Knowing oneself is part of the way to God

Frances writes about this coming weekend’s readings : – Socrates wrote that “the unexamined life is not a life worth living for the human being”. Knowing oneself, and having some awareness of what one has been created for, is essential to human flourishing or else one is just a pawn in the power of the universe, a puppet, tossed about at the whim of the elements.

In the book of Job (7:1-4,6-7) of which we seem to have been given a particularly gloomy passage to read; we find Job pondering on life’s meaning: why is it that virtuous men, like himself have great suffering and the wicked seem to thrive? His ‘friends’ insist that Job’s sufferings must be punishment from God for terrible undisclosed sins, something he consistently denies; his wife, clearly fed-up with the whole advises him to curse God and die. Both represent the fatalistic viewpoint that one is simply at the mercy of God and the elements. This is something Job resolutely rejects, insisting on his own righteousness, and also refusing to reject God. The whole set up, as we know, was part of a bet between God and Satan to see whether or not our sufferer would forsake God. Eventually the faithful Job is rewarded by God, but not before he has harangued God over his sufferings, and in turn is lambasted by the divine for his presumption – the ways of God are inscrutable and his power far superior to that of man. However, Job’s faithfulness is commended and rewarded. At the end of the story we find a wiser and if anything even more devout Job, schooled in his relationship with God. Far from being a mere pawn in relation to the divine, Job has begun to dialogue with God, just as his ancestor Jacob had ‘wrestled’ with God (Gen 32:25). Job learns his ‘place’, but also learns just how favoured he is of God.

The book of Job of course has very ancient origins, written long before New Testament times with its radical meeting with God and man in and through Jesus Christ. Yet for St Paulthat knowledge of Christ also demanded a dramatic reappraisal of his life. (1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23). Once it became clear to him that he was called by God to the work of Christian evangelism he realised there was no turning back, “I should be punished if I did not preach” the Good News. Paul however does not see his calling simply as God’s demand which he must fulfil; “it is a responsibility which has been put into my hands”; and his reward from God is to be able to give this gift of God to humanity freely; as freely as God has given himself to us in Christ and because of this he will not even take his keep, he must be Christ-like. His ‘given’ vocation is both cooperation with God and opportunity to live out a meaningful and fulfilling life, hence the word responsibility, suggesting choiced and considered actions. Paul, or rather, as he was, Saul, who we suspect previously lived a rather confined life as a devout Pharisee, rigorously observant of the law of Moses, now finds himself made “all things to all men in order to save some at any cost”. He deliberately calls himself the ‘slave’ of all men, using this powerful metaphor to express his openness to every condition of men, rich or poor, slave or free, regardless of class or profession. No longer for him then the restricted life of the ‘clean’ versus the ‘unclean’, the righteous versus the sinner, for now he lives with the freedom and dynamism of his master Jesus Christ.

In our gospel too (Mark 1:29-39), we see this graced freedom lived out in the life of Jesus who heals many people as a sign and enactment of the arrival of the kingdomof Godin his very person. But that very power has consequences – “everybody is looking for you”. His healing ministry could easily have become misconstrued or perverted, by the crowds or by Jesus himself had he fallen into the trap of settling down and receiving the acclaim his miracles produced. Jesus recognises this temptation and the need to move on. “Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came”. His call, his vocation to live out his incarnate life requires that he is not held back by the needs of others or indeed his own need. For Jesus, as we know, the cost of his ministry would be very great, and it begins right at the start of Mark’s gospel with his whistle-stop tour of the towns ofGalilee. Mark’s Jesus is always driven, always on the move but precisely because his life is steeped in prayed, his awareness of his identity and his willingness to live it out, come what may enables him to take his task from start to terrible finish on the cross.

We will never be called to such a dramatic self knowledge or such a way of life, yet it is the duty of every Christian to examine his/her life; not in any spirit of self-deprecation or gloominess, but rather that we may become more aware of the possibilities our lives hold for us and therein to find the courage to act with the grace and vision of the gospel.

 

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