Luke 10:17-24

All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’[1]

Scripture reminds us that now, as ever, we human beings continually struggle to know and to bear God to the world in the midst of whatever circumstances we may find ourselves. This was clearly the case for Job before his divine inquisition, but I suspect it is true for almost every human being we meet in scripture, from Abraham to Mary and beyond. It is certainly true for me, and I’ll venture a guess that from time to time it might be for you, too.

There is a litany of possible reasons for this trans-human struggle to know and relate to the profundity of the divine nature, but of significance (at least for me) have been the kinds of images and pictures we use for God. Intellectually I understand that these images are all utterly contingent, incomplete, mere shadows of the reality to which I ought to fix my gaze. Yet deep in the hiddenness of my heart I very easily become attached to these images and pictures—many of which often turn out (upon closer inspection) to be reflections of my own private desires and ambitions. Images of a god who will protect me from disaster, from pain, from disappointment, from failure. A god who conforms to my designs.

It follows that, from time to time, as we grow nearer to God in our living and praying these images and pictures may have to be jettisoned—or, at the very least tempered, set against the unimaginable reality to which they point. That is one of the ongoing challenges of growth in the spiritual life. The nearer I draw to God, the more it becomes clear I really have no idea who I’m dealing with. The personality I encounter overflows and shatters every image or picture I could ever imagine. If I were to simply go on believing in a god who fulfills my every wish and ambition, who protects my ego from the pain of loss and failure (both my own and the world’s), I would very quickly come to the logical conclusion that there is no god. I am in fact not granted my every wish and desire, not immune to the painful consequences of my or another’s actions, not protected from the precariousness and poverty of my humanity.

But if I let the images fracture when they must, the actual God—the living God whose love upholds every moment—begins to break through. A God whose purpose, whose love, and whose faithfulness do not depend on human visions of success or failure. Nevertheless do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.[2]

The seventy return to Jesus elated at the apparent success of their mission. Yet Jesus tells them not to get too excited. As always with Jesus, the signs are not themselves the things signified. He had sent them out as he had come: vulnerably. Whatever divine blessing or power they took with them expressed itself only after they had come as God himself had: unarmed, vulnerable, weak, and poor. Do not rejoice because this moment feels like success, yet equally, do not despair because this moment feels like failure or defeat. Rejoice because you are participating in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Many of the images and pictures of God I have carried with me have shattered under the weight of reality’s pains and disappointments. Yet the living God, unarmed, vulnerable, weak, and poor, waits amid the broken pieces. In Jesus we witness the true power of such divine condescension. It is a power we can truly trust amid the perils that may surround us. It is a power that promises us more than mere pictures. It is a power that has deigned to reveal itself to you in love, inviting you to come and know, even as you have been fully known.[3]

Amen.


Lectionary Year and Proper: Saturday in Proper 21A

[1] Luke 10:22

[2] Luke 10:20

[3] Allusion to 1 Cor. 13:12

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