God reverences our human resistance.
A sculptor approaches the marble with a respect for the hardness and fault-lines of the hunk or slab before him/her. This artist values the strength of the chisel and files with which the marble will be tamed. Harshness or an attitude of defeating the marble is not the artist’s way of proceeding.
In the second chapter of the letter to the Ephesians the writer reflects that we are God’s work of art. God is referred to several times in the Hebrew Scriptures as a potter fashioning God’s people. This God labors with love to continue that same work within us individually and among us as the Body of Christ.
When Jesus meets human beings in the Gospels He encounters them in their limitations, sicknesses and hungers and needs. He approaches them as the Artist of the loving God. He asks them first to be reverently honest about their true condition. “What do you want Me to do for you?” If there is unreverential dishonesty, there can not be any healing word and touch.
God is not disappointed, upset, nor hostile toward the hunks or slabs we might name ourselves to be. The Divine Artist loves, finds, embraces us as persons and the human body, and labors patiently to bring out God’s beauty buried within our roughness and resistance. It is easier to reverence the finished product, but here we are living within the Artist’s workshop.
As I neared the end of my studies in Theology, I asked my director if he thought I should go further in studies and get a Doctorate. He chuckled and told me that I didn’t need more knowledge as much as I needed to grow in wisdom. I then asked him where and how can I obtain that. He chuckled even more and told me that I had to live more deeply.
In our First Reading we hear the author of the Book of Wisdom give words to King Solomon, the Great King of Israel. This chapter opens with the king relating that he is a human being, born like all other humans. He did not receive a special blessing of wisdom just by being born in the royal family. What we hear is a song/poem about the king’s relationship with “her”, meaning Wisdom. He had to pray and plead deeply for Her companionship and it was granted.
The whole reading is a love-letter, not to Her, but about her. The Jewish author is writing this section as a presentation to other kings present and to come. He is warning these Jewish leaders to resist the surrounding cultural influences and prevailing philosophies and return their hearts and minds to the deeper living of their ancient religious traditions. He is boasting of the wealth and abundance of all good things which result from following the Wisdom of the Jewish relationship with the God of the Covenants.
This wisdom is offered to us as well, knowing things help, getting Doctorates can be a good thing too, but relying and trusting the truths of our tradition is a deepening and a way of resisting our own cultural disatractions. We, who like Solomon are born into the common experiences of living, know the attractions of wealth, health and beauty. These can result in a spinning dizidom of furious grasping. Wisdom seems to be a living sense of what things are, what they are not, and where they come from and lead to.
The American rock-music star, Elvis Presley sang plaintively, “It’s now or never.” The Gospel has a challenging reversal to that. “It’s now or later.” Luke pictures Jesus beginning a journey which is halted by a kneeling pious fellow. He wants to know clearly what is the ticket he must have to earn eternal life right now. He has his Doctorate in Righteousness. He has fulfilled all the requirements for graduation into holiness according to his Jewish expectations.
Jesus adds a post-grad laboratory assignment which saddens the fellow, even though Jesus looks lovingly toward him. Jesus invites the young man to put aside his diploma of Righteousness and all his other spiritual and material possessions and venture into the experimental life of following Jesus. We read that the fellow drops out of the course, because he has excessive possessions and the possessions possess him too much.
The Gospel ends with a discussion of the necessity of letting go of “necessities”. The tension is between having it all now or trusting that there will be even more later. Each of us has this choice. Jesus looked with love upon the kneeling fellow and after he had departed sadly, Jesus looked toward His disciples and spoke of how things are possible for God which seem impossible for humans to imagine doing.
It is this “looking at” which draws my attention. The young fellow leaves with his feeling sad about himself as well as the strong invitation of Jesus. One strange possession we have, and which makes us sad, is how we look to ourselves. A doctor or painter may look upon the human body as strictly a physical object. A lover may look on the beloved’s body with less objectivity and more affection and desire. The human body has many, unpretty parts - let’s face it. It all depends on your point of view. A hand in the hand of a bride and groom is very beautiful as the wedding ring bubbles light. A hand though is just a boney-flesh, dangly thing which most public speakers don’t know what to do with.
Jesus’ looking at the man lovingly collides with the way the fellow looks at himself. What is possible with God’s help, God’s view, is our letting go of feeling ugly, inferior, sad about our inner self. Many people seeking spiritual freedom and a closer following of Jesus feel sad about their lack of response, generosity, fidelity. As a confessor and Spiritual Director, I find myself looking lovingly at those who cling to the possessing of their sadnesses and frustrations. I find them quite beautiful and admire their longings and their journeying, because God is working within and around them. What is spiritual beauty? What is wisdom, is a better question.
The now that leads to later is the wisdom to accept the beauty of the struggle which Jesus does not take away, but to which Jesus invites us to accept and be met. Our wisdom comes from living more deeply the view which the Loving God has of this struggling between what’s important and beautiful now and the importance of receiving God’s view of us which leads to the eternal then.
“The rich suffer want and go hungry, but nothing shall be lacking to those who fear the Lord.” Ps. 34, 11
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