Today’s Gospel Story reminds us, among other things, that God is very close to us in everything. We don’t so much “find” God, we recognize God as having been close in us always, and from time to time we recognize God happening in new ways.
In the Story Jesus tells us to “fear no one”. Each us is as we are. When we choose to believe this Story happening in our everyday life we might find ourselves having some interesting and unexpected experiences. The Gospel is always about living with people here and now created in God’s image. All of us, together, as we are, reflect the myriad ways God chooses to offer us insight as to who God is.
Francis calls the church, and us, to move to accompanying people, and away from judging and condemning people who don’t think or live as we think they should. We just don’t understand how they can, at least in our eyes, be so wrong. We tend to fear what we don’t understand. This is painfully obvious in the culture issues embroiling us these days. People on all sides of every issue claim that “God is on our side”. Which God might that be? Here we might remember that hatred done, allegedly, in the name of God is still hatred.
Jesus tells us “fear no one”, and “nothing is concealed that will not be revealed”. He reminds the church and us to be open to the Spirit who is eager to guide us. Here we have some real power. We can say I know everything I need to know, so I don’t need to grow, I don’t need to look for truth, I already have it and anybody who doesn’t agree with me is wrong, and I can impose my view on them. The Spirit can’t do anything if we don’t let Her. Being open to the Spirit involves admitting we don’t have all the answers for ourselves, let alone for others. Each of us in our own way is trying to make the best of life that is not easy or fair. We don’t understand why we do things, and we certainly have no idea of others’ motivation, story, or conscience. Each of us knows who we are better than anyone else knows, and there is no reason to fear this.
It is easier to label people and so make them a little less than ourselves. In the military, people are trained to see the enemy as less than themselves, so it is easier to do what has to be done. People who aren’t doing as we think they should are not the enemy, and they are not in any way less than us. They are just like us. God is in them just as God is in us. Each of us reflects God in a way no one else can. We are much more alike than different. As the Story reminds us, God loves each of us equally and uniquely. When we judge and categorize we are in effect saying we will not accept God in these people, and if God knew them as we do God would treat them as we do. This is the god we create for ourselves so we can feel safe and secure, not the God who loves us and keeps us in being as we are. When we judge and categorize, we are in effect saying no to God.
Accompanying folks does not mean agreeing with them. It means being open to the Spirit in a way where we are open and willing to listen, learn, to be surprised, admitting we don’t have all the answers. What we hear in the darkness might connect to what we come to experience in our own openness in prayer. We might spend some time in prayer and then, later in the day, come to recognize that we are seeing or doing things a little differently, and we sense a connection back to our time in prayer. As threatening and annoying as this might be to some, it really does happen. We have to live by our own experience, not others’.
Jesus talks about the importance of acknowledging him before others. Is he referring to what we know about him, or to how we experience him in prayer and in our life? There are many versions of Christianity, each having its own differences from other versions, and many of which see theirs as the only true way. Yet, in the different versions and traditions there have been folks who have come to know, and even experience, Jesus who goes beyond all these traditions to the common base from which each of them has sprung.
Francis is showing us that living this passage is difficult and maybe even frightening for some. We don’t like to admit our weakness, but as we move towards living our trust in the Spirit it becomes less a problem and more of an adventurous journey. We might reach the point, as Francis has and urges us to, knowing the Spirit happening in our own life. We know we are “part of” Something bigger, and it is good.
We need to look at the signs of the times, being open to the Spirit guiding us. It is easier to tell the Spirit what we want to hear and learn, where we want to go, than to let ourselves be led to to people and situations we don’t want because we are convinced they are wrong. In battle the first casualty is the plan. May we ask the grace to let go of our plans and expectations and help Jesus live our Father’s love where we are. We are exactly where we need to be, with all the folks who are in our life, for the Spirit to happen. None of us has to change in any way for God to be God. Just sayin . . .