The Intensity of Jesus – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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In the commentary on today’s readings in Living with Christ, Marilyn Sweet stresses that today’s Gospel excerpt from Mark reveals the “intensity and urgency of Jesus”. She looks at his feverish activity in one day.

Those characteristics of Jesus also emerge elsewhere in the Gospels, for instance in Luke’s Jesus announcing that, “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already blazing.”

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We have illustrations of Jesus looking at people with love and intensity. That look of love comes from his deep and sincere desire for his followers. One of my personal favourites is his loving gaze at the rich young man in the Gospel. It’s a loving and intense gaze that challenges me to push myself. Musicals such as Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell offer good images of the intensity of Jesus in his relationships.

I recall an essay in Harper’s magazine from years ago exploring intensity. The writer looked at various individuals and nations, asking whether they are intense. I remember the essay being both insightful and humorous. [I tried Googling it, but had no luck finding the article. It’s worth reading for its caricatures of intense nations and individuals.]

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What is intensity? The people at dictionary.com define intensity as a high degree of emotional excitement; depth of feeling. Its synonyms are passion, emotion, energy and vigor. Just as there are intense individuals, there are nations that can be described as intense. There is certainly one nation that leaves me exhausted.

Have you had the experience of wanting to escape from people, precisely because they are so intense? Geez! I can’t take much more of that intensity. Can’t she just relax? Isn’t he able to joke!” Likewise, both individuals and nations can exhibit intensity’s opposite. Is that described as laidback and easy-going? To put a face on this, contrast the self-importance of some nations with their power lunch versus the laidback la dolce vita of a lunch in the Italian countryside.

Was Jesus intense? I think that there is enough evidence to say that he was. But he also knew how to just be. I would assume that he was discerning about his ways of being with certain people. What were they seeking from him? What kind of people allowed him to be relaxed and at ease? When did he let his hair down? With his disciples? No doubt there were people he couldn’t wait to lose.

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There were times when he caved in, out of the persistence of people. The healing stories often say as much about the individual healed as about Jesus’ compassion for people. The truth might come as a shock, but it’s good to ask ourselves whether Jesus of Nazareth would treat us with compassion. Or would he express frustration with us? How would his intensity manifest itself in dealing with our lives?

The season of Lent is quickly approaching. This is as good a time as any, for us to start reflecting on our desires for the season.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

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