Wait, what is this? Is this a normal day, I asked with a sense of exhaustion and confusion in my voice. Is this that normal day that you have told me about since I arrived? I had come at the beginning of a very busy summer in the community. There was a few large groups, some challenging guests, old friends and new arriving daily. There were interns, students, the VIP’s and a community review taking place. There was always something to do, somewhere to be, someone to meet. The only constant we had was prayer, and sometimes showing up to chapel was the only time I felt I could breath. In my time with the monastic community of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge Massachusetts, I was promised a normal day since the moment I arrived. But from the beginning I was thrown into the chaos of a community that was in full swing. My sense of normal there was less about finding something I expected or understood, but about opening myself to the unexpected. This unexpected was both in both purpose and identity- something our Gospel highlights for us this morning.
Here we are again, knee deep in Marks account of the life and ministry of Christ. There is a brevity to what we hear again, something Mark is great for. Mark moves past all of the detail and gives us the bare bones of what it is we need to hear in order to do what Jesus calls us to do. And that’s frustrating, because details are important, so with mark we have to listen very carefully to what he is saying to us. Mark's Gospel was written for a community that would have known, lived, seen, and grown up in the region of Christ’s ministry, so for Mark he is talking to us as we talk to our neighbours- with familiarity. He is reminding us, by the void of details, that the story we hear in Mark is one which is intimately written in our very beings- rather than being about some long dead community. The story of Mark is about you and I, in the way that we share the same humanity as the disciples. We have the same questions, the same desires, the same challenges. We want to know that this guy named Jesus is actually who he says he is, because sometimes he seems just that little bit unusual compared to what we were expecting. Mark opens for us the question: is this Jesus what we expected the messiah to be?
Expectations have something in them that often find grounding in assumption and projection. We want something from God to confirm that we are actually following who we believe in so ardently. Think of Christ’s whole ministry, every time we encounter Jesus we find a ministry grounded in community and healing- which sometimes feels unattainable, like its just too easy. We ask him time and again to confirm for us that he’s actually who he says he is- Just do one more miracle, heal one more person for us Jesus. Give me one more sign so that I can be totally sure in who you are, because you are asking so much of me that I am terrified to follow a false prophet. And we have seen what happens to false prophets, they are killed by Rome. Think of the idea of a King, this sovereign that is promised made flesh in Jesus. This guy is the most unlikely of kings- he doesn't act like a monarch we’d recognize. He eats, talks, and stays with people he shouldn't. Yet he keeps asserting he is the messiah, who comes from a Kingly line according to scripture. So it makes sense then for us to constantly ask him who he is. Yet the answer that comes back today is “you tell me.” Wait, is this a test?
Jesus is asking you and I to define how it is we know who it is we follow. Now we can opt for the safe answer, indeed the disciples did, because of course we are dealing with Jesus so we know how the story ends. That however is the intellectual answer, and Jesus is asking for the heart. Think about it for a moment, the disciples tell Jesus he is the messiah and Jesus almost rebuffs them in his answer. Yes, but who do YOU say that I am. Jesus is asking for us to answer from the heart, because of a personal relationship with him. This is the relationship that Jesus in Mark is constantly inviting us into, because this is a story about you and I together. Our shared humanity and all of its questions and challenges needs more than just an intellectual response, it needs a response from the heart because it is the heart that lead Jesus to the cross and grave for us. Faith in Christ is less about textbook absolutes and more about questions- because questions lead to expecting the unexpected.
So who do you say the Jesus is? Is he a white dude in long robes? Distant judge? A historical figure of unknown humanity? A cute idea which might not need to be true in order to live a good life? Maybe he’s something best left to the clergy to argue over, while we just crack on with life. Maybe we don’t really know him after all since he keeps asking us to go beyond our everyday and into scary new places. And that's just the point, Jesus calls you and I to go into new places, grounded in his love, to transform the world. In this adventure we become used to expecting the unexpected with Jesus, its the whole story of his ministry so far! Raising the dead, healing the sick, staying with outcasts- its unexpected! So how can we prepare ourselves to expect the unexpected with Jesus in our everyday? We pray. We pray to see and know Jesus in everything we are and do.
- Pray with your whole heart, mind, body, and soul. Bring your doubts, your questions, your challenges, your affirmations and place them at the foot of Christ made present for us here in the Eucharist. Begin to see through prayer, nourished by the Eucharist, the places in which Jesus is active in your life in surprising and new ways in the everyday. Continue to mark the hours of your day with the Name of Jesus, starting or ending your work with a simple “thank you Jesus.” He is present in every second our our life, in every action. Pray with your whole heart.
- Pray with the scriptures, by joining a bible study or life group this fall. Come and experience a community that has the same questions as you, desires, hopes, and dreams. Come and pray with a story which is about and for us. Come and receive the unexpected gift of Love in a way of life that calls our deepest imaginations and abilities to his service in the world. Pray.
Coming to expect the unexpected remains something that helps us see and respond to the Christ who calls us into the freedom of life. Following this guy named Jesus means that we are willing to give up our ideas of who and what he is- to limit the idea of God in our midst, and be willing to see a God that can take our deepest wounds and change the world because of them. Following Jesus is not, my friends, a theological exercise but a process of the heart- a heart full of questions, dreams, concerns, and doubt, through which the power of the good news of Christ is made know. Christ, in Mark, this week is calling us again to life grounded in prayer which expects the unexpected in his ministry among us. So who do you say that Jesus is? And how will you live that this week?