freely taken.

Perhaps we, like the disciples, mistake Jesus’ teachings for arguments. Or maybe we mistake his miracles for attempts at proof of his identity. Perhaps, like the disciples, we long for more concrete demonstrations, more “real” evidence, of who Jesus claims to be and the truth of what he teaches. Trust that requires proof is not trust. Hope that demands a guarantee is not hope. This is where we must step off into the beauty of the Lord, his revelation of himself to us, and trust and hope, and to believe and to be convicted of the truth without reference to Another, without looking away from him to some other “ism,” some other, more basic philosophy or scheme.

We trust a man not an idea. We believe in the blessing and abundance of the Father not a human, merely social system. What’s to understand?! James writes, “He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” Do you understand: we are the blessing and the abundance of the Father!

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