Jas 1:1-11; Ps 119:67,68,71,72,75,76; Mk 8:11-13
The kindness of the LORD abounds and astounds us again and again. It is our only true comfort all through life. When we were afflicted, it was all too easy to go astray. At moments of suffering we feel justified taking care of our own fragile and broken ego, by any means necessary, even by sin or selfishness. Now, we take great refuge in the promise of the LORD to take care of our every need. Notice, it is our needs not our wants that is the object of the LORD’s kindness. When our needs are our wants then we are liberated from materialism. When our wants are our needs then we are enslaved to materialism. It is the goodness and bounty of the LORD that moves us to request that he teach us his statutes. Only those who have been afflicted can learn to appreciate such guidance. Only when we suffer do we enter into the mystery of the Crucified and Risen Christ. Then and only then do we begin to listen for every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD; this word is more precious than silver and gold. Indeed, sometimes the very ordinances of the LORD seem to be the affliction, at the very least they feel like an imposition, or a burden. Our obstinate hearts, our stubborn wills, and our stiff necks move us to rebellion rather than to obedience. However, the LORD remains faithful, and he afflicts us with the painful awareness of what is good and what is evil. The LORD, the Faithful God, comforts us according to his promise he remains at our side. His Paraclete defends us in our helplessness and gives us a word that manifests his power to save us. According to the promise the LORD has made to his servants, we find kindness in his comfort, and comfort in his kindness. Only then will we grow into perfection according to Saint James, the Apostle. Then and only then we will not seek a sign. Indeed, then and only then will we trust in the Lord Jesus who has given us blessedness in our poverty.
Blessedness comes through our encounter with various trials, as the Apostle James writes. Indeed, Saint John of the Cross develops that apostolic teaching when he reminds us that the more we are united to Christ the more our suffering becomes our joy. Not because we like pain, but because we love the LORD. Indeed, there is no greater joy on this earth than to become one with Christ. This is called the transforming union and it is the closest we can come to the LORD in this world; still we look forward to the beatific vision, seeing God face to face without the mediation of faith. In this life we need faith to enable us to see beyond our natural vision. These various trials through which we persevere test this faith. The more we persevere the more we are perfected. Gradually over a lifetime of prayer and sacrifice we become perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. It does take wisdom to see the mystery of the cross as our greatest joy, and sometimes we surrender to that wisdom. Saint James summons us to ask for wisdom in faith, trusting and not doubting in the least. It is just the kind of expectant faith that every believer needs and sometimes even wants. Without this expectant faith we cannot see the pride that poisons our success or the blessedness that inebriates our lowliness. This is the only real tragedy in life that we never behold true beauty in ourselves or in others. This is what the Apostle James is summoning us to avoid with all our wisdom.
The Lord Jesus has just feed the multitude, healed the mute, touched the leper, given sight to the blind, and the Pharisees are demanding an irrefutable sign. These leaders oppose the Lord Jesus and they argue with him seeking a sign like Elijah provided for the people on Mount Carmel. They want to see fire come down from heaven and consume the well-watered sacrifice. They wanted to see all his power on display before their very eyes. This kind of ridicule sounds like those who mocked him on the cross, “If you are the Messiah, come down from that cross and we will believe.” However, miracles do not produce faith; rather, faith is the miracle that opens us to receive the miracle the Lord has in store for us. In every generation there will be some people who demand proof, powerful and irrefutable. The Lord Jesus teaches here that it is faith that is a prerequisite for miracles. With eyes willing to believe, open to signs and wonders, we can behold the beauty of God’s love manifest in our time and place. Indeed, we have to use our mustard seed of faith in order to be open and receptive to the sign of love and mercy that the Lord has for us here and now. The greatest affliction of our church in every generation is that we do not expect the Lord Jesus to transform us here and now in our communion with his body, blood, soul, and divinity. We expect to leave this liturgy without anything happening, no change, no transformation, no miracle of love and mercy. So the Lord will again get into his boat and travel to the other shore. Perhaps we will run to meet him there and trust him with our broken, shattered, and longing hearts. Perhaps we will behold his love and mercy in his body broken and blood poured out for us.