Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Tuesday in the 4th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of St. Agatha, Virgin & Martyr
The View From The Top


Readings: 2 Samuel 18:9-10, 14b, 24-25a, 30–19:3; Psalm 86:1-2, 3-4, 5-6; Mark 5:21-43

Those who have ever climbed a high mountain or been up a tall building will know how different things look from the top. At the bottom your view is obscured by so many different things. But at the top you are able to feast your eyes on a much wider view. At the top the same things that looked so big and formidable from the ground suddenly seem so trivial and small. Is it any accident, then, that Jesus’ most important sermon in the gospel of Matthew – the beginning of which we heard on Sunday – is preached at the top of a mountain? In the bible, the mountain is where God reveals the divine view of things.

Even so, you don’t literally have to climb a mountain to see and hear God. There are mountains of different sorts. Consider the situation of King David in today’s first reading. Everyone thinks they are bringing him good news when they inform him of the death of Absalom. But they are wrong. They are only looking at things at ground level. From there, Absalom is a treasonous rebel, a dangerous troublemaker, a serious threat to Kingdom and Crown, someone to be exterminated at all costs. But David sees things from a different vantage. Absalom’s death sharpens David’s vision, just as his rebellion might have served to obscure it. Even though it means victory for the king, the killing of Absalom evokes no joy in David, not even relief, but instead deep sorrow. Grief places David on a lofty height from which he sees beyond the fleeting to that which is enduring. The impact of Absalom's death enables David to forget the terrible treachery of a subject towards his king, and to feel only the weight of the tender affection of a father for his child. If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son!

Climbing a mountain is often difficult. And even if the view from the top may be breathtaking, it is not always easy to bear.

The gospel presents us with yet another kind of mountain. Commentators have likened this rather long passage to a sandwich. The important bit is to be found in the middle, bracketted by the ongoing story of the healing of Jairus’ daughter. But from a non-expert’s point of view, the passage can perhaps just as easily be seen as a literary mountain, affording the best view from the top. Whether sandwich or mountain, the crucial verse is clear. It is found in Jesus words to the woman with the haemorrhage: Daughter, your faith has saved you…

If David is able to see clearly from the mountaintop of his grief, then Jesus invites his listeners to enjoy the breathtaking panorama of faith. Viewed from this high vantage point, apparently insurmountable obstacles begin to pale into insignificance. From here, the mere caress of a garment has power to cure a chronic and painful affliction. On this mountaintop, even the dead can be raised to life. Do not be afraid; just have faith…

And how can we forget that it is also this same faith-inspired viewpoint that ultimately emboldens Jesus to walk the way to Calvary, to climb the wood of the Cross, to humbly submit to the One who alone has the power to raise him on the third day?

As we find ourselves on the threshold of the great season of Lent, perhaps it will do us good prayerfully to consider what mountains we are being invited to climb, what breathtaking views to enjoy, today…

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