Our Biblical Blog /'Examined Life'
Our Biblical Blog /'Examined Life'
This saying of Jesus penetrates and sees through us: ‘Would you bring in a lamp to put it under a tub or under the bed? Surely you will put it on the lamp-stand. ...The amount you measure out is the amount you will be given – and more besides.’
What we see, how we see – all, what is in us – ‘there is nothing hidden but it must be disclosed, nothing kept secret except to be brought to life.’
In our cyber age these words are more relevant than ever. Jesus speaks to us as living human beings: we are responsible for the ‘cyber content’ which gets into us. What we see, the way in which we see or don’t see profoundly affects what we give, and how we give.
It is a freedom fight for our eyes. Even if the new ‘cyber society of the spectacle’ is overwhelming, there is a way out. Looking upon the cross in our churches and chapels is the liberation. That unexplainable dialogue the image of the Saviour initiates in us restores our dignity – of our being slaves to the spectacles that surround us. Jesus simply says: your dignity is real. We are real, because of our ability to see what is essential, and to share our unmanipulated goodness. ‘The amount you measure out is the amount you will be given.’
But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.’ (1 Cor 11:28-29)
Life would be so easy the community and wider culture in which we live if we daily communicants. Culture has its built in ‘safety moral belt’. If on Sundays, the children of our age managed to receive the Communion as part of their examined life – we would live in a much better age.
Here, in London, knife crime is soaring. There is not a single week without a headline for murder. Sin (selfishness and greed) is soaring. Yet, the medicine is so close. To use Jesus’ words, literally, ‘close at hands’. As close as the chalice with the communion wine, and the communion bread can be. If only, as individuals, we would not miss this school of purification – for the sake of the common good. And for our individual salvation, and remaining ‘morally alive’. Receiving the Eucharist means examined life.
‘He replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking round at those sitting in a circle about him, he said. “Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister.”’
For those sitting around Jesus, it must have been a revelation. They realised, in a fraction of a moment, that they had belonged to Jesus. Their brotherhood and sisterhood are ‘reactivated’ in the moment they do the will who sent Him.
The passage is far more significant than a symbolic invitation. The astounding mystery is that there is the most intimate connection in us with God - before we realise it. If this ‘spark’ of belonging is there, should not this influence our mission to our contemporaries? On the one hand, we can see them as ‘brothers and sister’, who had been marked by God’s love, in the very same way we had been before we responded to our call. This is our prompting to love. This prompting (in search of meeting our sisters and brothers) should not leave any space for ‘the secular’. We should not allow any label, threat, scapegoating, prejudice to stand between us and those who ‘are unemployed by God’ (T.S. Eliot)
On the other hand, we are invited to think about our ‘wording’, how to address this latent brotherhood in them. The gospel shows that the moment of naming this already existing relationship is the key. Jesus brings to consciousness this link, and his naming who we are in relation to God, is a magical moment. Suddenly a whole landscape of discipleship and a shared Home is lit for us.
It is not impossible. The conversion of the world, the conversion of our brothers and sisters can take place in a split second. Only our loving encouragement must arrive in time.
It is worth re-reading the debate between Jesus and his opponents. As they oppose someone of whom they don’t know that he himself is the very source of truth, we can listen carefully to what is raised in these debates. The scribes accuse Jesus: ‘Beelzebul is in him.’ ‘It is through the prince of devils that he casts devils out.’ Putting aside their biased misreading of him, we can learn a lot of the issues raised by their (wrong) judgement. We are invited to meditate on the nature of knowing God; and what blocks, and what fulfils this knowledge.
To start with, a good definition of Satan surfaces. Evil is a power that blocks genuine knowledge of God. The scribes insinuate this when they see in Jesus a danger, a ‘falsification’ of who God is. As Christians, we can really ignore their unbelief. They refuse altogether the potential in this encounter. Namely, that Jesus’ person can be a special - and ultimate! - revelation of who God is.
Rather, the real focus is how the crowd (who are being healed) respond to Jesus, in faith. The scribes are certain that through their knowledge they absolutely grasped who Jesus is. They had all the advantage of their refined intellect; and they are certain that theirs is the proper discernment of what is and what is not divine.
