17 Feb, 2017. Friday, Week 6
The Seven Founders of the Servite Order; Saint Fintan, abbot
1st Reading: Genesis 11:1-9
When people sought independence from God, their language is scrambled
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”
The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
Gospel: Mark 8:34-9:1
Losing one’s life in order to save it
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
The tower of Babel and the hill of Calvary: two ways of approaching heaven and of being with God, one deceptively attractive but ultimately wrong, the other forbidding but in the long run good. The contrast is intriguing and enigmatic. We see human the striving to construct the tower of Babel and the reluctance to carry one’s cross after Jesus. In building the tower of Babel the proud entrepreneurs destroyed peace and harmony; in the epistle of James, good works become the proof that God is present within us and these works unite us with our neighbour. The Gospel contrasts two forms of activity: taking up one’s cross or acting for personal aggrandizement. Again the action which threatens to destroy us is the one which adds permanence of our life; the action which seems to affirm and build us up turns on us and destroys us. “Whoever would save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake and the Gospel’s will save it.”
To act against our selfish inclinations and pious camouflage, to reach out spontaneously with practical help to the neighbour in need, means to take up one’s cross. To stand by someone in need and disgrace is to follow the way of Jesus who befriended prostitutes and tax collectors. It means to lose one’s life; and in the depth of that faith we will have a glimpse of the true “kingdom of God established in power.” Where we seem to have lost everything and to have died, we become fully alive in a way that can never taste death. No one can take that vision from us, the memory of being with Jesus and reaching out, as he did, to those genuinely in need of us. What can equal life such as this, joyful like Abraham’s joy in the return of Isaac, with dignity restored, like Rahab the harlot in saving the lives of the messengers.
Going against the grain
Being true to the teaching of Christ, to the values that shaped his life, will often mean having to go against the grain, renouncing ourselves so as to put the Lord 1st in our lives. To others, and sometimes even to ourselves, this will seem like a loss. In our efforts to stay faithful to the Lord’s path, we will often have to say “no” to what many are saying “yes” to. Following in the Lord’s way is not easy; it often means taking the way of the cross. Being a follower of Jesus can be very demanding, especially in today’s culture. But he promises that those who lose their lives for his sake and for the sake of the Gospel will save their lives, will be more alive. What seems like a loss at the time will ultimately be a gain. Jesus recognizes the temptation to be ashamed of him and of his words, the temptation to keep our faith in him under cover so as to go with the flow. However, if we are prepared to live our faith publicly even when pressured to do otherwise, then we will come to experience that fullness of life that the Lord desires for all of us.