Fear of life and living?

Posted: January 25, 2022 in Uncategorized

Fear of life and living?

One of the challenging things about parish ministry is captured in the biblical challenge that a prophet is never welcome in his or her home town. Towards the end of his second year of ministry, according to our storyteller Luke, Jesus found this out when he decided to go home to Nazareth for a while. Luke is a great storyteller and this liturgical year we will hear plenty of those stories. So, while this may be a ‘plus’, we also need to acknowledge it can also be a ‘minus’.

One of the pluses about being challenged by one’s home setting is that one own sense of self -importance is checked. The test of one’s faith is what William L Wallace reminds us that “there is no pain greater than not being able to be yourself. That true humility is not the putting down of the self but rather the putting down of roots into the earth, the cultures of the earth and the mystery which we call God. To enter the wilderness is to discover one’s true home. What you are seeking lies within you. No one can give it to you. All you have to do is to own it. The greatest achievement is to learn to be and to rest in that awareness. Abandon yourself to the otherness and you will find yourself in the process. Nurture the mystic within you for she is the guardian of the most sacred mysteries. She alone is the ‘you’ that cannot be destroyed; for her name is compassionate wisdom and her aspect is divinity. When you can see the divine in yourself You will be able to see the divine everywhere. When you reverence the divine in yourself You will be able to reverence the divine everywhere. When you nurture the divine in yourself you will be able to nurture the divine everywhere. Could this be what Luke is wanting us to know?

One reality of parish ministry is that the storyteller’s role is not to preserve historical reality, or facts but rather the role is more complex than that and we meet this in the story today. We might begin to explore this by asking some questions such as ‘What was happening in Luke’s community for this story to be told? And what is happening in our own stories – family, church, nation for us to hear and connect with this story? The encouragement of hermeneutics.

We are assured by biblical scholars there is no reason to doubt that Jesus visited Nazareth from time to time during his public ministry (Greg Jenks. FFF, 2007). It also seems clear that Jesus made Capernaum, a fishing village on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, his “operational base”. (Greg Jenks. FFF web site, 2007). On the other hand, Luke’s knowledge of the area, having never been there himself, was sketchy at best. He says Nazareth was built on a hill. Well, if it was, it has been moved! Actually, it’s on the slope of a hill.

“It was a tiny village clinging to the edge of its one small spring. There was no cliff over which the villagers might throw Jesus. Of course, having never visited the place, Luke was not to know that; just as most of his readers ever since have been unaware of the actual geography of Nazareth” (Greg Jenks. FFF web site, 2007).

We may conclude, then, this story is the product of Luke’s imagination “rather than a memory of some actual event passed on to him by others…” (Greg Jenks. FFF web site, 2007).

So, the first thing we can decern at the beginning of this exploration is that Luke is writing theology rather than geography or history.

Luke’s Jesus decides to return home. When he did, his people, many of them cousins and near relatives. They are people whom you would normally expect to be welcoming and accepting listened, and indeed liked what they initially heard. local boy made good. This could be good for the local tourist trade at least! But when they read between the lines and listened some more, especially when pushed a bit, they decide they can’t accept what he has to say. So, they react. this ordinary bloke, one of us, has great potential. But he comes making unrealistic demands, disturbing our fragile village comfortableness. And anyway, his views do not match our ideas of ‘God’ or ‘religion’. So, who does he think he is! Or more importantly: who the hell does he think we are! Well? Maybe it’s ‘better the domesticated Jesus at their personal disposal than the challenging Jesus let loose, perhaps even out of control! Sounds, very modern. Yet very old.

Kenneth Patton invites us to see this struggle we have when we have something important to share among our own. He says we are to locate our faith in the history of humankind to grasp a man’s his importance. He says: A man once lived who changed his mind about the world. He made a new set of answers about the heavens. He changed the location and the significance of mankind in the scheme of things. His mind was his free world, where he lived unmolested with his new answer’s. He lived in a new world, while all of his fellows lived in the old world still. He was not only wise; he was cagey. He knew that the world of religion and politics was not as free as the world he maintained in his head. He knew that his own mind was a roomier, saner, more charitable world than human society. So he kept his freedom and his answers to himself. His theories were published as he lay dying, when the angry priests and their torturers could not get to him. After all, why should he make himself the victim of other men’s stupidity and cruelty? They raged against him, but he was safe within the fortress of the grave. But while he lived, he maintained his freedom and chance to do his work by living within the fortress of his own mind. Since there was no freedom outside, he kept to his freedom within. His name was Copernicus. We named the universe after him.