The crowd (in it, the first believers), however, recognises Jesus. Their knowledge springs from something which predates all subtle ‘understanding’. This origin is what the scribes have forgotten about. This is the very first act of our rational mind, the wisdom of faith. It is from this spark of Love (spark for Divine Love) from which all religious understanding unfolds. And the great lesson is that we must keep the balance right. While we develop our understanding of the world, and that of God, we need to maintain our faith.
The scribes were driven by their hubris, forgetting this originating concept of Love. They forgot the wisdom, but the ‘crowd’ did not: twe keep connected with God through our initial experience of Love. Via total trust. That is why, we can read Jesus’ stern warning as a judgement on forgetting divine Wisdom, through which we were created. ‘But let anyone blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and he will never have forgiveness: he is guilty of eternal sin’. The moral is crystal clear. Humility - wisdom which alone can grasp the divine - is the greatest connection to God.
The overarching theme of today’s reading is gratitude. ‘sing a new song to the Lord, sing to the Lord, all the earth.’ Gratitude, for God has given us the light of life: ‘The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light.’ Gratitude, for God has made ‘our joy greater,’ for God ‘has given us harvest time’. Finally, gratitude for God ‘has removed the yoke that was weighing on us, and broke the rod of our oppressor’, sin. We are called to recall why the Christian soul must be grateful. When we, individually, will make our list of these gifts, situations or persons - we will see that just as words of our love towards God don’t come easy, gratitude does not come easy either. The sense of gratitude is what marks us out as Christians.
Saint Paul’s letter highlights the importance of gratitude from a practical angle. When a community practices the virtue of gratitude community cohesion, and unity in daily businesses, is far stronger. We can read between the lines, what happens when Christians don’t make thanksgiving the cornerstone of their daily prayer-life. ‘I appeal to you, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, to make up the differences between you, and instead of disagreeing among yourselves, to be united again in your belief and practice.’ If we read further between the lines, we understand, that the thanksgiving of the community does not end with the words of prayer. What are the ways, the regular chores in our church building, in which we can express our gratitude on a weekly, if not daily basis? I do think that the chores of our rotas, from cleaning, decorating, cooking, and to all our voluntary work, can lead to tremendous joy.
In view of the theme of gratitude, the Gospel speaks to us in the most personal way. The calling of the disciples, by name, one by one, is the utmost opportunity for our thanksgiving today. Opiso mu! Get behind me, right now, and follow me. Jesus is walking, has not stopped, when the disciples were given the call. There was not much time, not even half a minute, to ponder this call. They had to make the decision quickly - as Jesus would have disappeared from their sight. This shows the nature of gratitude and grace: readiness! They were called into the eternal life of the Kingdom of God. No time for hesitation; neither for us.
When we hear the names of the disciples, in their names, you are called. You are called to the same joy of the Kingdom, for which our baptism has marked us out. So let us ask for a grateful spirit in order to joyfully give thanks for our baptism, and call to lead a Christian life. That is, giving thanks for the privilege, that we are called to make Christ-like decisions, and decide in those situations, as Jesus would do. How can we spread the light of his Presence?
What are the reminders and daily promptings to live a life of thanksgiving? What are these reminders, daily promptings and practices, in your case? What is your way of framing your days, and life, in Christ? What signs have the Lord given you? (See the parable of ‘a dog knows its master’ from The Hafetz Hayyim on the Holy Days, Mishan Torah Education Institute, Jerusalem, 5737-1977, pp. 15-16)
What is our motivation for saving the planet and tackling with climate change? At last, there is a cause which brings masses to the streets. It is important that we can give a collective response. Yes, people have come out from their ‘bubbles’ and are ready to demand and take action.
For us Christians, it is an opportunity for self-critical discernment. What are the main motives behind the individual and mass-reactions? Or, to be more precise, what is the existential motive governing our new insurgences? Are the newly emerging voices based on examined life? There is no reason to doubt that the new green-political-social actions are governed by a genuine care for nature.
Yet, we can fear this won’t be enough. Examined life is the precondition for effective action. Without it, we can end up in a collective depression and the climate of paralysing fear. The digital echo chamber in which we live can only give a free flow to ‘what is unexamined’ in us. The shadow side of our culture can easily surface together with the intention to redeem the situation.
The Christian discernment can be helpful here. Is our motive a genuine readiness for ‘self-sacrifice’? When we are ready to restrain radically the demands of our egos regimented to consume? Are we ready for kenosis, the self-emptying and re-training of our insatiable desires?
