Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Three A's

Today we move from the call of the first disciples to the teaching and miracles of Jesus. One of the hallmarks of Mark's gospel is the response of the people to Jesus. In the brief passage from chapter 1 that we hear today, we see the response to his teaching and to his first miracle. In Mark's gospel it is the casting out of an "unclean spirit."

Just as you know Mark's gospel by the constant use of the word "immediately", so the reaction of the people throughout the gospel is constantly astonishment or amazement. While we may think of these words as almost synonymous, in Greek they are not.

The reaction of the people to the miracle is close to the English word amazement. The word thambos has the sense of being stupefied, frozen, unable to move. The people do not understand what they have seen.

When Jesus is teaching in the synagogue their response is the opposite. The word we translate as astonished is a verb of action. It literally refers to being struck, it is prefixed with ek-(meaning out). The image is one of meaning struck hard enough to be knocked out of your present place. The people are struck hard enough to be moved.

This raises a key question for us: which one am I? When I hear the words of the gospel, am I amazed or astonished? My fear is that we have heard the gospel stories so often that the word that best describes us is the third A, apathetic, without feeling.

It is a myth that Catholics don't know the Bible. If you attend mass you know the Bible. Every prayer of mass is from the Bible and our lectionary structure means that we systematically read the Bible on a three year cycle. Our problem isn't that we don't know the Bible our problem is that we know it so well that it washes over us causing no response.

One of the characteristics of Mark's gospel is that is always an immediate and profound response to the words and actions of Jesus. The gospel says he taught with authority. The word for authority also means power. The people recognized and responded to the power of Jesus. Even those who will be against him will respond.

Perhaps it is time for us to immerse ourselves one more in the gospels, to feel the power, and to let ourselves be astonished.