Portions of my morning walk with Joy and our dog Gracie take us through the Kisatchie National Forest. In the winter months we wear headlamps to light our way, because we return home before the sun rises. Eyes gleam back at us from the woods. Owls announce their presence with hoots and growls.
On an especially windy morning an obstruction across our path appeared in the beam of our headlamps. Initially, we could only make out shapes that might have been a pile of cut brush or a fallen limb. As we got closer, we realized that the wind had downed one of the Kisatchie’s enormous longleaf pines.
Riddled by disease and rot, the tree had exploded when it struck the ground. After gawking at the site, and breathing a sigh of relief that the thing hadn’t fallen on us, we picked our way through the scattered bits and smashed limbs.
After a few steps I said to Joy, “I love seeing things like that. They remind me that I’m not in control.”
It’s not that I’m a control freak in need of constant reminders that God is God and I am not. Neither am I the sort who rationalizes my own inaction in the face of horrendous, unjust, or morally outrageous conditions by saying that God is in control.
There are, indeed, some things over which I am powerless. And yet, I do have the power to make a difference that matters every single day. Just because I can’t do everything doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do something.
Mark’s account of Jesus’ day in Capernaum is a case in point. (Mark 1:29-39) Having just wowed the crowd at the local synagogue, Jesus makes his way with Andrew and Simon Peter to Peter’s house.
As it turns out, Peter’s mother-in-law is bedridden with fever. No sooner does Jesus heal her than the whole town swarms the place looking for cures for every kind of ailment and for exorcisms of a variety of chatty demons. Many were healed and made demon-free by bedtime.
Apparently, there was still a long waiting line of sick and possessed people early the next day. Jesus had not healed everybody in Capernaum. And it was time to move on.
Jesus did the good that he could do that day. And then he moved on to do the good that he could do on a new day. He healed many people and removed spiritual burdens from others. Yes, many others still suffered. But Jesus refused to be overwhelmed or frozen into inactivity by the enormity of the challenge before him.
Healing stories and exorcisms make up one third of Mark’s Gospel. That’s more than the space that Mark allots to the Passion Narrative. And Mark must have had a reason for shaping his version of Jesus’ life in this way.
I suspect that Mark wanted us to understand that the Gospel is not a list of concepts to which we assent. Neither is it a moral code to which we adhere. The Gospel is a power unleashed on this earth through feeble hands like yours and mine. The Gospel is something we do.
Well, actually, the Gospel is something that God does through us. And that is why we need a lesson in power and powerlessness.
Through the hands and feet of Jesus, God is making the entire creation new. God is settling for nothing less than a new heaven and a new earth. As Teresa of Avila famously said—and as I repeat often—we are now the hands and feet of Jesus. And our hands and feet are frail and fragile.
Neither today nor tomorrow will I eradicate world hunger. But I can feed a hungry person today. And tomorrow I can vote for economic policies aimed at ensuring proper nutrition for all.
Neither today nor tomorrow will I restore health to all who suffer from disease. But I can give generously to ministries like St. Luke’s Mobile Medical Mission and the Interfaith Pharmacy. And tomorrow I can demand that our leaders find a way to make quality healthcare available to everyone.
If I were in control, my meager actions to relieve the world’s suffering and sorrow might seem pitiably inadequate. A mere drop in the bucket of misery. But I do not believe that I am in control. I believe that I am a participant in God’s mighty work. God is healing this world through us, weaving together what we do in ways that we cannot see.
Just because we cannot do everything does not mean that we shouldn’t do something. When we do nothing, we are actually adding to the misery and injustice of this world. If you really want to follow Jesus, you have to do something.