Alternate Reality

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Coming from a large family, I had this secret fantasy growing up. Everyone else at home was weird. I was the only normal person I knew. Mom and dad didn’t get me. They didn’t like my choice of clothes, music, or friends. I might have considered getting my own place, maybe even on the other side of the planet, if I didn’t need them to take me everywhere, do my laundry, cook my meals, or provide me an allowance. My grandparents, by comparison, were cool. They were kind. They didn’t always get me or the things I liked, but they never forced me to be someone I was not. Still I’m afraid the person my grandparents knew and the person I was were often not the same. Older siblings were simply annoying. I know. I have three. I often wished they’d quit bossing me around. But I borrowed their things when they were not home. And it was worth the risk. I didn’t care for hand-me-downs. So I decided I was not going to wait. Younger siblings were just as annoying. I know. I have three. They were always touching my stuff and following me around like some circus side-show. When they got in trouble, who did mom and dad listen to? The one who yelled loudest, whose tears flowed more freely, and who deserved an Oscar nomination for Best Over‑reacting.

And after wishing my real family was out there, I would entertain that fantasy to bring everything into perspective. “I must be adopted.” I don’t mean to disparage those who are adopted. In fact, I was actually jealous because adopted children at least knew that despite whatever strain of insanity and weirdness afflicted people at home, it was not in their genes.

Life can be challenging, mostly because we don’t control a lot of things. When life was plain and boring, and you craved excitement, nothing happened. When life was chaotic and confusing, and you wanted peace and quiet, it never came. Life is seldom what we want when we want it. So we create alternate realities, happy places, where we were the center of the universe. In these alternate realities, these fantasy worlds, we were wise and beautiful and talented. We were important, and we commanded respect. But eventually we have to return to the real world, and deal with the day’s challenges and inconveniences. But we still can dream. It helps make our reality more bearable.

Creating alternate realities is not unusual for us. The account from Genesis tells how Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree because they were told by the serpent they would become like God. They thought it was worth a shot. Don’t we sometimes wish we could be like God? At least have some God-like powers, or any superpowers? But when reality came crashing down, they realized they were naked. The sad truth is, we’ve been there. Maybe not the naked part, but something just as filled with guilt and embarrassment.

But wait, there’s more. Writing the Corinthians, Paul offered an image meant to divert his listeners from the challenges of their present state, the poverty, persecution, violence, and unbelief, to lift their hopes beyond this world that was passing away. The glory of Christ awaited them, so they needed to endure patiently, to trust God, and hold on to faith. Paul is offering us an alternate reality. “We look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory; but what is unseen is eternal.”[1]

The gospel reading offers us a stark and striking reality. A running theme in Mark’s gospel is of Jesus’ disciples’ constant failure to understand him and his mission. His enemies were constantly plotting against him. His family was often in the dark, not exactly thrilled to be associated with him. Today they all weigh in on his ministry. They did not grasp his ministry, nor the passion that drove him to do it. It was simply too much for them to deal with. So they fabricated some alternate realities that made sense to them. His family said, “He is out of his mind.” His enemies said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul.”[2] Giving an unpleasant reality a name makes it somehow easier to handle.

The story of the fall of Adam and Eve tells us our ancestors in the faith were familiar with evil and its influence. Evil tends to distort how we perceive and interpret reality. At times in our eagerness to do good and hinder evil, we become impatient with the weak, intolerant with the unresponsive, dismissive of the struggling. In our zeal for excellence we could become too rigid and demanding, forgetting that we are ourselves imperfect, that we ourselves stand in need of healing, mercy, and forgiveness. We want to be able to define everything, to have absolute certainty, to crush all doubt and dispel all mystery. Things that we fail to grasp we might ridicule and call names, and we miss God’s invitation to dig deeper. Like Jesus’ family and the scribes, we become blind and dismissive of God’s presence and power, and we harden our hearts in arrogance or fear. Not even God can enter in when we harden our hearts. God will not impose faith upon anyone. Although faith is first God’s gift, faith is also our response to God’s gift. And we have both power and freedom to welcome or reject God’s gift of faith.

That curious reference to an everlasting sin that will never have forgiveness points to Jesus’ enemies rejecting him, and their claim that “He has an unclean spirit.” We have seen this behavior adversaries use to demonize each other, those they disagree with or dislike. It is an easy way to dismiss what they don’t care to understand. Those who dismiss Jesus effectively shut the door on the reconciliation only he can bring about. This everlasting sin cannot be forgiven because it is a rejection of forgiveness itself. Remember, even God cannot force forgiveness on us.

Look around and notice what God is doing in your life. Appreciate what God is doing in the lives of others. And in the face of conflict and tension, be willing to work together to achieve the common good. After all, God is on our side. In patience and goodwill, forgiveness and forbearance, we need to acknowledge each other as sisters and brothers, partners and fellow travelers facing life’s challenges together.

We who have weathered the turbulent years of our youth know that despite the weirdness and insanities of our families, we possess power to affect our own future. We have power to choose good and reject evil. We celebrate our adoption in Christ Jesus because through him God has laid claim to us as his own. We need not fear the weird and funny people we call family. Even Jesus had some in his. So when you get the urge to disown your weird and funny family, know that they are Jesus’ weird and funny family too. Wish them well instead, and trust that God has everything under control.

Rolo B Castillo © 2018


[1]2 Corinthians 4: 18

[2]Mark 3: 21-22