Monthly Archives: November 2013

Luke 10:25-37. The Good Samaritan

Luke 10:25-37 – November 16, 2013

The evangelist Luke tells us that one day a certain lawyer—an expert in the Law of Moses–asked Jesus a searching question, “Who is my neighbor?” He wanted to “justify himself,” we are told. (Who doesn’t?)  In response the Lord tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. And when he had finished, Jesus has a searching question of his own—“Which of these three, do you think—the priest, the Levite, or the despised Samaritan—proved neighbor to the man the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Go and do likewise. Easier said than done! Mercy isn’t even easy to define, when it comes down to it. No word in English means precisely the same thing. But it is worth the effort, because for those of us who seriously wonder—What should I be doing to follow Jesus?—mercy brings us as near an answer as we are going to get.

So what exactly is mercy?

There are a number of English words that mean nearly the same thing—there is pity for instance, a feeling of sorrow for another’s pain. And there is compassion, which comes closer to mercy than pity because it requires some “ethical imagination,” the ability to think yourself into a painful situation of another and conjure up for yourself the anguish you have not felt. In the parable that Jesus tells, the Samaritan saw the man who had fallen among thieves lying next to the road and he “had compassion.” He felt for or, more exactly, with the victim.

But the story doesn’t end there—with a feeling. It certainly could have ended with the Samaritan feeling sorry for that poor blighter lying in the ditch. It is entirely possible to feel pity and still pass by on the other side of the road. Mercy, however, is more than a feeling. You can feel compassion, but you have to show mercy. It may be accompanied by an emotion, with pity or compassion—it often is–but it is never just that.  Mercy is an action.

And feelings are not actions, beloved. To think they are is one of the deepest flaws present in our modern way of thinking, beloved. For all of its harshness, we live in a sentimental society, where emotion is greatly valued for its own sake. We have the misguided notion that if we feel something deeply we have done something worthwhile. I have to include myself in this. When I read about the devastation wrought by a typhoon in the Philippines–thousands and thousands homeless and starving–I feel a surge of genuine pity for their suffering. As a father I can imagine myself in the position of those parents who are grieving for their children, swept away by the fury of the storm. I feel compassion—and that’s nice. Compassion costs little or nothing and can be emotionally quite satisfying. And having finished feeling sorry, I can safely turn the page of my newspaper, take another sip of my coffee, and congratulate myself on being a good person.

You have done that too—we all have. We are people entirely convinced of the value of our own feelings.

But having felt pity or compassion we have not shown mercy. Feelings are not actions. The writer of the Book of James asks: “If a brother or sister is lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” (2:15-16)

What good indeed? None whatsoever.

Mercy is not sentimental. It requires us first of all to see other human beings realistically and soberly, not as things but as actual persons, like ourselves. In Jesus’ parable the Samaritan saw a man lying beaten and bleeding next to the road. The priest and the Levite, who had passed that way earlier, had also seen the same man. But what they saw was a disagreeable object lying by the side of the road, possibly a corpse, a potential source of ritual impurity and something to be avoided. The Samaritan, however, was prepared to see the victim differently, because he himself was someone whom life had beaten up. As a member of a hated minority, the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable would have experienced prejudice and racial discrimination. He too was a victim of injustice.

Having suffered injustice ourselves, however, is no guarantee that we will respond to injustice when we see it done to others. The Samaritan might have shaken his head oh so sadly and signed—“What a pity! I know how unjust life can be.” We all enjoy dwelling upon how badly we have been treated, and–let’s face it–life can certainly hand us the rough end of the stick.  But going out of our way to bind up someone else’s wounds requires a degree of forgiveness for whatever hard knocks life has handed us. We have to let go our self-pity in order to show mercy.

The Samaritan knew nothing whatsoever about the character of the man who lay unconscious by the side of the road. He may have been good or bad. That doesn’t matter for mercy. Judgment isn’t up to us–showing mercy is. It begins with seeing real people in need, and then it deliberately takes a step toward righting life’s injustices, of which we ourselves are the victims. And when we bind up their wounds we bind up our own.

Mercy is deliberate; it is the decision that makes it mercy.

