Trying to Understand You

shoesIn reading Luke this week, I find Jesus’ missing a bigger issue.

Yeah, I know, what chutzpah!

Jesus tells us on the one hand to be humble lest we be embarrassed by being taken down a peg or two if someone more illustrious shows up. And then he pretty much trashes that whole idea, but telling us that, we should avoid the whole patron/client thing of his time, and be really radical and invite only the poor, the forgotten, and the rejected of society to our banquets. God will repay us for that–we repay each other with the former.

Jesus says that we do this because “they can’t repay the debt”–the poor. And so, I assume that means that our largess in giving this big food binge is truly a giving.

Ask anyone who gives of their time at any sort of aid organization. They will tell you that they “receive much more than they give”. This always seems a problem from my point of view. If I am getting more than I give, then I’m getting my debt repaid quite well aren’t I? And it doesn’t matter whether I am getting repaid by all those who see me and think I’m something else for being so giving, or whether I’m getting my reward from God. I’m “buying” something in either case, am I not?

I work at a food pantry once a week for a couple of hours. I work in the back with the food. I notice that when I leave the facility, those who have come there to get food tend to not want to engage with me. They don’t look my way, they often don’t respond to a hello. I don’t engage with them inside the facility because I don’t do “that part”. I know there is a lot of filling out of forms and questions.  I’m sure it’s not pleasant to be questioned like this, all to obtain a few bags of groceries once a month.

The point is, I’m always a bit shocked at this. I’m the benefactor come to help, aren’t I? What’s not to like?

Now, please understand I am not there for that, but I do admit it surprises one when people are sullen, look away, and aren’t beaming with happiness. After all, we are all beaming, smiling, and admiring each other in the back for our willingness to extend a helping hand. Oh, yeah, that’s that “I get more than I give” thing isn’t it? We feed off admiring each other for our goodness. Even the average “random act of kindness” involves SOMEBODY seeing what you did.

And that all just bothers me a lot. I don’t feel that I should take away more than I gave, or even break even.

And I realized that there is really no way around this dilemma, for there are precious few circumstances where one can give meaningfully and be totally anonymous too.

But there is one way we dive deeply into the issue.

And that is to try to immerse ourselves in what it must be like to be the one who “cannot repay the debt.”

Such a journey is fraught with danger. One of the worst things any of us can do is to think or say, “I know how you feel.” The reality is that we can’t. Even when we have “been there, done that” we can’t truly know how anyone else feels in the same circumstances since they come with their own sets of experiences and personality skills that are always going to be different from ours.

But we can try to put ourselves in their shoes. Think of any time when you were utterly in someone else’s hands or worse, you were simply in the hands of “facts” that you couldn’t know yet. Anyone who has waited for the week to transpire to learn the results of a medical test starts to see my point. When did you feel helpless? When you had no control of your immediate future?

Letting those feelings wash over you I suspect gives you a view of at least how it feels to be one of those who stands in long lines to receive something called “free.” Free food, medical care, housing, clothes. A whole statement comes in the bag of food. You are presumed to be lazy, incompetent, a failure in life, or some combination. That may be, and usually is, far, far from the truth. You have made poor decisions probably, but so have all of us. Most of us have had the family safety net to ensure that we didn’t have to go public with our limitations.

When I see a group of men standing around talking as I leave the pantry, I still smile and say hello, but I don’t seek a response now. I don’t wonder why they don’t answer. I just try to imagine how painful it is to need like this. And I can appreciate their desire to be anonymous in their need.

It may not be walking a mile in another’s shoes, for that is not really a possibility, but it is growing in empathy, and it cuts against judging. Those are both good things. It’s the best I can come up with so far.

Who Am I?

whoamIMuch has been written about the passage in Luke wherein Jesus asks of his disciples: Who do you say that I am? Much will continue to be written about it no doubt. And the writings will be important and informative as they always are.

Who we view Christ as, will continue to be an important question, one that we must answer again and again as we move through this mortal life.

But I hazard the guess that our answer tells us far more. It  informs us significantly who we are. And I suggest that it is just as profitable that we ask this question of ourselves.

Who am I?

To say that Jesus is the Christ is to impart little real information. All believing Christians would say as much, yet one must admit that all believing Christians are not the same. What do we mean by that affirmation? If we mean that Jesus was the one sent by God to save us from ourselves, to provide the gateway to a place called heaven merely by affirming his correct appellation, then it says much about who WE are doesn’t it?

It suggests that our faith journey has been stalled at the most primitive and self-serving. Surely this is not what Jesus meant for us. Surely that is not the meaning of the what Luke records Him as having said:

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

Those are powerful words. Worse, they are frightening. We must be willing to lose our lives in order to save it. And the ironic point of this is that while this might seem utterly self-serving, when we actively lose our lives we have lost any sense of saving ourselves at all. We have transcended that earthly way of being.

Losing our lives does not mean literally, it means to recognize and relinquish the daily investment in life that we as humans seem married to. The slogging it out in a world of like-minded individuals, each struggling to “make it” however defined. Each trying to secure their piece of the pie, getting their fair share, working for the “good life”, preparing for retirement, all the mess that we find part of life.

