“He sat quite still, benumbed and cold but little Gerda shed burning tears of joy; and they fell on his bosom, penetrating to his heart, where they thawed the ice…” ~ Hans Christian Andersen, The Snow Queen

Gospel Reflection for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Many times we freeze ourselves so as not to feel what we experience. Perhaps it is an attempt to defend ourselves from suffering or to ward off any sort of delusion. But by doing so we also reject all the beauty that life can offer us, with its perfumes and colors. We cease to live in order not to die from suffering too much.

In fables, ice and snow are often used as symbols of the solitude of a heart that can no longer love, like in The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. It all begins with a mirror that deforms images by making the beauty that reflects in them disappear. But the mirror shatters into smithereens, and tiny pieces of the mirror are dispersed throughout the whole world. One of these fragments ends up in the eye of Kay, a good boy whose best friend is Gerda. From that moment on, Kay is taken over by its power and is kidnapped by the Snow Queen, who locks him in her palace. The Queen would only free him if he managed to represent, with shards of ice, the word “eternity.” But, after many adventures, it would be Gerda’s tears of love that would thaw Kay’s frozen heart.

Our heart, hibernating in the cold, hiding from our fears, can prevent us from being touched even by the word of God. We can live our faith in a state of hibernation: through unfruitful repetition or with a mistrust that blinds us. The protagonist of this passage of the Gospel went to the synagogue every Sabbath day out of habit or out of duty but he felt nothing, as if anesthetized, and the word did not reach him.

Is it not true that we too can act out our faith through simple habit, perhaps frozen in our roles like statues of ice shaped like catechists, priests, volunteers, or teachers? These can be like armor by which we defend ourselves, making it appear to others and to ourselves as if we were in our proper place, but inside the fire in our hearts has gone out. Our communities can become giant freezers where each person tries to prevent the others from melting the beautiful statue of ice we have carved.

Only when Jesus shouts, only when He speaks directly to the heart, is he able to free the heart of that man who spent so much time in a synagogue. That man did not want to be changed by the Word, perhaps because he saw that it would be uncomfortable, that it would change him and that he would no longer be able to live as he had. The impure spirit rebels because it did not want to leave him.

Words strike us and sometimes they hurt. The word of God is not always a consolation. It does not always confirm the choices we’ve already made. Rather, it always seems to push us towards change and many times we’d prefer to distance ourselves and defend ourselves. Jesus does not teach like the scribes. He does not speak to mind alone and His teachings don’t point us towards an external voluntarism or mere respect of the Law. This is what the scribes did. The only thing that mattered to the scribes was for a person to give the impression of obedience. They were experts in the Law, that is, experts in the Word of God, but rather than live it, they would study it. Jesus is the one who brings the Word to life. That is why the man felt provoked and rejected him. Do we not also prefer the knowledge of the Word of God over simply living it out silently?

This man is inhabited by a paradox: the impure spirit does not want to be touched. We have the general conviction that one becomes impure by touching, but many times this comes more from our own pretexts of angelic purity that disguise our inner perversions. A person who is free is able to touch and be touched with out being scandalized. Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark, often touches the sick, the lepers, and the sinners without fear of being contaminated. It is the fear of being touched that often prevents us from finding God, like the bride from the Song of Songs who does not open the door for the groom that knocks, in order keep her feet clean. In order to find God however, we are often asked to dirty our feet along the path that leads to the humanity of others.

Sometimes even those who have come to know God avoid being touched by His Word, because they imagine the conversion God could be calling them to. In fact, the impure spirit says he knows who Jesus is. This is why he tries to defend himself. The impure spirit knows that the word of God will hurt him. He knows that the word of God frees those it touches. And sometimes, in order to be healed, we must suffer in a way that we would have preferred not to have to experience. Jesus tries to thaw our hearts with His tears, even His blood, though He knows that so many times even His blood is wasted on us.

Questions for personal reflection:

  • What is the temperature of your heart?
  • When you look at the way you live, does the Word of God seem to provoke changes in your life?

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark (1:21-28)

Then they came to Capernaum, and on the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!”

The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”

His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

The Gospel of the Lord

 

Featured image: Mohamed Nohassi / Unsplash