I have been reading Fr. James Martin’s new book, “Between Heaven and Mirth.” In the book Fr. Martin reflects on the role of humor in the life of faith and throughout the reflection he scatters humorous jokes and stories. In chapter four he reflects on “serious reasons for good humor” – the last reason he lists is the practical nature of humor and he does this in a tongue-in-cheek way by sharing a story about his father’s cousin Bernie.
Bernie, it seems, lived in Philadelphia but owned a small store on the coast in New Jersey. One evening he was speeding down the interstate toward his store. He was late for an appointment. It was the last day of the month so he knew that the police officers would be out, eager to give tickets in order to make their quota. But, he was in a hurry and decided to take his chances doing about eighty miles an hour.
Sure enough, after crossing into New Jersey he saw the flashing red lights and was pulled over. The officer walked up to his car with a pleased look on his face. “I have been waiting for you all day!” said the officer.
Bernie, off the top of his head replied, “Well, I got here as fast as I could!” Fr. Martin concludes, “The officer laughed so hard that he didn’t give Bernie a ticket.”
It is good to laugh.
Mark’s gospel is the shortest and most succinct of the canonical gospels. One can feel throughout Mark’s account of the good news a sense of urgency. Jesus has a mission and time must not be wasted! This sense of urgency is given expression in the very first chapter. Jesus proclaims, “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mk. 1:15) But then what does he do? With this sense of urgency it would be expected that he would march straight to Jerusalem in order to set things right. But he does not do that. Rather, in this time of fulfillment, Jesus forms community (Church) and not only that but a community of very insignificant people who were certainly not on any “A-list” of their day – fishermen, tax collectors, religious zealots. They were people of no real consequence.
Also, they were a group of imperfect people. They disagreed, they argued with one another, they were fearful, they bore resentments, they miscommunicated, they did not always understand, one betrayed Jesus and another denied him. In other words, they were human, just like us. And Jesus was in their midst and Jesus is in our midst calling, healing and enabling us (in all of our imperfections) to be church for one another and for the world.
Recently there has been a Youtube video that has sparked discussion. In the video a young rapper who has all the right looks and wears the perfect cool style of clothing and has all the perfect video angle shots raps about how he loves Jesus but hates religion. He goes on to say that Jesus hates religion and therefore the church also. Isn’t it nice when Jesus agrees with our own point of view? He raps that religion told him to pretend to be perfect but he does not consider the possibility that maybe he was the one who was getting the message wrong from the beginning.
To this young man I would say re-read the gospels because I think you missed something. Consider today’s gospel (Mk. 1:14-20) where Jesus in the very urgency of proclaiming the Kingdom decides to gather a community of very imperfect believers and he decides to remain within their very midst. Consider where Jesus says that he is the vine and we are the branches. Consider the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the community gathered at Pentecost. Reflect on Paul’s beautiful analogy of Christ being the head of the body and we the members. Consider Paul’s own conversion on the road to Damascus when the exalted Lord instead of asking, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute my followers?’ rather asks, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). Consider the beautiful imagery of the bride awaiting the bridegroom found throughout the New Testament.
In the urgency of proclaiming the Kingdom, isn’t it interesting that Jesus calls and gathers a community of very imperfect people and he remains in their midst.
He remains in the midst of the Church today.