Or, our climate marches and activisms are merely prompted by our ‘fear of death’. That is, by the ego’s natural refusal of being deprived of the life we possess right now. It would be a narcissistic and natural reaction; yet that of an unexamined life. Surely, we don’t want to remain at the level of mass fear of extinction. Unexamined fears can liberate destructive forces – and unleash them to the streets and into our already fragile democracies. I do think, an educational element, examination of life, is needed.
For us, Christians, it is time to re-read our spiritual classics, like Saint Francis de Sales, who analysed how love, will, reason, and passions interact in our lives. Let us hope that facing the challenges of the ecological crisis and honest self-scrutiny will go hand in hand.
‘How often do we hate pleasures that our sensual appetite delights in and love spiritual goods in which it finds disgust! In this consists that war which we daily experience between spirit and flesh, between our outer man, who is subject to the senses, and the inner man, who is subject to reason, between the old Adam, who pursues the appetites of Eve, his spouse, that is, his concupiscence, and the new Adam, who follows close after heavenly wisdom and holy reason!’ There is a long way, even for us, disciples of the Lord, to root our actions in ‘a simple feeling that the soul has for God’s truth and will and its acquiescence therein.’ (St. Francis de Sales, Treatise on the Love of God, Vol I, Tank Books and Publishers, Illinois 1975, p.65)
The prophets’ task is to call the people to repentance. This is the pendulum of sacred history. There is a compulsive force in us which wants to turn away and forget its dependence on our origins.
We can put it in a different way. The sign of this oblivion is too much ‘we-talk’ in history. ‘The world is ours.’ ‘It is my world.’ ‘It is our property.’ ‘It is my right, it is our right’, it is ‘our democracy’, etc. And we act and consume according to this principle of autonomy. The problem is that autonomy which ignores the fact that life is framed by laws outside the ‘we’-s and the ‘I’-s, ends up in a painful confusion.
In the light of the crisis of our planet, one can but agree that the vast extension of the ‘ego’ into nature and the cosmos needs to be stopped. Our endless ‘we’-talks and selfish actions must be corrected, otherwise the pendulum of history will swing to the opposite extreme, as prophet Micah warns. ‘Therefore, I will make Samaria as an heap of the field, and as plantings of a vineyard: and I will pour down the stones thereof into the valley, and I will discover the foundations thereof. And all the graven images thereof shall eb beaten to pieces, and all the hires thereof shall be burned with the fire, and all the idols thereof will I lay desolate.’ (Micah 1:6-7)
But can the age of our expanding ‘narcissistic ego’ be stopped? Can we correct our sickly autonomous mindset and arrive to saying: this is God’s world, too? At least, that God is also a habitant in this city and culture of ours, with His own rights in it? Still, we have our churches, as God’s embassies, from which our awakening might come: ‘Hear, all ye people; hearken, O earth, and all that therein is: and let the Lord God be witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple’ (Micah 1:2-3)
Perhaps, imperative to listen to God’s rights is a further meaning of the sabbath-law of which Jesus speaks. The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. The correction of our ‘we-talks and actions’ comes from befriending the ego with the Authority lying behind it: ‘the Son of Man is master even of the sabbath.’ (Mk 2:28) It’s time for untamed ego-s to return from Hollywood.
Today’s Gospel can be summed up in this simple way: ‘Jesus is special!’ What makes him special is the Spirit’s coming down upon him. Let this scene from today’s Gospel play in our imagination.
First, let us see the encounter between the two. What is John’s life like now that he is has met Messiah? What are his emotions as Jesus is approaching for his baptism? ‘Seeing Jesus coming towards him, John said, “Look, there is the lamb of God!...I saw the Spirit coming down on him”!’ Imagine John’s joy! Is not this the same joy, which Elisabeth shared with Mary, when she visited her? ‘My child has leapt in joy in my womb’. Now this joy is felt again by John. The difference is that now, with an adult mind, he gives expression to this joy. Now he is fully aware of its meaning. John was able to recognise what Jesus meant for him and the world, because of his preparation for this very encounter.
Let this joy plain in our imagination and become a reflection in our coming week. If you were John, how would you prepare and mature your mind to be able to recognise Jesus – whenever he comes unexpectedly. Is Jesus special in your life?
