25 April 2012

That All-Important "But"

St. Mark
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

 In one of his many post-resurrecction appearances, Jesus gives his cringing disciples their mission statement, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” Short, sweet, nothing fancy. Get out there and teach everybody everything I've taught you. Mark's gospel doesn't record the disciples' reaction to these orders. Given that the disciples are scared witless of being executed; grieving Jesus' death; worrying about his missing body; and freaking out that their very dead Master is popping in and out of locked rooms, we can surmise that they are puzzled by his orders, probably ready to run for the hills and never look back. And then, once he delivers his orders, just to make things a tiny bit more stressful for the panicked disciples, Jesus disappears into heaven! Mark tells us exactly how the disciples react to this. . .and he uses just one word: “but.” “Then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven. . .But they went forth and preached everywhere. . .” Heh. Maybe they weren't such pathetic cringers after all. Do we go forth and preach despite the obstacles, despite our fears? 

Let's examine this “but” a little more closely. Jesus goes “up” but the disciples go “out.” Jesus goes to the Father but the disciples go into the world. Jesus is “taken up” but the disciples “went forth.” Jesus “took his seat” at the Father's right hand but the disciples “preached everywhere.” That “but” tells us that the disciples didn't do what Jesus was doing at that moment. Jesus didn't take his students with him. None of them, at that moment, were taken up to heaven to sit at the Father's side. Something quite different happens. Once the disciples receive their mission, they go out to complete it. And Jesus joins them! Mark notes that while they were preaching “the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.” Perhaps the reason the disciples aren't overly concerned about their mission is b/c they remembered Jesus' promise to be with them always. Or, perhaps they had forgotten that bit, found some courage, went out to do their jobs despite their fears, and Jesus came along as he had promised. Either way, they hear and obey Christ's admonition, and he is with them as they complete their task. Can we do the same? Can we find our courage and go into the world, teaching and preaching the Good News, believing that we do so with Christ at our side? 

We can if we remember the all-important “but” of Mark's gospel. Jennifer is a first year resident at an inner-city hospital and specializes in OB-GYN. She is asked to perform an abortion. BUT she preaches the Good News with Christ at her side. Robert is a new teacher at a public school. His students ask him uncomfortable political questions about sex and marriage. BUT he preaches the Good News with Christ at his side. Susan is an physics grad student at a Catholic university. Her major professor is an atheist. BUT she preaches the Good News with Christ at her side. Jeff's children have rejected their faith and refuse to raise the grandchildren in the Church. BUT he preaches the Good News with Christ at his side. Preaching the Good News with Christ at our side is almost always something we do despite our fears, despite any apparent obstacles. Peter says, “Clothe yourselves with humility. . . Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you. Be sober and vigilant. . .The God of all grace. . .will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” He will be with you always. You have no reason to fear. Go then into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. 

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