In today’s Gospel Story the people are amazed at Jesus because he speaks with authority, and not like the teachers they were used to, the scribes. He was not what they expected a teacher to be, simply passing on what they had learned from others. They taught the people about God, usually in the form of laws and doctrines. Jesus taught them God with authority from his own experience of God, which went far beyond book learning, laws and doctrines. He knew the God he was teaching the people. There is an important difference. The people were bewildered at Jesus because he wasn’t what they expected. Bewilderment, doubt, surprise, are good for us. They help us be aware there is always more going on in and around us than we could could ever come up with by ourselves. When we limit ourselves to just knowing about God, we can only go so far. When we consent to gong beyond what we know and into the realm of experience, there is no end to where we will go, and our life becomes an ongoing journey of surprise. This can be frightening, because we also come to sense our complete lack of power, and we recognize our invitation to acquiesce to God being God. Quite an experience, healing, challenging, and freeing.
In the First Reading from Deuteronomy Moses tells the people will God raise up a prophet for them. A prophet is not about predicting the future, but about helping the people understand what God is calling them to do in their here and now living. Sometimes they were very specific in ways that pertained only to them. In the Psalm Verse we pray, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts”. This sounds nice, but it is not nice. It is a reminder to be ready for God happening in our own every day living in ways we might not expect and at first do not recognize. The Alleluia verse reminds us, “The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light”. These people could be us. Light helps us see things in varying degrees of clarity depending on what we are ready for and willing to accept. Locally we are preparing for a solar eclipse which we will see spectacularly in a few months. Predictions are that there will be a large influx of tourists into our local area. The reality of light and darkness will be very clear, much more so than usual. It might just offer us insight to what we mean when we say Jesus is the light of the world, and come to understand a bit more of our own life. As this happens I might find I’ve been telling God how I want “Him” to be God for me.
The Gospel Story reminds me that at points in my life I might feel called to make my own journey into deepening awareness of God happening in my life. It is not something I have to do, because many good folks are content just to know about God, and they are doing well. Each of us is invited to a different relationship with God, and that is fine. There is no one way to live with God. Each of us is different. But if I move towards being open to God happening in my life I will be in for an exciting ride. Somewhere along the way I will come to the awareness that none of this is my idea of itself, but it is all a response to the Spirit calling me. A difficulty might arise when someone’s lived experience does not reflect how a given religious system says things have to be. This has happened a lot in religious history.
Something I have to look at, though, is how I react to the people who, for any reason, or often no real reason, I consider to be “unclean”, intrinsically disordered, unfit, not in the state of grace, etc. This is especially challenging these days with all that is going on in our state and our country, even in our church. While I have to admit that I just don’t understand any other person’s journey, I have to be careful not to judge them by how I see my own journey, by my standards and expectations, a lot of which I use for my own sense of comfort and control. If I’m thinking like that, I am pretty much like the man in the Story. As I come to know Jesus in my own life, I find he may have to say to the evil spirit in me what he said in the Story: “Quiet! Come out of him!”. Am I at the point where I can say what the man said: “I know who you are, the Holy One of God”? Can I move that far along, or am I trying to keep some stuff for myself? Can I pray “If today I hear his voice, harden not my heart”, and really mean it? Can I let myself be moved towards knowing that while it is comforting for me to judge others pejoratively as unclean, etc, no one is unclean, disordered, unworthy in the eyes of God who is creating each of us as we are? Can people I might be seeing in this way be part of Jesus calling the “unclean spirit” out of me? Personalities are powerful challenges, maybe even obstacles. What are others’ challenging personalities saying to me? Am I willing to let the light of Christ help me see? How can I not harden my heart in all this? At times it’s been clear that Jesus is not what I’ve expected, but what I’ve needed.
Pope Francis is trying to move the church away from being legalistic and more towards being pastoral, Gospel oriented. He has been facing much fierce opposition, especially recently when he said priests can bless persons in a same sex relationship. He is helping us see the Gospels are not “nice” and comforting. They are good, a call and a challenge, a way of living and seeing. They were written to help folks come to their own experience of Jesus, close to what Jesus’ followers knew from their time with him. They are a call to me to spend my own time with Jesus in whatever way I can, and to let him speak to me through them about where I am on my journey, and a challenge on how I need continually to repent, to change, to grow, to let go of a lot that is keeping me focused on my own comfort, convenience, power, and safety. This can be very personal and specific. It is terrible for me to think I know how other persons, whom I often judge by categories, have to live to “please” God, while I’m really expecting them to please me. This can’t be just about me. It has to be about Jesus doing in my life what he did when he walked among us – being the personification of his Father’s compassionate love for every one he met, and maybe what he’s calling me to. All of this cost him dearly, so one wonders even more. I have no idea of what this means in my life, but I believe it means something. Yet again, if today I hear his voice, hmmm. Evidently he has something to say that I’m not wanting to hear. This sure isn’t easy. More wandering and wondering. Hope I’m not alone, that he’s walking point, and I’m walking slack, alert and ready for anything that comes. Just sayin . .