Second, John invites us to explore in what sense Jesus is special. Now imagine what Jesus is like in this scene. Can we see in him the special joy that he came to us? Can we perceive the goodness in his heart for all of us? Can we join John’s faith and believe that his heart goes out to everyone? Imagine the outpouring beauty in this heart, which only we, Christians can see.
‘Yes, I have seen, and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God’, says John. He knows that from that moment, after his baptism, Jesus will heal us. He will heal the lepers, the broken hearted, those who are stricken with sorrow or are refused by others. Hold the image of the hovering dove above him. In the movement of the wings, the heartbeats of Jesus, his goodness for us is expressed. His heart goes out to all of us. When we listen to these ‘heartbeats’, we understand our call. ‘Christians are called to develop a heart like Jesus’ - a heart that goes out to people who are suffering. In today’s holy communion, as a community, we might want to ask Christ to help us to develop a heart like his, that feels compassion, that eagerly seeks to reach out and help.’ (Pray-as-you-go 16 January entry)
Why living this meditation, and putting it into practice is so important? Let the following quote challenge and motive us. ‘The world does not listen to the Church, it no longer listens to us; for Christians don’t speak out.’ Listen to the sound of the Spirit’s wings above the goodness of your heart. Our task is so obvious, isn’t it?
The leper Jesus heals today is our existential image. Contemplating the story further reveals that it is not the healing from leprosy which is the central event. Instead, his regained ability to speak deserves attention. Julia Kristeva (and the whole of the psychoanalytic tradition) speaks of us as the ‘speaking being’. The ability to tell one’s story – pains, traumas, hopes, desires, and joys – makes us ‘alive’. This is always the first step towards our truer self.
Let us meditate on the leper’s regained ability to speak. Despite Jesus’ instruction that he should keep silence until he is seen by the priests, ‘the men went away, but then started talking about it freely and telling the story everywhere.’ So, can we go a step further than psychoanalysis? Can we raise the idea that there is a second, deeper ground of what makes us genuinely ‘speaking beings’? The leper’s uncontrollable urge to share what happens to him shows this. This very event is the conversation with Jesus. To be more precise, it is verbalising his desire to open that part of his life which needs healing. ‘If you want to you can cure me’, he said. Reaching the threshold of self-expression before our Healer-God, and stepping over it, is ‘the moment’. When our whole being starts to speak. When, as it were, we ‘flow into ourselves’, into where we supposed to be, who we are supposed to be.
But there is something even more profound as part of ‘the moment’. It is Jesus’ desire to give the final impetus to the ‘speaking being’: ‘Of course, I want to [cure you]!’ Without this ability to express our innermost existential desires to Him – we live as silent beings. And through these personal silences, our whole culture remains silent before God.
So, can we say, God is our ability to speak? That God is closer to us than our speech?
Synagogue, teaching, healing, and prayer. Jesus’ life hinges on them. Through them, Jesus enters our very history. We should really ask him, ‘Lord, how did encountering the whole of our story, as we are, feel?’ For through these four activities Jesus meets not only the individual. Through every person he encounters, he also teaches, heals, and prays for our collective history. Like an operating surgeon he knows this vast ocean of human affairs from the inside. He ‘operates from within’. That is why it is interesting to see that while ‘they brought to him all who were sick and those who were possessed by devils’, ‘the whole town came crowding round the door.’ The whole town. So, the individual healings form also a collective centre. The whole of human history is queuing up for healing and guidance.
The key is this ‘all’ and ‘whole’. We miss the point of our Christian religion if we lose sight of Christ as the redeemer of all and the whole of human history. As a kind of parallel to this, we should pause for a moment, right now. If we can’t use the social media as a means (and opportunity) to recover the sense that the human family is one, instead of being a blessing, it will become a curse. We can rightly fear that if this sense is severed from our ‘internet consciousness’, our lives will be regimented by the most powerful force and authority humans have ever created.
So, the stakes are high. The dice can easily turn both ways with the opposite results. If, through our modern culture, we become aware our unity as the one and indivisible human family – the parallel desire for a personal encounter with the Messiah will also arise. If we don’t, then our age will be mentioned in the book of history as one where ‘it was rare for the Lord to speak in those days; visions were uncommon.’ (1 Samuel 3:2)
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..