Letting go of that agenda, that mind-set is what is meant. Are you ready to live for others? Are you ready to spend your waking moments engaged in making the world a better place, not compelled by some belief that you are “working out your salvation” but simply motivated by love for humanity?  Are you uninterested in the newest model car, but finding “transportation” sufficient if it gets you where you need to be to help where that is needed? Are you unconcerned about the stock market and the condition of your portfolio on a daily basis, but trust that God will provide and keep your eyes on the tasks at hand?

If this is how you view Jesus as the Christ, then you have and are answering who you are.

It is a common enough question. It is all too often answered with the usual, spouse, parent, professional position response. We are those things surely, but we are something so much more. We are spiritual beings created to relate to our Creator. We are living out a human existence, but when that is over we shall return to our true existence.

If all that be true, then our time here as creature is purposely so. If life can be described by most as short and filled with a  fair amount of pain, then there must be something we are missing when we spend every waking moment worrying and fretting and plotting and scheming to get to some “place” of comfort and happiness. If that is who we are, then we are not in the Kingdom, we are running from it.

Jesus surely did not need to ask the question of Peter. He clearly knew from long hours, weeks and months of living intimately together, exactly what Peter thought of him. No, he asked Peter, as he asks us, in order to force us to confront ourselves and what we have made and are making of this precious time as human.

Who are you?

Amen.

 

It’s Always a Process

Readings:

Is: 55:10-11

Ps: 65:10,11, 12-13-14

Rom: 8-18-23

Mt: 13:1-23

What these readings have in common is process. We sow seeds, rain falls, crops grow and are harvested. Even the reading from Romans suggests that process is the key. Creation is a process that is being worked out in time.

Typically, what is garnered from Matthew’s parable of the sower, is that we must be the fruitful seed. We must take the Word, let it enrich us, grow in us and we must then use it to facilitate the creating desire of God. And that is perfectly true.

Yet, it also bespeaks something about our faith and how it prospers or not. I often wonder how a fundamentalist reads this parable. Surely they don’t see themselves as seed that has fallen on rock or the path. They see themselves as seed that fell into rich soil. They do not let the cares of the world, or the vicissitudes of life interfere with their dedication to Jesus and the Gospel.  They remain committed to their understanding of the Word.

But I suggest there is another way to look at the parable and the readings in general. They don’t necessarily relate to one’s tenacity in committment to “spreading the Word” but rather to the process of being in faith.

And what we see here is change. There is a process being announced. Seed, rain, soil, each is needed. The seed bursts forth, becomes a plant, sets seed, produces its fruits, and then is harvested. It’s not simply a matter of sowing day in and day out. It’s not merely a matter of reading the same passages again and again and reminding ourselves of the standard meanings.

Growth and change signify each of these readings, and that means ourselves as well as our duties to spread the “good news.”

To cast in iron the meaning of any parable or any passage is to stop growing. And to stop growing is death. We can wave the banner of faith, but if it is a faith that is stagnant, unyielding in its interpretation, then we are failing quite simply to honor Jesus’ words.

Faith is messy as some have suggested. It is, and should be full of starts and stops, turns, flips, inquiry, doubt, doubling back, and throwing up our hands in confusion. We should get angry sometimes, we should find deep peace at others, joy often, confidence–in other words, faith involves the entire panoply of our emotions.

Faith is a living thing. For we are in the process of a creation, one that is still ongoing, still unfolding. And we are deeply a part of that process. The very evidence that our world is not as it should be is all the evidence we need. It is not complete because we are not complete.

Faith is work. It’s not easy nor always pleasurable. Talk to those of advanced spiritual growth and they will explain all the months and sometimes years of deep meaningless agony that must be fought through. To the degree that we attempt to avoid that, but painting a picture of faith as steady and unchanging, we contribute to the stalling of creation unfolding from us. We become the rocky soil, the path where fruitless sowing has occurred.

It is like walking along with a handful of seeds and each step turns to concrete before us. We can sow seed all day long, and we will produce nothing. The vessel is sterile, and can generate no life.

That is what seems to me is the fundamentalist. The fundamentalist has deeply erred in concluding that any question, any confusion about what the Word might mean, is not faith and thus must be avoided at all costs. Fear becomes the stick that guides the fundamentalist.

We must realize that we are in process as believers. It is okay to say, I don’t know. It is okay to say, I can’t agree with that this seems to say, therefore, I must dig deeper to uncover its meaning. It is okay to conclude that perhaps the writer was wrong! But it is right to seek answers that satisfy one’s heart, because that is the truest location of good judgment.

It is all about growth. Jesus called his disciples to grow out of their old thinking into new thinking, and in doing so, he shows us how to as well. Remember, on more than one occasion Jesus made clear that there was ever so much more to tell and to learn, more than he had time for in his short time in our world. So he taught us a method–simply love your God with all your heart, mind and soul, your fellow human being as yourself, and be servant to all.

That is how we grow: by each day making a new effort to proceed throughout that day mindful of those directives.

Amen.

 

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