Monday of the 6th Week in Ordinary time
Genesis 4:1-15,25; Psalm 50; Mark 8:11-13
What do we normally do when we get a cut or are wounded? One of the first things anyone might tell you would be to clean it and to apply some medicine to it – antiseptic lotion or antibiotic cream if it’s serious. Why would we do this? Our modern understanding of medicine tells us that cleaning and medicating wounds prevents infection. This wasn’t so easy in the past when medicines were not easily available and people didn’t quite understand the concept of infection. Cuts that are not cleaned get infected (or septic) easily and it’s not pretty. Even small cuts if left untreated can get seriously infected with pus, rotting flesh and ultimately, gangrene. It’s no wonder that medieval surgeons always kept saws among their instruments. Small wounds commonly caused whole limbs to get amputated. Wounds, no matter how small should not be ignored.
A clean wound that does not fester
The readings today point to wounds that should not and cannot be ignored. In both, we see the consequences of the wound of pride festering within us, consuming our entire being. The ultimate consequence of this is turning away from God by rejecting the love and grace that’s given to us by virtue of our being children of God and trying to go our own way. That seems to be the theme of the readings for the past week as well and it continues with the story of Cain and Abel.
When looking at the story of the two brothers, it’s important to realise that Cain’s sacrifice was not rejected. Although Abel’s offering was favoured over Cain’s, the latter’s offerings were not rejected, just not given the prominence or affirmation that the former received. That’s life as we know it – we’re sometimes in favour, sometimes out of it. Recognising the ups and downs of life remind us that we cannot be on top all the time. Cain was unable to accept that and in his pride, wanted to be first and be accepted as he was the first born. Pride in this perceived slighting took root at that point and began to fester, eating at him from the inside.
But God did not leave Cain to stew and fester on his own. Cain was lovingly confronted by his creator (‘Cain, why are you angry?…sin is lurking at the door’) – a creator who loved him enough to want to draw him out of sin and back into the light of love. Being confronted in this way is not easy and is akin to applying medicine to clean out the wound of pride. The problem was that the would was deep and medicine of confrontation must have hurt. Healing requires consent of he who is to be healed and in this case, Cain chose to turn away. He rejected the chance for healing and instead lured his brother out to kill him.
The consequence of this was Cain’s banishment. One thing to note about this is that Cain doesn’t seem to feel bad about the heinous sin of killing his brother but is more concerned about the punishment that was ‘Too hard to bear’. How about the blood of his brother on his hands? It was all about himself and his suffering and not about others or God. The wound of pride gets bigger to the point where all he can see is himself and nothing else. To the point where he cuts himself off from God, grace and the possibility of reconciliation. It’s a frightening reality but a reality nonetheless, something that could happen to us.
We see a similar movement in the Gospel. The Pharisees wanted a sign from heaven not because they were curious but because they wanted to put Jesus to the test. Didn’t Jesus already give countless signs through his healings, exorcisms and teachings? What more would one need to be convinced of his authority and power? The sigh that Jesus gave was one that came from a deep part of himself – he was surprised and saddened at both the unbelief and the hardness of hearts shown by the Pharisees. At the centre of this was pride.
The pride that the Pharisees showed was that they looked inwards in all things. It was all about them – wanting to see things for themselves, asking God to make a miracle so that they could see. To ask God to prove his existence and power to me (and me me me alone), never stopping to realise that God is all around us, working to continue to create this world around us. We need to get out of our prideful shells to meet God as Jesus came down to earth to be with us. God is all around us and we can see that on a daily basis if we only open our eyes and look beyond ourselves for a while.
In our lives, we’re often handed situations that humble us. We can approach such situations through two routes. The first is the way of Cain and the Pharisees to retreat into our prideful selves, to seek validation for our egos and to test God. This way, we ignore our wounds and allow them to fester. The other route is to accept our limitations and our place as weak children of God and to tend whatever wounds we might have that emerge in our lives.Through our acceptance of our humanity, we realise that we need God to be with us in our lives and gain strength from that knowledge. St Paul reminds us that when we are weak, we are strong.
Tending tp our wounds is painful but necessary. A question to ask ourselves therefore is: what wounds do we have to tend to today?