You can feel pity without meaning to.  You can experience sympathy on an impulse. You can do kind things spontaneously, without thinking, but you have to “show” mercy. It requires of us a conscious decision—or rather a series of decisions—to go further and further out of our way—to get closer and closer to those who are in pain. The Samaritan went to the victim by the side of road and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine, the first aid of that time and place. Then he put him on his own beast. Then he took him to the inn and paid the innkeeper to take care of him. Each  was a deliberate action that carried him further and further out of his way–and got him in deeper and deeper.

He became more and more involved in the life of the man  he didn’t know. He did that not because the man he found by the road particularly deserved his mercy, but because the Samaritan found mercy in his nature–as do we. It is gift of God pure and simple. It is how God shares himself with us. We call it “grace.” But we have to make the decision to allow God’s mercy to flow through us into the world. So Jesus says to the lawyer—and to us, by the way–“Go and do likewise.”

The Old Testament sings praises for the God who shows mercy to the children of Israel, his chosen people. But it took a long time for the children of Israel to reconcile themselves to the idea that that in response they should act mercifully. And even then they strictly limited mercy, as if it were something supremely precious—which it is. Down to the time of Jesus the limits of mercy remained a living question debated among experts on the Law of Moses–How far does mercy go? Should mercy extend beyond the Jewish community? What about “bad” Jews? Did it extend beyond the Chosen to righteous non-Jews? But it surely couldn’t reach to “trash”–like Samaritans, for instance? That is the source of the searching question the lawyer asks Jesus–“Who is my neighbor?”

It is still a searching question.

We also tend to measure out our mercy in teaspoons. We are happy to extend mercy to people like ourselves. But what about people we find reprehensible? So we might well ask ourselves–How far does my mercy go?

I got boxed into a space in a parking lot the other day by a SUV with a bumper sticker that read—“Water-board Liberals.” I think it was an attempt at wit, but the humor was lost on me.  Jokes about torturing people leave me a little flat, I must admit. And then maybe it wasn’t intended to be funny at all. Maybe the driver would really like to torture and kill fellow Americans. That impression was reinforced when she stepped out of her vehicle and appeared to be everything her bumper-sticker implied she might be—coarse, rude, hard-looking.

How far does my mercy go? Because I happened to be thinking about that question just then, I asked myself—Is this woman deserving of my mercy?

It is a peculiarly Gospel idea, beloved, that God shows mercy not just to one family or religious group, not just to the deserving or the elect, but to the entire human race, without exception. And it is the idea that we should show mercy, not just to people like ourselves, but to people we might well detest is what makes the teaching of Jesus so radical and his example so difficult for us to follow. That God loves the people we despise is the single Christian doctrine that is most difficult to believe.

God is merciful, nevertheless, and his mercy flows through us to the whole world. But showing mercy does not come naturally to us. “Go and do likewise” is not an easy command to obey. Kindness and cruelty come easily, directly from our emotions, from pity and anger, without a second thought. But to follow the command of Christ to show mercy requires consideration. You have to think about it, beloved. And it frequently requires overcoming something deeply felt—our sense of injured pride, our prejudices, and our own painful history.

That is why mercy has to be a lifetime’s work. None of us will ever be really good at it. It is a fresh decision every time we are confronted by someone who needs our mercy. Yes or no. And if we choose yes, it is a “cold” decision, made in the light of God’s love for the world shown for us in the death of Jesus on the cross, and not a “hot” one, made on the basis of our feelings

So I have to like the person to whom I show mercy—or pretend to? Come on now, you’ve got to be kidding! God does not require any of us to play at being hypocrites!

But he does require us to be merciful—or try our damnedest. The promise of Jesus—“Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy”—has dark implications for the merciless. For myself it means that I am called to show mercy not just to the people who plaster hateful sentiments on their bumpers but to those who actually do torture and kill in the name of their own twisted political and religious beliefs—or just for the hell of it. Only because they are actual persons like myself, not things, and for no other reason.

People only become human for us gradually, as we get closer to them. They start out like a distant figure moving toward us far down the beach, just a pencil mark on sand. Then slowly, as we approach each other, they begin to take on a human form, with arms, legs, and a distinct body, male or female. And only when they are quite near do they attain a face–plain or beautiful, old or young, distant or smiling. People become human for us gradually. They all start out as things, and only slowly do they become human for us. It is our business, beloved, to get close enough for us to recognize in those who suffer the image of Christ.



