TENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR B
The recent hearings, in which Mark Zukerberg, the founder of Facebook, testified before a Congressional committee, focused a spotlight on the way in which people relate to one another in the digital age. Most people would agree that the various electronic media have been a mixed blessing, promoting relationships on one level while retarding them on another. We can now relate to more and more people without regard to distance, but the decline of face-to-face encounters is taking its toll on genuine intimacy and the acquisition of important social skills.
As we return to Ordinary Time this Sunday, the liturgy takes up a topic that is far from ordinary, namely relationships. We meet a number of interesting characters: a married couple, a recently converted apostle, crowds of intently listening disciples, carping scribes, and Jesus’ perplexed family members wondering what has happened to their relationship with this “new” Jesus. And they give rise to some reflections on relationships: healthy and dysfunctional, positive and hostile, firm and floundering.
Adam and Eve are the married couple whose relationships have become dysfunctional, painfully so. They are afraid to relate openly with the God who used to take walks with them each evening in the garden. Now, consumed with guilt and shame, they have forfeited intimacy by their distrust of God and attempt to usurp his place. Their relationship with each other is a page taken from Edward Albee’s acerbic play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” Marital bliss has given way to the blame game; and you just know that their marriage is foundering badly. After thinking that hey could really be like God through disobedience, they are now diminished human beings. Sad!
The Gospel offers us enough material for a seminar on relationships. Let’s start with the scribes, whose hostility to Jesus and whose charges against him, almost offer an advanced take on the contemporary state of American and world politics. There is no possibility for a genuine relationship, or even for dialogue, where one party begins with vilification pure and simple. “By the prince of demons, he drives our demons.” No possibility here for dispassionate examination of the evidence, just an immediate writing-off of the man to whom crowds are flocking in such numbers that even a pizza deliveryman cannot get through.
Then, there are Jesus’ relatives, including Mary his mother and kinsmen closely enough involved with the family to be called brothers. They have a variety of reactions to what they perceive to be a radical change in their relationship with Jesus. Some of the more distant cousins worry that he is having an episode that today we might term bipolar or perhaps schizophrenic. And they intend to relate to him by force, if necessary, to get him back home. Mary and his brothers are simply anxious to find assurance that their close family bond still moves Jesus to consider their relationship with him uniquely intimate. Jesus responds to their anxiety by pushing wider that circle of intimacy to include whoever does the will of God. Does this allay their concern about their relationship with him.? Perhaps it only raised more questions in their minds.
The one person we meet today who has no worries about his relationship with Jesus is St. Paul, the persecutor turned apostle. His writings, especially the passage we read today from his Second Letter to the Corinthians, exude an untroubled serenity. And Paul is not bothered that more and more believers are being pulled into that circle of intimacy with the Lord. “Everything indeed is for you, so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people may cause the thanksgiving to overflow…” Then, too, Paul’s super-confident relationship with the crucified and Risen Christ spills over into his relationship with his body. “…although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…”
As we move into our annual summer mode of relating to family and friends, to nature with its beauty, to our creator and redeemer, as we have a little more time for reflection and prayer, we would do well to attend to our relationships – to repair those that are weak or failing, to restore those that have broken down, to strengthen and savor those that are healthy and life-enhancing. We can begin with the simple prayer uttered by the psalmist, “I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in his word.”