Monday, January 22, 2007

Monday in the 3rd Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Antidote for Anxiety

Readings: Hebrews 9:15, 24-28; Psalm 98:1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4, 5-6; Mark 3:22-30

It’s quite likely that our attention will be held captive today by Jesus’ mention, in the gospel, of an eternal sin. What could be more frightening and anxiety-producing, especially for those who wish to be saved, than the thought of a sin that will never have forgiveness? What kind of sin is Jesus referring to anyway? How does one blaspheme against the Holy Spirit? Am I, perhaps even unknowingly, guilty of such a sin?

And yet, our readings today are really more of a source of assurance than anxiety, more a cause for hope than for despair. For powerful though the devil – the strong man – is, Jesus has proven himself the stronger. As we heard in the first reading: Christ has made his appearance once and for all... to do away with sin by sacrificing himself… and when he appears a second time, it will not be to deal with sin but to reward with salvation those who are waiting for him. That’s quite an amazing thought, isn’t it – that Christ has done away with sin once and for all?

The only thing, then, that can come between us and this saving grace that Christ brings is a refusal, in one form or another, to accept it. We see this, for example, in the scribes of today’s gospel. In accusing Jesus of resorting to demonic powers, they effectively utter a firm no to God’s gracious offer of wholeness and healing. They refuse the forgiveness that is freely offered them. And such refusal can be expressed in various other ways too can it not? Could we not, for example, be somehow refusing to accept the awesome power of Christ’s sacrifice when we over-emphasize – as some are wont to do – the power of the demonic that may or may not be present among and even within us? Important as it is to guard ourselves against all manifestations of evil, isn’t it also possible to go to such extremes as to forget that those we are so desperately guarding against are really part of a defeated enemy, members of an army in retreat – that through his self-sacrifice, Christ has already tied up the strong man and we have nothing to fear except our own anxiety?

Part of the trouble is that our experience often seems to contradict this truth. Do we not continue to struggle with our own sinful tendencies? When we look around our world, do we not continue to witness much evil, much pain and suffering? Do we not continue to encounter people who hurt us and our loved ones, sometimes out of malice, but often simply out of ignorance? Even if Christ has indeed won the victory once and for all, we often don’t feel like that is really the case. Isn’t this why it’s so important for us to attend to the way in which the first reading speaks also of the reward that comes to those who are waiting for him? Christ’s victory is already, once and for all, yet we still have to wait. We wait for that victory to break through even those places of our hearts that may continue to resist the healing powers of grace, those anxious areas that still find it difficult to believe in and to entrust everything to the One who has already burgled the strong man’s house.

Today, even as we continue to wait for the antidote to our anxiety to take its full effect, how are we being invited to trust more deeply in the Lord’s victory?

1 comment:

  1. Fr Chris' reflections today remind me of the fact that Christ has done away with sin once and for all. Jesus has liberated us and restored us to the Father. If this is the truth and the reality, why then are we so anxious and why do we keep behaving in ways that run counter to the Gospel?

    The rejection of divine grace can be motivated by self-seeking interests. Were the scribes of the Gospel reading today concerned that Jesus' teaching will soon deprive them of their jobs and status? Deep down, maybe they believed in His words. They may even have admired His authenticity and courage, as contrasted againts their own. But something more compelling prevented them from breaking free. Grace permits us to transcend our selfishness. How can we dispose ourselves to receive the grace that is freely given?

    " ... the reward comes to those who wait for him."