This story is a reminder of how easily we miss the point. The crowd comes out to see Jesus not hoping for spiritual transformation, but for a wonder to be worked, a sign. For some this may be them, living in despair, legitimately looking for evidence Jesus is one whom God is working though. “Show us proof”. It is ironic, of course, as God has already through Jesus healed the sick, cured the neurological and mental ailments the people of the day called “having a spirit”, and multiplied bread & fish to feed a multitude.
Others come not seeking anything spiritual at all, but rather seeking a thrill. As if Jesus’ preaching is a show and he a magician. “Pull a rabbit out of your hat”, they might as well be saying.
Jesus promises no signs, no miracles, although those who follow him throughout his life see a plenty. But no miracle, sign, or wonder can effect transformation of the soul, can it? Ultimately this takes a person choosing to partner with God where you find God – whether in Jesus, in Scripture, in nature, in your own religious tradition. Wherever God appears, the same message of love, of justice, of compassion, of tearing down barriers of division occurs. Now God is appearing to them in Jesus, but if they already are unwilling to cooperate with that of God already revealed in their midst through Jesus – let alone revealed every day in nature, in the torah, in other people – well, what difference will one more sign make?
Ultimately our days are filled with miracles, from the human eye to the sunrise, to a child’s cry, to the many occasions we and others around us arrive alive out of illness or travel against all odds. One more miracle will not transform our lives if these other miracles already do not open our hearts to the true and abiding Life which flows through every moment. Ultimately, it is not miracles being witnessed that transforms us, but making the choice to participate and partner with the Living One who causes life to break forth in the midst of death, comfort in the face of despair, healing in the face of disease, liberty in the face of oppression, and tearing down of walls of division in the face of all that sets people at enmity.
You do not need the certainties we often wrongly think miracles can bring to choose to participate with that little bit of Life you already know which God has placed in your life, you only need openness. As you participate with that which brings forth life, healing, justice in your neck of the woods, you will find yourself seeing it everywhere. When people speak of God leading them or speaking to them to do this or that thing, usually this process is what they are describing. They see that of God, that which makes life or justice or healing break forth, in their own lives and choose to partner with it, come more fully to flower. As they do so they suddenly are able to see that same force at work in many different places they had not seen it before. Touched by the choice to helping cultivate life, healing, and liberation where they already have, now they choose to do so afresh in new ways. Each choice to do so, even when full of uncertainty, opens up their lives more. The more you cooperate with grace in your life, the more you see places it is found and can be partnered with again and again.
As a Christian, I see these places of grace in our lives as in-breakings of God, places the Holy Spirit is at work which God opens our eyes to. I view seeing these spaces and seeing how we can respond as hearing the voice of God. People in other faiths experience the same movements in ways they express with other words – it is living out the dharma in Buddhism, for instance; it is finding the tao in some Eastern faiths; it is living in islam or submission to God as God is found in Islam. I have friends who do not believe in any religion who also engage in such partnership with the good and they call it being a mindful and aware person.
Jesus does not perform more signs because it is not more miraculous things which we need in our life but a greater awareness to that of God or Life already present in our lives. When we do this, the way becomes clear to us.
The disciples demonstrate the way in which our lack of awareness trips us up. Jesus provides a parable about bread. His parables and sayings are much like Buddhist koans. In Buddhism, a koan is a short saying which literally understood makes no sense. At times they are riddles, while at other times they are enigmatic statements. The popular koans we all have heard are “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” and “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there, does it make a sound?” The only way to grasp a koan is to let go of your need to look at the koan in a black or white conventional literal way, but to open yourself to seeing life and the connections in life in a new way.
Jesus’ parables and metaphors are like these koans. The disciples are constantly stumped because they try to hear Jesus’ words from their own black and white, literalistic, limited perspectives. So they argue about bread when Jesus talks about yeast. They miss the boat.
We laugh at them because Mark gives us the interpretation of Jesus’ words, but we still do just like the disciples did. We still expect God to lead us based on our expectations. Instead Jesus invites us to a deeper awareness of God’s working around us, one which forces us to see the world with new eyes. When we do that, we are able to see God in each other, in creation, in groups and peoples we’d often overlooked. We are able to feel a tug to a different pattern of life, one which is based on a deeper acknowledgement of what makes for life, freedom, healing, and reconciliation.
Such an awareness is what has led world-changing people like Gandhi, like Sojourner Truth, like Desmond Tutu, like Troy Perry, to see the pattern of our world, acknowledge those our normal way of life crushes underfoot, and say “this is not the only way”, calling us to something different.
In our own lives, as we learn to have this change in awareness, we are able to be people of grace, people of life, people of healing in ways we never could have been before.
Let’s learn to open ourselves to the transforming awareness of that of God in, with, under, and through us, others, and all creation so we can begin to see our lives & world with new eyes.
Your progressive redneck preacher,