Rex Hunt tells of a comment made years ago by one of his colleagues. Pauline Hanson was on the Australian political scene at the time. Quoting a political analyst, he suggested the rise of ‘One Nation’ (as a conservative political party) had a lot to do with the global movement of a ‘politics of anger’. “People are feeling so powerless against forces that seemingly cannot be controlled. Confused by the culture of change, no longer able to recognise the world they once knew, people are turning in anger against their politicians, against their leaders” (Keith Suter, quoted by Roger Wiig 1998).

So, were the actions of those in Luke’s story shaped by a ‘politics of anger’? Perhaps.  Or the more important question: what was happening in Luke’s community for him to decide this imaginative story was important for them to hear? How were they acting when faced with new or different ways of thinking and believing and shaping community?

Again, we can only speculate. Luke is a storyteller not an historian, and he doesn’t help us much. But it could have been something like… The people of Luke’s community, just like the so-called people of Jesus’ hometown, were puzzled and disturbed and anxious by the demands of the new and challenging vision of God’s domain.

This new domain was populated with outsiders, with outcasts, with exiles! It contradicted their normal notion of who belonged and who did not, of who was in and who was out! Its radical theology was that it discerned the holy or the sacred in the everyday! But Luke’s Jesus continues to nudge and persuade: God’s love is inclusive and embracing and universal, not exclusive. And no one, not even the so-called ‘God’s people’ should ever think of themselves as privileged. But were they ready to hear this or were their reactions going to be shaped by a “politics of anger”?

Likewise, an important question in the even broader expression of this story: how are we to be church and express being an inclusive community, today? Or indeed, in the face of the America exposed by the Trump administration: how are we to be an inclusive, multicultural community? It is true that there are many puzzled and agitated people expressing their viewpoints, and sometimes anger, on that broader issue even now! So how can our expression of community – church or family – help in this debate?

Luke’s story suggests a universalism underpinning life. Which could be summed up as:
God is as likely to bless an Imam as an Archbishop or some sort of interfaith symbolic reality. But I want to ask if this is the right way to go. It sounds as good as it has for many years but what of the outcome? What is proposed is a universalism which comes at a cost.  Then and now it cannot break free of its symbolic state.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his book ‘The Home we Build Together,’ writes: “Multiculturalism has run its course, and it is time to move on.  It was a fine, even noble idea in its time.  It was designed to make ethnic and religious minorities feel more at home in society, more appreciated and respected, better equipped with self-esteem and therefore better able to mesh with the larger society as a whole.  It affirmed their culture.  It gave dignity to difference… But there has been a price to pay…  Multiculturalism has led not to integration but to segregation” (Sacks 2007:3).

Maybe the Lukan universalism or “extravagant welcome – to all persons” whether in the church or in our wider community really is the only way to experience abundant life and be all that we can be “in our pluralistic and polarized age” (Bruce Epperly. P&F web site, 2007).

Margaret Lee and Brandon Scott offer a translation of the passage from Corinthians 13: 1, 4-8 that I think talks about a biblical universalism that is closer to this abundant life. If I were fluent in human and heavenly tongues, but lacked love, I’d sound like a hollow gong or a crashing cymbal… love takes its time makes itself good and useful  it doesn’t envy it doesn’t boast it doesn’t bluster  t doesn’t make a scene it doesn’t look after its own interests it doesn’t throw fits it doesn’t dwell  on the negative it takes no pleasure in injustice but is delighted by the truth love upholds everything trusts in everything hopes for everything  endures everything love never falls away

Meister Eckhart said “If a man asked life for a thousand years, “Why do you live?” if it could answer it would only say, “I live because I live.” That is because life lives from its own ground, and gushes forth from its own. Therefor it lives without ‘Why’, because it lives for itself. And if you asked a genuine man who acted from his own ground, “Why do you act?” if he were to answer properly, he would simply say, ‘I act because I act’.

It is possible that this universalism could or should be called, stop talking about it and love the world! Maybe this is Luke’s challenge and blessing, to and for us. If we can hear it amid all the other seductive calls and demands in our own backyard to just talk about the mess.

Sacks, J. The Home we Build Together. Recreating Cociety. London: Continuum, 2007.


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