Filed under Gospels, New Testament

Revelation 22

Revelation 22:13 – November 9, 2013

            In the last chapter of the Book of Revelation the voice of the risen Lord rings out across the universe, a clear note, drowning all other voices. “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega. The first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

It is the closing bell. The cosmic game is over. There is no time for either team to score. Sinners can go right on sinning—what difference does it make? The saints, however, can finally look up and catch their breath for the last shout of triumph—“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”  The Book of Revelation closes with a big bang, as Time is finally swallowed up by Eternity.  

When I was a kid growing up in North Dakota those who talked fervently about The End were regarded as unhinged and stood in imminent danger of spending the winter in the State Nervous Hospital in Jamestown. That was rather odd because the world had just taken a giant step toward its end. The shadow of a mushroom cloud lay over the 1950’s, and people were anxious. But the emphasis was always upon survival.

So when I was in second grade we had a civil defense drill at three o’clock every afternoon in which we were told to crouch down under our desks and stay very, very still. This would, we were told, protect us from deadly radioactive fallout if the Russians—those devils in human form!—should drop an atomic bomb. Our teacher always used the afternoon drill as an opportunity to slip outside and have a cigarette—Bless her heart! And who could blame her? Second-graders are such a handful.

And everybody smoked in the 1950s. No one thought it did anything but calm you down and make you more attractive to the opposite sex. In every way it was a more optimistic time. We had won the war, after all. America was rich, expanding, and powerful. We had enemies, oh yes!–evil enemies who also had the Bomb, and they didn’t value human life as much as we did. But they could and would be overcome by our strength and resolve. We would triumph, and after the struggle with Communism was over a golden future would dawn. Technology and capitalism would carry us to the stars and beyond.      

Needless to say, things have changed considerably during the last half century. A more somber mood has taken root in our minds—and with fairly good reason. The apocalyptic view of things has become popular, even among the secular-minded. Even scientists, those prophets of modernity, talk freely about the end of the human history. Dirty bombs, over-population, global warming, global pandemic—we have our choice of one or a combination of several scenarios. Who knows which? But the implication is clear. It’s too late now. The ice caps are melting. The flood of humanity is rising. There is even popular show on TV called “Life after People,” an epilogue to human history, suggesting how planet earth will evolve after we are gone.  

Religious people, who once were so careful not to sound too crazy, now talk about The End off-handedly, as if it were all over but the shouting. Some Christians to the right of center have gotten caught up in the idea of “The Rapture”—in my opinion one of the silliest notions ever to be misinterpreted from scripture. But they are by no means alone. No one—liberal or conservative–is afraid any more to carry around a sign that says—The End Is Near. But what does “The End” mean?

Not surprisingly, Christians thinking about The End always seem to fall back on images drawn from the Book of Revelation. Martin Luther was openly skeptical about the book and initially didn’t even want to include it in his translation of the Bible into German, mostly because of the trouble it had always hatched in the Church. It had always been the favorite food of rabble-rousers. With typical wit, he quipped that a book calling itself “Revelation” ought to be revealing. He didn’t believe that it really had much to say that useful to justify the mischief it could produce. Ultimately, however, Luther climbed down and put it in, mostly because The Revelation to John is always been there, the last biblical word on the ultimate destiny of humankind.

In fact, Revelation is a brilliant visionary work, and if it were nothing else it would still be one of the great monuments of human imagination. But has also been a very dangerous book, one of the most dangerous ever written, a disorderly influence. It’s bizarre and brilliant imagery has excited the minds of fervent believers who see in it a secret code by which to understand what is going on in our own time. Great violence and suffering have arisen from their interpretations. Jews and heretics have been burned because of it. True believers have used the figurative language of Revelation as an excuse to damn their enemies to fire and hell. And on that score nothing has changed. Christians continue to apply the images of the Beast, the Whore of Babylon, and the Four Riders of the Apocalypse to the history of our time with great literalness.

Its endurance is a great tribute to its author, a second generation Christian who calls himself John. He was not the beloved disciple of the Gospel. He was a mighty Christian poet inspired by a consuming love for the Lord Jesus and a burning hatred of the Roman Empire and its rulers, which he knew must soon be destroyed. He had to cloak his vengeful vision in a secret language to escape the wrath of those rulers, but there is no doubt that he sincerely believed his own message. In his time Rome was the world, and the world must end soon—and with great violence. He saw the sky burning, and the sea boiling, and the earth, tinder dry, being consumed like an empty cardboard box, while a new heaven and a new earth rose out of the ashes.

