Monday, February 12, 2018

That time Jesus was Pro-Choice

I'll explain.

It’s a day late, but I wanted to share some prayers and random musings from Sunday Mass. Last Sunday was the 6th in Ordinary Time. Because it was also Feb 11, it was the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which has been proclaimed by the Church the ‘World Day of the Sick.’

As a side note, people often complain that they "don't get anything" out of church, prayer, etc. But the stark reality is that we must put something in first, namely effort and a hopeful attitude. It's like the guy who says, "Lord, fill my cup," and then he holds up a thimble. But sometimes we don't even go so far as holding up the thimble.
We might shuffle into church tired, or stressed, or sick, or preoccupied, or hung over, or possibly not even really knowing why we're there, and we sit through it, without expecting anything to happen. If that's the case, our expectations will be met. (And I’m NOT judging: we’ve all been there. We’re human, and God knows it. He’s very merciful and forgiving.)

But we can be sure to 'get something out of it' if we make the effort to pay attention, or (heaven help us!) prepare ourselves --like maybe even reading the prayers and Scripture passages beforehand. They're online, even if you don't own a Missal (Mass prayer book). We can also get something out of it after the fact, by re-reading the prayers or readings after Mass or during the following week, and meditating on them.

At our parish, yesterday's Opening Prayer (known in the Missal as the "Collect") was a special prayer for the World Day of the Sick:
O God, who willed that our infirmities be borne by your Only Begotten Son to show the value of human suffering, listen in kindness to our prayers for our brothers and sisters who are sick; grant that all who are oppressed by pain, distress or other afflictions may know that they are chosen among those proclaimed blessed and are united to Christ in his suffering for the salvation of the world.

I was really struck by that phrase: “oppressed by pain.” How long would it take to unpack that--I'm not even going to try. But oh my, there are so many types of pain: physical, mental, spiritual, existential. And the word “oppressed” almost seems to imply that Pain is a conscious entity, which it actually feels like at times.

The First Reading was from Leviticus, wherein it prescribes the ancient protocol for being a leper. As if the disease itself wasn’t devastating enough, you were labeled “unclean” and exiled! All I have to say about that is THANK THE LORD FOR MODERN MEDICINE (such as it is!), and thank goodness that society and the health-care establishment are somewhat more compassionate these days.

The Second Reading was from 1 Corinthians 10, and the message couldn’t be shorter or sweeter: Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Now for the Gospel, and my shameless clickbait of a post title (sorry!)

I’m not sure which translation of the Bible is used for our Lectionary (possibly the NRSV –not my favourite, but that’s a story for another day) but the translation of the Gospel yesterday (Mark 1:40-45) reads thus:
40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean." 41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!" 42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44 saying to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
Other translations say “willing” or “will,” but this version uses “choose,” which is an interesting, well… choice of vocabulary.

 “If you choose, you can heal me.”

Duh, why wouldn’t he? Doesn’t God always want what is best for us? Isn’t suffering bad? Which brings us to the conundrum of suffering and pain, and the Will of the Almighty. One could never presume to read the mind of God (as if) but I can imagine that even if it might be Jesus’ “choice” (as in, preference or desire) to relieve our suffering at any given time, it may still not be in line with God’s will for our lives at that moment. As the saying goes, sometimes the answer is "No," and sometimes it’s "Not yet," and sometimes it's "Yes, but, first..."

Conversely, there is the situation where Jesus wants / chooses / is just WAITING to heal us, and it doesn’t happen. Why? Oddly enough: Free will. Just as we have to be willing to suffer (in accordance with God’s plan), we also need to be willing to be helped and healed. Grace is everything, but we still have the power to choose, and we have to exercise it.

 Jesus replies to the leper, “I do choose,” but he could just as easily have replied: “That’s not the issue: it’s whether or not YOU choose to receive healing.” Sometimes, we choose not to receive healing because we don't want to take responsibility for our own agency. True enough, many of us suffer from things over which we have no control, like disease, tragic accidents, or the death of a loved one. But sometimes our sufferings are caused by little decisions and choices we make every day, every hour. God (being all loving and all powerful) would help us if we let him, but we choose –often by default—to continue in our misery. Sometime making an effort—even the smallest effort—seems more difficult than lapsing back into Same Old, Same Old.

We choose not to look after our physical and spiritual health, and suffer the effects. We choose to have a negative attitude or cling to resentments, and wonder why we feel so miserable. We choose not to put any effort into relationships, and wonder why we are lonely or in constant conflict. We choose not to tidy up, and curse when we can’t find our keys.

Well, I think this post is long enough; I hadn’t meant to write a rant or a magazine column, and I’m already about 200 words past that point. Just remember that “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” Sometimes we do need to put in an effort, even it it’s so small that it involves giving the Lord permission to work in our lives.

Make good choices; be healed. Have a great week!


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