Dear brothers and sisters,
St. Mark makes two puzzling observations in today’s Gospel reading. First, he refers to the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus. How could Jesus have brothers and sisters if Mary remained a perpetual virgin? The puzzle is easily solved: in the Hebrew tradition, this was a reference to Jesus’ relatives – cousins, nephews and nieces, etc. The second puzzle is this. St. Mark tells us that when Jesus first preached to the people in his hometown, he was “amazed at their lack of faith.” They were impressed by his eloquence, but reluctant to believe and obey. They were like the people of Israel as described in today’s First Reading: rebellious, “hard of face and obstinate of heart.” In both cases, through the prophets of the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament, God was clearly speaking to his people, but they refused to listen. That is puzzling, because after all, God is omnipotent, and we were made to live in communion with him; so you would think that we would automatically respond well to God’s words and presence, like iron being drawn to a magnet. Why didn’t it happen like that? The answer is one simple reason: Jesus Christ forces himself on no one. In him, God purposely limits his omnipotence in order to respect human freedom. He gives countless signs and indications that he is trustworthy, that he is who he says he is, but he refuses to give any evidence that will eliminate the need for trust, for faith. He invites; he does not compel. He is a king who wages his wars by appealing to the heart, by showing love, and by speaking the truth. If we refuse his advances, he leaves us free to go our own way. He wants followers who are friends, not slaves – a kingdom of freedom, not bondage.
Happy July 4th to everyone! Congratulations to Deacon Max for receiving his official faculty to preach from Bishop Bambera. We look forward to him sharing his God-given wisdom to our congregation. May God bless him and his family in his diaconal ministry, and many thanks to him for his service to the church family of St. John’s.