 He saw The End of all things, but in trying to describe that end John is in fact making an attempt to do what is humanly impossible. He used what he had—brilliantly–to try to embody the indescribable. It is easy to feel the power of the Holy Spirit in his words. But the result, though wonderful, still belongs to the realm of poetry. It is in fact as impossible for us to conceive of the death of the world, as it is for us to picture our own individual death. In the face of The End language always fails us.

And yet The End is still out there–the period at the conclusion of our long history. Everyone—believer and nonbeliever alike—has to acknowledge that our human story will eventually have an end. And even though we can’t describe our end, like a terminal patient we still feel constrained to talk about it.

In a wonderful little a poem called “Fire and Ice” Robert Frost does just that in stubbornly unreligious terms:

            Some say the world will end in fire,

            Some say in ice.

            From what I’ve tasted of desire

            I hold with those who favor fire.

            But if it had to perish twice,

            I think I know enough of hate

            To say that for destruction ice

            Is also great

            And would suffice.

Here the poet treats The End of the World—the ultimate “serious matter”–rather off-handedly. “Fire and Ice” is a brief poem, probably because there is not much anyone can say on the subject. For what he does say Robert Frost draws not on the imagery of the Book of Revelation and other religious texts but on the insights of modern science.

And expert opinion on the subject is divided. Some say this, others say that. But who really knows? Some scientists think the sun with eventually explode and burn our little planet to a cinder. They say “the world will end in fire.” Others think the sun will expire slowly, leaving our earth to freeze in deep space. They say “in ice.” Both are “great and would suffice.”     

            But there is more that can be said. Like all good poetry, “Fire and Ice” has another less obvious level of meaning. It was first published, interestingly enough, in 1920, when the apocalyptic horrors of the First World War were very fresh in the minds of Frost’s contemporaries. So the question–How will the world end?—suggests other possibilities. Perhaps it will end in the fire of human passions, consumed by “desire”—ethnic or religious hatred and the lust for power. Or perhaps it will end in ice, ultimately destroyed by humanity’s alienation from itself and indifference to its own suffering.  Either one would “suffice,” Frost says. So what does it matter?

            It doesn’t actually. As Frost suggests, the question—How will the world end?–is absurd. People love to talk about it, write about it, speculate about how it will happen and what will happen then, but no one of us can grasp  something so beyond all human experience any more than you and I can imagine a world without ourselves. It is ultimately a self-indulgent game we play. Speculation on the subject is meaningless.  

            But if talk about how the world will end is meaningless, is there nothing we can say about The End that is not absurd? None of us know anything about how the world will end except that it will, and yet those of us who live by faith have something positive to say about The End.

Here the writer of Revelation comes to our help. At the beginning of his vision, John hears the voice of God speaking—“I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (1:8). God asserts that he alone has ultimate control over human history, not human powers. Therefore we need not be afraid whatever awful things may happen—wars, plagues, holocausts–because the Almighty is in control and when it is all over and done he will win out. History belongs to him.

            Then in the last chapter of his Revelation, John the Seer hears another voice, an echo of the first, but this time the voice of the risen Christ,  God for us. His words are like those heard before. He too is “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last,” but he is also “the beginning and the end.” He is the Lord beyond history. Jesus Christ is The End of the World, the goal toward which everything is moving.   

If Jesus rose from the dead, as we confess, and is present in our hearts and minds, as we know he is, then he is always there, waiting for us beyond Time, equidistant from every moment of our lives. And that is an encouraging thought, beloved—there will be an End, but when it comes it will not be as a stranger.

We like to call the goal of our lives “heaven” and picture it as an endless summer afternoon spent in the company of those we love, a sort of Sunday school picnic without end. I myself have thought about it that way too. But when I consider more soberly what life with other people is really like, a forever spent with them, even in the nicest surroundings, is a disturbing prospect. Our conventional idea of heaven it is just another image of the Unimaginable we create for our own amusement.

God has something else in mind for us, I feel certain, something infinitely better. I stand on the beach and watch the shorebirds running in and out of the surf. They don’t know anything about time passing. They don’t remember anything, regret anything, hope or fear anything. They are past all that. All they know is their own smallness and the immensity of the sea and the incessant rolling of the waves, which reach out to the little birds but never grasp them. Now think that of that sea as love–tireless, ageless, ever-moving yet changeless love and what do you have? 

