18 July 2009

Retreating with the Lord

15th Week OT (Sat)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Sisters of St Mary of Namur

Worried that the bothersome teacher from Nazareth is gaining public support for his blasphemies, the Pharisees go out against Jesus. In response, Jesus retreats away from them. Despite official opposition, the people follow behind him. It is not likely that many of us here this morning are professionally-trained military tacticians. However, even the amateur strategist can appreciate the beauty and good sense of Jesus' of tactical move here. Faced with strong opposition, Jesus withdraws, taking the crowds with him. Why is this a smart move? First, it would be difficult for the Pharisees to challenge Jesus if he is not around to be challenged. Second, there can be no public denunciation of his heresies if there is no public to whom he might be denounced. Third, Jesus knows he has the better of his opponents. After all, he is Just Servant prophesied by Isaiah. Truly, there is no good reason for him to stick around and risk capture—not yet, at least. But are we even a little bit troubled by what some might interpret as cowardice on Jesus' part? Why not stay put, preach boldly, perform miracles, and trounce the Pharisees soundly for all to see? Wouldn't this be an awesome way to spread the Good News? Imagine the headlines: NAZAREAN PROPHET GIVES PHARISEES PUBLIC SPANKING; MULTITUDES HEALED, ISSUES CRYPTIC WARNING.

And it is that cryptic warning that should lead us to understand Jesus' strategy—even if we do not approve of it. Bizarre as it might seem, our Lord is actually increasing the possibility that his Good News will be spread far and wide when he forbids those healed from making him known. We know that he has issued this odd-ball order before: “You are healed. But tell no one.” Aren't we supposed to be witnesses, giving testimony in the market place, in the temple, and at work? Shouldn't we be on the rooftops shouting ourselves hoarse? Yes, sometimes this is exactly what we should be doing. Evidently, not every moment of our day is to be a verbal witness to the Lord's mercy. Sometimes, we just have to withdraw with Jesus, knowing he has a good reason, the better argument, and the best for us in mind.

If it is true—as the Psalmist says—that the Lord's mercy endures forever, then it follows that we are gifted with his compassion from the very beginning and will be so gifted until and beyond the end. In fact, because we live and breath in his loving-kindness, we will have no end; or rather, his mercy is our end, our goal and purpose. Accepting this faithful fact should lead us to another joyous truth: the salvation of the world through the preaching of the Gospel is not our job alone. We have our battles to fight. Our own Pharisees to confront. Our arguments to present and objections to make. We even have our own jobs to do in the years we are given. But the Whole Project of cosmic redemption is not our task. Our task is to do the Lord's will here and now, using what we have at hand and leaving what has to left undone undone. Sometimes the best evangelical strategy is retreat. And retreat is no act of cowardice when the crowds follow us away from falsehood and disease. That the multitudes would follow us at all is the best testimony we could offer to those who look upon us with skeptical eyes and unbelieving ears. See! Even in our retreating silence, the sick, injured, and demon possessed follow the healing Word!

From the ancient history of Israel, the prophet Isaiah saw the coming of the Just Servant and proclaimed his saving ministry among God's people. From way back then, he saw and waited. So did the people of Israel. They waited on Christ. Though he has come, gone, and will come again, we witness to his healing touch when we testify in word and deed, and when we withdraw into a waiting silence. Cowardice is the failure to do the right thing in a face of adversity. Courage is the gift of doing the righteous thing even when it may appear to be dead-wrong. When you retreat with a heart made bold in mercy, look behind you. . .you just might have more company than you think.

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