Commentary on the Gospel of
Memorial of Saint Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr
On the playground of my elementary school my classmates and I ran and jumped and let loose peels of laughter during our recess times -- a wonderful outlet for the overflowing stream of energy that runs through children. One of our favorite games was hide and seek. As the seeker counted to 20, eyes concealed, we all darted into what we hoped would be the most inconspicuous spots. I prefered the inside of a set of tractor tires that were painted white. As an adult, I don’t remember the last time I played the game in a real sense, but I do play it every day in a figurative sense with God. The real joy of the game on the spiritual playground is to recognize that we are called not just to seek, but to allow ourselves to be sought by God.
Each morning, when we are given the gift of another day of life, our feet hit the floor beside our bed and the earth beneath us becomes a playground. The question is, “How will I engage my faith today?” This is the faith that we hear about in today’s first reading from the letter to the Hebrews: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (v.1)
As I look out on the landscape of my life each day, am I able to trust that God is on that playground waiting to be found even when I feel I cannot see God’s presence? In many ways, that belief in what cannot be seen is the first step. A shift from an “I’ll believe it when I see it” mentality to one that says “I’ll see it when I believe it!” For me it has been helpful to stop thinking of the landscape as something akin to the childhood books “Where’s Waldo?” that imply that God (or Waldo, in this case) is hiding in some specific spot “out there”, but to recognize that God is to be found everywhere! This was what St. Ignatius of Loyola was getting at when he encouraged people to “find God in all things” and it’s what Jesuit paleontologist and geologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin meant when he wrote, “God is not remote from us. He is at the point of my pen, my pick, my paintbrush, my needle -- and my heart and my thoughts.”
Further into today’s Hebrews reading we hear, “He rewards those who seek Him.” (v.6b) God takes delight in our pursuit of God! Notice, it does not say that God rewards those who find God, rather it is about our desire to seek God out. I would add that God takes great delight in pursuing us no matter how many tricks we play or masks we wear to try to hide from God. Similar to the image of God painted by Francis Thompson in his infamous poem “The Hound of Heaven,” God pursues us like a dog does a rabbit...with unceasing focus and energy. Am I willing to allow myself to be found by God? Do I desire to be found?
God sought out Peter, James and John in a startling way in Mark’s Gospel today! Leading them on a hike away from the crowds and the crush of life, Jesus takes them to the top of a mountain. Then, seemingly without warning, something amazing happens: Jesus is transfigured. He becomes light. My wife and I recently acquired an alarm clock that uses light as well as sound. As our desired wake up time is approaching, a soft illumination will progressively get more intense so as to bring us out of slumber. The room is transfigured from one heavy with darkness that encourages sleep to one that is bursting with light and calling us to arise. God’s voice booms as Jesus is illuminated, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” (v. 7b) In other words, “Wake up!”