Daily Reflection
May 30th, 2006

Roger Bergman

Justice & Peace Studies
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Acts 20:17-27
Psalm 68:10-11, 20-21
John 17:1-11a

“But now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem.” Like Jesus, the master he knew in the Spirit but not in the flesh, Paul takes leave of his friends to whom he has selflessly preached the kingdom of God, and heads for a dark and unknown future. “What will happen to me there I do not know, except that in one city after another the Holy Spirit has been warning me that imprisonment and hardships await me.”

With that warning in mind, and with the example of Jesus’ own fate in Jerusalem before him, Paul leaves the security of the community at Ephesus for almost certain suffering. He does so in freedom and holy indifference – “I consider life of no importance to me” – because he serves a larger purpose than personal advancement or physical survival.

In the passage from the Gospel of John, we see the same motif of freedom and purposefulness in the face of certain suffering, but now writ large, “glorified,” in the figure of Jesus, sent from the Father, so that all may have abundant life.

On April 3, 1968, almost 2,000 years later, yet another follower of Jesus uttered these very biblical words: “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life—longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Like Jesus, like Paul, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. served a larger purpose, the freedom, justice, and peace of the promised land, of what he also called the Beloved Community. And like Jesus, like Paul, he did so selflessly, even to the point of giving his life. He was assassinated the day after those words of freedom, his last public words, were spoken.

Theologian James Alison in Knowing Jesus describes the mindset of Jesus, Paul, and Martin as “the intelligence of the victim…a freedom in giving oneself to others, in not being moved by the violence of others, even when it perceives that this free self-giving is going to be lynched as a result.” This intelligence of the victim, this knowing of Jesus, is, according to Alison, the Holy Spirit.

The readings for today put us squarely at the mysterious heart of the Gospel, where freedom from fear of one’s own suffering, the freedom to love, brings life into this beautiful, demented world. Dare we pray to receive such a gift?

“But now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem.”

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