Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Feast of Saint Mark, Evangelist
No White Elephants

Readings: 1 Peter 5:5b-14; Psalm 89:2-3, 6-7, 16-17; Mark 16:15-20

It’s just two Sundays ago when we all renewed our baptismal promises. And our readings on this feast of St. Mark the evangelist invite us to reflect a little more deeply upon the significance of baptism, on what it means to be a believer.

Perhaps the first and most striking aspect is what the gospel refers to as the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will… pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison… When was the last time any of us believers picked up a snake or drank deadly poison in the name of Jesus? How to understand these words? There are some, of course, who interpret them literally. We know, for example, that there are groups of Christians, in the southern part of the US, who actually continue to handle poisonous snakes. And then there are those who think that even if these signs existed in the past, they are no longer relevant now.

I’m not sure if they were meant to be interpreted literally. But when we hear about snakes might we not be reminded of the serpent in the book of Genesis, the one that seduces the first man and woman to stray from the path marked out for them by God? And isn’t our world still filled with such voices today? And when we hear about deadly poison, might we not think of all the things that the world values, things that poison the Christian life, things like the desire to get ahead at all cost, things like materialism and consumerism? Aren’t believers called to enter and engage this world in the name of Christ without being bitten or poisoned?

But in order to do this, we need also to attend to two other things. The first is the purpose of these signs. As the gospel tells us, they are meant not so much to draw attention to ourselves but so that the good news might be proclaimed to all creation. They are meant for evangelization. And Christians evangelize not by a power that is not our own. As Peter tells us in the first reading, more important than any wisdom of our own, more crucial than any skills or knowledge that we may acquire, what is most important is for us believers continually to bow down before the power of God, whose power lasts for ever and ever. Amen.

We may remember how, not so long ago, some wise guy put up several cardboard cut-outs of white elephants around a new unopened MRT station. The point he was making was that the unopened MRT station was not fulfilling the purpose for its existence. We may also remember the following words of the late Pope Paul VI: the church exists to evangelize. And we, all the baptized, are the church. Just as an MRT station exists for people to board and alight from the train, so too do we, as church, exist to evangelize.

Are we true evangelizers or white elephants?

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