Just another image of the Unimaginable End. Just another human invention. All we really know, beloved, is that we did make ourselves. Someone else was our beginning, and that someone is also our End. He is the goal, the purpose, the object of our lives—and of the world. Everything else is obscurity and darkness, but knowing that much we can enter that darkness without fear.

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The Beatitudes: Matthew 5 and Luke 6

The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:1-12 and Luke 6:20-31 — November 2, 2013

The evangelist Matthew tells us that “when Jesus saw the crowds he went up the mountain, and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”

“Blessed” is another of those Bible words that is difficult to translate into everyday English. It means something like “lucky,” but without the randomness of fortune. Nothing in scripture is left to the pagan goddess Fortuna. The gospel writers regard everything that happens in this world as under the watchful authority of the God of Israel, even the fall of a sparrow. There is no room for good luck or bad.

Again, to be “blessed” comes close to being “happy”—indeed this is how some modern translations render it—but that word falls rather flat in English, without the ecstatic tone these sayings of Jesus originally had. We might say—“Oh the joy of the poor in spirit!” and not offend too much against the sense of this passage, the first of those sayings of Jesus that are called the Beatitudes.

But maybe we should just stick with “blessed”—it’s  nice word and when people say, “I’m blessed,” you sense that that they are aware that the good things in their lives are a gifts from the Lord and not just the consequence of random luck or their own effort.  They are more than just happy. They have found the joy of living in relationship with what is infinitely greater than themselves. A blessed life is lived in complete dependence on God; it endures suffering and triumphs over it through his grace on a daily basis.    

So let blessed be blessed. What is more important in understanding the Beatitudes is to appreciate the radical quality they originally had—and still should have. Familiarity can dampen their revolutionary fire, and sentimentality can blunt their sharpness. But the Spirit of Jesus intends to provoke us as well as comfort us with these promises, which stand in such drastic conflict with our everyday experience and common sense. If they do not scandalize us we are not hearing them rightly. The Beatitudes are bold apocalyptic utterances, not moral teachings. Like the greatest visionary art, they predict the end of things, not what is, but what will be. They are not intended to tell us how to live, but what living ultimately means.  

Like most people, I prefer the Beatitudes as recorded by St. Matthew. They are the ones that were read at my mother’s funeral. They are the usual gospel we hear on All Saint’s Sunday. They are beautiful in their serene balance and comforting in their familiarity. But we get more of the shock value these sayings originally had when we turn to St. Luke’s version. There Jesus “looks up” at his disciples and says—“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” And in these words we probably come closer to hearing the actual voice of the Teacher from Nazareth, who promises the coming Kingdom of God to those who are actually destitute right now. Blessed are “you” who are actually experiencing poverty right now.

That definitely flies in the face of common sense! Poverty In modern America is certainly no joke. Third World poverty is much worse, and there is a political faction in our country that would like to make our poverty like that of the Third World, unrelieved except by the grudging charity of the rich.  But poverty in Jesus’ time was a dreadful condition indeed—dehumanizing, desperate and ultimately deadly. His was a world where the poor were everywhere under foot. Poverty screamed at you in the street. It forced parents to sell their own children into slavery in order to eat. We cannot begin to imagine its terrible expedients.

So when Jesus says in Luke’s gospel–“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled”–he is not talking to people like ourselves, who may be on a Weight Watchers diet because of our expanding waistlines. He is talking to people who are one crust away from starving to death. They are, therefore, completely and utterly dependent upon compassion—divine and human. They have no choice but to trust. They are “livin’ on a prayer,” like the song says. They are “blessed” just to be simply alive—and they know it.  

Luke the evangelist passionately identified these people–anxious, vulnerable, and clinging to the very edge of existence. The words and actions of Jesus in Luke’s gospel reflect an immediate and overriding concern for those living on the margins of society—widows, orphans, the lame, the blind, those who must beg to live. And to these—“les miserables”– Jesus gives his personal guarantee of ample food in the coming Kingdom—“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.”

