Monday, September 7, 2015
Between a rock and a hard place . . .
Previously posted: September 2012
Many etymologists trace the origins of the idiom to Greek mythology. Legends were written about a treacherous area at sea where sailors would find themselves stuck between Scylla, a monstrous multi-headed beast atop a cliff, and Charybdis, an enormous whirlpool. Going in either direction meant certain death, creating an incredibly difficult dilemma for the sailors to face. This story led to the creation of the expression "between Scylla and Charybdis," which referred to being in an inescapable predicament.
As I ponder this phrase, I think of the Sunday Gospels from this coming week and next week: Mark 8:27-35 and Mark 9:30-37 , respectively. In the first Gospel reference, Jesus is on his way (in a few short Chapters from now) to Jerusalem with his trusty disciples. He asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” Mark then has Jesus reveal the prediction of his Passion. As the Anointed One – his life will lead to suffering and eventually death. This does not make the gang too happy, especially Peter who tries to say – “this ain’t gonna happen on my watch!” They were hoping for someone to come and overtake the Romans and their reign of power. However, this is not how Jesus’ Kingdom reign will unfold.
In the Second Gospel reference, the guys are arguing who is the greatest since Jesus will soon be “out of the picture” or “off the radar.” Again, Jesus steps in and reveals his suffering and death for a second time, and that following him is not about being the greatest but the least; it’s not about being first but last; it’s not about being a person of power, control, prestige, or success – it’s about being like a child – (in the Mediterranean culture) that is, having no status, or considered equal to a slave. So how do we see these readings through our Western cultural lens or hear them through the Western cultural filter?
Well – as I ponder the question, “Who do people say I am?” – We can easily flip into our individualism, self-reliance, independence from others, and personal competence stance. So if we were to reflect on this question: Who do people say we are? What will be the response? Will others describe what we do or what the essence of our Self really is? Or what if we would address this to God? Or the Holy One? What do we believe that God would say to us if we asked –“God, who do you say I am?” Would we have the courage, trust, and humility to receive God’s reply? Oftentimes God does tell us who we are by those who we share life with, or those we play with, or work with, or pray with.
Also, what about that “greatest” squabble among the disciples? Seems to me that living in a superlative mind set is all about competition, striving, climbing, never being satisfied with being good enough.
Again, what does all this have to do with our lives now? I believe that some recent news events have placed us individually and collectively between a rock and a hard place. Let us recall the mass shootings at the theater in Aurora, CO, at the screening of The Dark Knight, where 12 people were killed and 58 were injured; or the Sikh Temple shooting on Aug. 6th in Oak Creek, WI, where 6 people were killed and 4 others were seriously wounded; and the recent killings in Benghazi, Libya, when angry mobs stormed the U.S. consulate and killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others. Are we not between a rock and a hard place where we have to discern how to react or respond with each event? Will we harbor animosity and seek revenge or retaliation? Or will we be about reflection, or understanding, and be in solidarity with those who hold pain and suffering? The choice is always ours as we stand between a rock and a hard place.
An old Grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice, "Let me tell you a story.
I, too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times." He continued, "It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.
But the other wolf, ah! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing. Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit." The boy looked intently into his Grandfather's eyes and asked, "Which one wins, Grandfather? “The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, "The one I feed."