You Are the Son of God

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Even the unclean spirits, whenever they saw him fell at his feet, screaming in a loud voice: “You are the Son of God.”

Mark 3: 11

Today’s gospel follows from the closing lines of yesterday’s in which the Pharisees and Herodians are conspiring about how to destroy Jesus. In the very earliest chapters of Mark’s gospel we have laid before us the core conflict between Jesus as God’s anointed and the dark ignorance and self-interest of the human spirit which can become intent on destroying the light and the truth.

We see in today’s gospel that even the “unclean spirits” fall at Jesus’ feet in acknowledgment of his true identity. As coming from a spiritual or transcendent realm, the unclean spirits must acknowledge what humans can either confirm or deny, Jesus’ divine source and mission. They have no power over him, but human ignorance and evil does.

In their commentary on this passage, John R. Donohue and Daniel J. Harrington point out that the “Christian adoption of the title [Son of God] reflects in part an apologetic use of Psalm 2.” In Psalm 2 we hear of the people’s conspiring “against the Lord and agains His anointed” (v. 2). Yet the psalm makes clear that the way of the Lord will finally prevail and that, for all our efforts to the contrary, we must, in the end, come to submission and to “worship the Lord in fear” (v. 11). The outcome of the gospel story is made clear from the outset: the pride and darkness of the human spirit will appear to overcome, but ultimately the true order of things, which is that human beings are to “worship the Lord in fear and exult in trembling” before the Lord, will prevail.

It seems a sobering thought to consider that even the unclean spirits when faced with the reality of God’s presence have no choice but to fall in worship before him, while we can continue to live as though we are gods and that the sovereignty is ours alone. At the core of much of our human suffering lies our inherent tendency to spiritual disorder. We have, from our beginnings, a powerful propensity to invert the true order of things: making gods of ourselves and living in mindlessness of the love and presence of the God in our midst.

An daily experience of this is the difficulty in knowing the difference, as Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out, between the things that are not subject to our will and power and so cannot be changed and the the things that with courage and trust we can change. The very nature of much much of our own anxiety is our desire and felt need to change or control what we cannot, while, on the other hand, often lacking the courage and determination to change the things we are able to change. In the gospels, there are those whose sense of themselves and fear of loss of their power and position keep them from recognizing who Jesus is and what he offers them. So too with us. Our fear and anxieties about our own identity and position, our own security and well-being, keep us from the receptivity and presence that allows us to receive what we are being given and to respond to it.

This dynamic is created in part both by our arrogance and our spiritual laziness. The arrogance is our tendency to think we have power and responsibility where we do not. “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6: 27) On the other hand it is a deep spiritual laziness (what the tradition calls acedia) that keeps us from doing the hard work of changing what we are called to change, in ourselves and in the world around us. In our own day, for example, we foster this laziness by falling back on personality typologies that we take to be permanent and incapable of change or development.

The gospel today challenges us to realize that we are capable of a “passion to ignore” reality that is greater than even the “unclean spirits.” The reality we are ever called to remember is that of God’s sovereignty. “For the kingdom, and the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever.”

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

 

Reinhold Niebuhr

 

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