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February 9, 2018 - Walking a Fine Line

Friday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Most of you probably know that the Catholic Church has been focused on "the New Evangelization" for a couple years now.  The New Evangelization is meant to encourage people to spread the Good News of Jesus (as Christians have done for centuries) but with an eye to our particular contemporary needs.  For example, the New Evangelization emphasizes a need to be present online and to witness to Jesus in relation to all our technology.  The New Evangelization also recognizes that people today often wonder about the relationship between science and God, and whether our views of science mean that belief in God is false - and so we are asked to consider these real concerns of people and address them.

In short, as in times past, we are asked to respond to people where they are as we witness to Jesus.  The difficulty with paying attention to peoples' cultures is that sometimes we're likely to put the focus so much on culture that we forget God.  Today's scriptures remind us of this fine line that we've got to walk between translating God and letting culture overtake God.

The first reading (1 Kings 11:29-32) describes how the Israelite nation, once united under Kings David and Solomon, become divided into two. The two people in today's scriptures see the tearing of the cloak in twelve pieces as part of a sign that there should be two kingdoms and they conspire to tear apart the kingdom. They use God as a way to support this disunity, and eventually, Jeroboam becomes king of the Northern Kingdom and ten of the tribes. Jeroboam and the prophet think too much of their culture (especially a culture that reveres kings and power) and make God a tool of their culture.

Most of the readers of this text would have seen this disunity as a sign of evil, which is confirmed a short while later when the Northern Kingdom is taken over by the Assyrian Empire.  The Southern Kingdom (on the side of unity and God) remains intact.

In the gospel, on the other hand (Mark 7:31-37), Jesus heals a deaf man who cannot speak. A deaf-mute culturally counts for very little; he's one of throw-aways of society.  But he becomes a source of amazement on the part of the people.  He becomes a witness for the work Christ does in us - because they, and we, are meant to be utterly amazed that Jesus makes the deaf hear and the mute speak. 

Thinking about the fine line between translating God in culture and letting culture overtake God, the lesson to be learned from the gospel might be this: if our evangelizing merely serves to highlight desires for power and prestige (like that of King Jeroboam), we're probably using culture in not-so-good ways.  But if our evangelizing and use of culture are giving voice to our cultural throw-aways, and bringing people to Jesus, then I suspect we're living the gospel.

Today, let us pray for the grace to translate Jesus to others.

- Jana M. Bennett