I was writing my reflections for Wednesday’s readings when I realized that I had more reflections for the other day’s Gospel. The other day was dated February 14, 2006. While I was typing away here about romantic love, in my prayer journal I was communicating to God about the kind of love that He had been patiently trying to teach me: agape.
The Gospel yesterday was taken from Mk 8:14-21, which reads in part:
Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?” They answered him, “Twelve.” “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand,how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?” They answered him, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”
I read it in the morning and then heard it during mass at night. I was struck by the same lines, which I highlighted above. Jesus’ frustration at his very own disciples was apparent. Here were the men who listened to his teachings first-hand; who received his full explanations about the parables; who saw his miracles with their naked eye; and who were supposed to understand, more than the crowd ever could, what He was doing and what He was teaching. And yet, since it was difficult to see who or what Jesus was really about during their time, the disciples habitually turned to their own limited understanding to explain what was going on around Jesus.
Jesus patiently reminded them of his just-concluded miracles, wherein he broke five loaves of bread for 5,000 and then seven loaves for 4,000, with several baskets leftover. The second miracle even occurred on the first part of the same chapter (Mark 8:1-9).
Spiritual amnesia is not unique to the disciples. Neither is spiritual blindness a thing of the past. Our hearts, to this day, are still hardened towards God, and this makes it virtually impossible for us to see, hear, and understand Him. Our eyes do not see. Our ears do not hear.
The story continues. In last Wednesday’s Gospel (Mk 8:22-26), Jesus healed the blind man, but not instantaneously. At first all that the man could see were “people looking like trees walking”. Jesus laid his hands on the man a second time before the latter could “see everything distinctly”.
Our own conversion, in much the same way, is not instantaneous. For the past couple of weeks I had a long litany of “why’s” to God, because of the people and things that I loved –country, community, friends, and family. There were many things that defy explanation, but I wanted so hard to understand. Pain was not something I took lightly, and I asked Jesus why there was so much suffering in me and around me.
Then I remembered a lesson we took up in the Joy of Discovery, from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. It is timely because this chapter is not really about eros, but about agape. It’s not only for Valentine’s week, but for Christians’ every day. It is often read during weddings, a few lines lifted from an entire chapter so powerful it blew my mind and my heart away when I joined a Bible study on it.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
1 1 If I speak in human and angelic tongues 2 but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
2 And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.
3 If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 3 Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated,
5 it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
6 it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 4 Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
9 For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
11 When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
12 At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
13 5 So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
My group was assigned to the last verses, 8-13. In JOD, we look at dictionary meanings of words, then Bible dictionaries, and cross-references to the verses, historical accounts, other reference materials, and finally, commentaries. Our group’s reflections on these verses led us to cry our hearts out at the goodness of the Lord. My group-mates, by the way, were two religion teachers and a businesswoman/mother. We “discovered”, joyfully, I may add, that a reflection in a mirror is not really complete. Hence now we see dimly, but one day clearly. Different Bible translations use “imperfect” rather than “partial”. Both mean that on this earth, we have neither a complete view nor a perfect understanding of God. When God is finally revealed to us, face to face, then we shall see perfectly.
We also discovered a cross-reference to 1 John 3:2 that explains v. 12:
Beloved, we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed 2 we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
After our “intellectual” reports of our discoveries, we were asked by our teachers to come up with a creative expression of what we learned. So the next day, our brilliant group leader came up with a complete presentation – we recited the chapter on love using sign language, pausing in between some verses to :1.) give a personal testimony; 2.) sing a song; and 3.) present a painting of Jesus on the Cross. We all ended up crying while we were presenting our report (and yes I was with more mature, much older people), and it must have made an impact on the whole class, as we were asked to present again during Closing Lunch to the whole group, with students from the other classes that were held that week at Scripture Ventures.
Personalizing it now (the last step in JOD), I believe that the Lord is reminding me as well that giftedness without love is nothing. Speech, prophecy, wisdom, faith, charity, and even voluntary martyrdom, as shown in the verses above, amount to noise, or worse, rubbish, without love. But time and again I ask how to love. It is not easy to be patient, kind, truthful, forbearing, or hopeful all the time. These characteristics of love are the very things we lack, and which cause our problems. Envy, jealousy, pride, arrogance, irritability, resentfulness, untruthfulness, and impatience –these are prevalent in this world.
Through prayer and meditation I ask for the grace to do the most loving thing, even in the toughest of situations. Oh, but it’s not easy. Right at this moment there are a few people I would rather not be patient or forbearing with, or whom I have given up hope on. One day, if ever I make it to heaven, I might understand. I might be able to love like that. For now, I will imitate love. I will imitate Christ. He is showing me the way. And that is what I am waiting for. That is what we all wait for.
All the longings of our hearts just point to a deeper longing for God. It makes me cringe every time I see people who supposedly are following the Lord but instead focus their waiting on temporal things. Moreover, I take exception to the allegations that all single women wait 24/7 for a man, and once that man is found, they live happily ever after (even though in reality some women do act as if their life would be complete once The One sent by God comes along—and may the spirit of blindness be cast out!). As those of you who are married could attest to, not even the intimacy of marriage could replace the yearning in each of our hearts for a connection to, a relationship with, and an understanding of God.
From Psalm 130:5-6
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
I hope this restless night was productive. In writing this I wait in agony for the Lord. All my lessons in waiting teach me to wait for my God. I never get to be good at waiting, but I have no choice. Everything amounts to nothing without His love. All these little triumphs and struggles we have, these too shall pass. For, say it with me, faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.