The evangelist Matthew’s situation is very different. He writes his gospel for a church that is decidedly more middle-class. Some of his readers may not have been as well-off as others, but most of them—like you and I–viewed hunger from a safe distance. So Matthew approaches the Beatitudes differently. He applies the words of Jesus to the interior state of the mind and soul. So instead of saying, “Blessed are you who are poor,” he has Jesus say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

And that is a very different take! In Matthew Jesus speaks not just to those who are destitute and down-trodden, but about those whose stomachs are filled with good things while their spirits are as cold and hollow as a deserted house. Luke promises the blessings of the coming Kingdom directly to those who in the world’s eyes have failed. In Matthew blesses those who, by the world’s standards, have succeeded, those of us who are comfortable, but uneasy in our comfort, longing for more. And Jesus says them—to us, beloved– “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”

 “I can’t get no sa-tis-faction”—isn’t that how it goes?

At this point in my life I find myself in a very ambiguous position. I have never led a deprived life, but through an odd set of circumstances I find myself more affluent now than I have ever been before. In retirement I view from a distance those seniors who have to choose between food and medicine. I have no such difficult choices to make. When I am offered the senior discount by a cashier or waitress making little better than minimum wage, I first suppress a nervous laugh and then I hope than my Florida tan will hide my blush. My wife and I try hard to be generous with what we have, but all the while our minds are turning toward the wines and cheeses of France.    

Now there are certainly some people out there who are self-satisfied in their wealth, who feel themselves to be entitled to all they have—and more, if they could get hold of it. They wallow in their possessions, and then they turn around and piously say–“God helps those who help themselves.” They have their own particular spiritual problems, which Jesus elsewhere addresses at length.

But there are also people out there who are heartily disgusted by the vulgar materialism of our culture and the coarseness of its manners, who are repulsed by the stupidity of politicians who would rather destroy the country than displease their narrow-minded base of support. There are certainly people out there who are not hungry, but nevertheless “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” for the kingdom of God that seems always just around the corner, but never quite arrives. There are certainly people out there who, in a hungry world, are embarrassed by their affluence. I know because I am one of them.

And I thank God that his Holy Spirit also has a scrap of comfort left for us, the “poor in spirit,” who are sick and tired of living in a world of compromises and pretenses. Thank God that Christ also blesses us, who are not the physically hungry, but who nevertheless passionately long for something that cannot easily be put into words. For justice. For integrity. For satisfaction.

We need the blessing of the Lord at least as much as the hungry, because our condition is so much more complex and perplexing. No amount of food will satisfy those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Only a complete change in the whole created order of things can satisfy our longing.

Our lives are summed up in that single word—longing.  That longing seems more acute at certain moments in our lives and at certain times of the year. Ancient people thought that when the leaves changed color and fell and the sun light grew pale and golden, the barrier between this world and the next became thinner and more permeable. In autumn they believed the living could sense more keenly the presence of the departed, those they had known and loved and lost to death. Eternity impinged on Time this time of year. That is why the Church celebrates the Feast of All Saints right around now, and people used to carry armfuls of white flowers to the cemeteries.

There is a particular sort of longing attached to the fall of the year and the fall of our lives, the longing of people living in tension with themselves. In his letter to the Philippians St. Paul talks about that tension. There are so many things to do and so many ways to serve as a follower of the Lord in this world, but at the same time, he says, “I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.”  This is not just self-indulgent morbidity. This is an honest expression of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. To be a Christian means to live in tension between our condition now and our longing to be finally and completely healed.

So what shall we do until the doctor comes? What do we do in the meantime?

I had a teacher when I was in seminary, a Dominican friar who really was all those things–meek and merciful and pure in heart. One time he was discussing “life in the meantime” and he said something to this effect–“Don’t worry about being good.  Just do what which is within you.”

Do that which is within you.  

Notice Jesus does not command his disciples—Be merciful! Be meek! Be pure of heart! He simply blesses those who do what is within them. And he promises resolution to those of us who are experiencing the sometimes almost unendurable tensions of everyday life. Do what is within you.

To those of us who are longing for a better world, who are waiting for something we cannot name or describe, Jesus says, it will come. In the meantime, there is a meaning in even your most seemingly absurd sufferings. Don’t worry if you cannot see it now. Just do what is within you, and in the end everything will be all right.





               He promises that there will be a resolution  to the tension in which we live, and we have to trust that that promise is true, and feed on that trust.


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