JESUS WENT UP THE MOUNTAIN AND CALLED THOSE HE WISHED TO HIMSELF. Our Lord undertook his mission of salvation by word and by deed. His actions as well as his speech served to instruct and to save those chosen by God. Words often interpret acts, give them more precise meaning. But there always remains a residual of significance in action that escapes verbal expression; even the best chosen words provide at best only an incomplete vehicle of understanding. Acts themselves reveal a reality that cannot be encompassed in words. The Church has always understood this feature of our human condition. She was aware that it is particularly applicable to Jesus. And so from the beginning, as we can discover by a careful reading of the text, the authors of the Gospels sought to pass on her message by presenting the story of the Lord's actions as well as preserving his words. This includes his everyday acts, not only the miraculous signs and healing that he accomplished.
In today's Gospel we are told Jesus went up the mountain and called specially chosen men to join him there. The mountain country in Israel, as I had occasion to discover for myself recently, is often a place of solitude and separation from the cities and villages of the plains. On other occasions Jesus went up the mountain, we are told, to seek a solitary place of prayer. The mountain lends itself to a more intimate communing with God. This is the case, for one thing, because it is less troubled by the ever-changing scenes of business and travel. Another reason is that the mountain elevates one in vision and provides a perspective that tends to raise the observer above the absorbing concerns of the world of affairs. In such a setting God seems more real and heavenly interests become more present. Christ's followers learned from his example to seek out such places at times of particular significance for their spiritual lives. Even when they were unable to leave the city, they made of their homes a place of retirement and solitude, as the apostles and Mary did in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Later, in the fourth century at Rome we find the aristocratic matrons turning their palaces into monasteries where their daughters and household servants began living a life similar to that of nuns today.
St. Mark, in contrast to other Evangelists, presents Jesus primarily as a teacher with a small following of disciples to whom he explains the message of salvation that he is sent to achieve in fulfillment of the Father's plan. It is not clear that he ever refers to Jesus as a prophet, but on some twelve occasions he calls him a teacher. While he speaks of Jesus as a preacher in his first chapter, subsequently Mark employs the vocabulary of teaching rather than preaching with regard to the instruction he gives. Thus the importance of his special call to certain persons whom he chooses for receiving the message he is commissioned to convey to the world. He places his hopes for his church in forming a small group of men to become preachers who can witness to him effectively in spite of their unpromising background.
We know how difficult this formation proved to be. Miracles and signs accompanied the Lord's words but it was only after he suffered and died and then rose from the dead that he was really understood. His acts proved essential to a true understanding of his words. The example of the apostles whom he chose as his intimate companions and the leaders of his Church teaches us that it is not enough to hear our Lord's call and ascend the mountain to be alone with him. We must be formed also by his saving acts, above all by our acceptance of the way of humiliation, the cross and finally death itself if we would prove faithful. As the last sentence of this Gospel text reminds us, one of the apostles fell away; the others learned by what they suffered more than by what they were taught in words.
In the Eucharist that Jesus instituted for his followers he shares with us the strength and the light that flow from his resurrection. He associates us with his risen body and admits us to the life he died to bring us. By our daily fidelity to his person and his teaching may we all prove apt disciples, learning from him who unites himself to us, how to walk by his side in faithful perseverance until we see him face to face in glory.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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