The Sea of Galilee is notorious for its surprising and violent storms. The Sea of Galilee, which is actually a fresh-water lake, lies 700 feet below sea level. Immediately to the northeast are the hills of the Golan Heights, reaching 2000 feet. The large difference in height and temperature between these cool, sometimes snow-covered hills and the semi-tropical sea causes large air pressure changes. Strong winds funnel down from the Golan Heights, sometimes creating the perfect storm over the water. Storms literally come out of the blue, even when the waters have been calm and the sky perfectly clear. This must be the very thing that happened here with the disciples and Jesus who are in a boat on the sea. Aside from the wind and waves coming at them, there was something else that surfaces: fear. They are terrified. You will probably know how it is to be sailing through life on the sunniest of days, where all is calm, all is bright… and then a storm hits.
In the Scriptures, nothing is talked about more often than fear. Fear is a dis-ease of the soul. The psalmist writes, “Do not fear, though the earth should change, the mountains tremble and shake in the heart of the sea, fear not.”[i]The prophet Isaiah says: “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Do not fear.”[ii] In the scriptures, we hear about fear from the very beginning: in the Book of Genesis, the story from the Garden of Eden. The angel of God comes to Adam and Eve, and they are terrified.[iii] We hear again about fear much later in another garden, the Garden of Gethsemane, where the women have come to anoint Jesus’ body. Once more the angel of the Lord appears, and the women are terrified. Fear is a very costly, distressing emotion when we’re in touch with impending danger, or pain, or evil, or confusion, or vulnerability, or embarrassment. Whether the threat is real or imagined, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is our sense of powerlessness. We don’t feel we can stop or divert or control what threatens to overwhelm us. I imagine that all of us here know about fear, either in a particular situation or perhaps recurringly. What are you afraid of? What causes your heart to tremble?
Are you afraid that you might be wrong, or afraid that you might be right? Are you afraid that you might be excluded, or afraid that you might be included? Are you afraid that you might fail, or afraid that you might succeed? Are you afraid that you might never finish, or afraid because you’ve come to the finish? Are you afraid of making a commitment, or of not making of commitment? Are you afraid of being sick, of dying? Are you afraid that you’re going to have to face being well again? Are you afraid of someone? Are you afraid of yourself? Are you afraid that you might be sent, or might not be sent? Afraid that you won’t get the attention, or maybe that the attention will be on you? Are you afraid of being discovered, or of never being discovered? Afraid of heights, or depths, or something else between? Most of us will know something about fear, maybe even right now. If so, why? Why are you afraid? That’s Jesus’ question for his disciples, and it’s his question for all of us. If you are afraid, why?
To be sure, there are therapeutic protocols to address our fears, and phobias, and anxieties. And there are medicinal ways to address fear, to chemically lower fear’s looming capacity to inundate us. And there is physical training and stress-reduction techniques that may enable us cope with or conquer fear… These may be helpful, even necessary. But what is it about fear that is a “spiritual issue” for you?
Rather than presuming that fear, our own fear, is a sign of the absence of God, our fear actually gives witness to the presence of God. Our fear often arises out of something that is bigger than we are – perhaps concerning our health, or family, or vocation, or endurance. And we find that in-and-of ourselves, there isn’t enough: not enough strength, or patience, or hope, or encouragement, or provision. Our life is unmanageable. We come up short. And we’re afraid that our boat is going to sink, that we’re dead in the water. Fear raises issues that may well need to be dealt with on many levels; one of those levels being spiritual. Where is God in your fear? What is the invitation from God in your fear? Fear is like a beam of light pointing to that deepest place of need within your heart. Fear is very illuminating. What is the your fear exposing, where you are too small, too powerless, too needy to go on? What is it? Why are youafraid? Because in the fear is an invitation from God that God wants to be God in your life, to claim the ultimate authority and highest power in your life. We cannot live our life and be our own God at the same time.
We don’t need to be afraid, not because fear is “wrong.” We’re supposed to be strong and resilient. No, it’s not that. It’s not that we don’t need to be afraid because we shouldn’t be. This is not a de jure statement: “Don’t be afraid because strong people are not afraid.” No, it’s not that. This is a de facto statement: “Don’t be afraid because you don’t have to be afraid.” It’s Jesus’ promise that he will meet us in the experience of fear. He tells us, “remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[iv]
“Why are you afraid?” Jesus asks us all. Jesus longs to hear why. Jesus longs to be invited into your fear. And if you’re afraid that you are going to lose your life, or lose some part life, you don’t need to be afraid even of that. Why is that so? Because it’s going to happen. We all are going to lose our lives; we’re all going to lose the life that we now recognize. But Jesus assures us that in losing our lives we find life. Not to fear.[v] The Scottish philosopher John Macmurray writes of an old adage about fear, an adage which some of us were probably taught… The old adage is: “Fear not; trust in God, and God will see that none of the things you fear will happen to you.” That’s not true, in Macmurray’s view. On the contrary. Macmurray rephrases the old adage to say, “Fear not; the things that you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of.”[vi]Why not? Because Jesus tells us, “I am with you in this… This is the way into life. Trust me.”
Tell Jesus about your fear. This may be your most honest prayer. Tell Jesus about your fear. And if you’re afraid even to talk with Jesus about your fear, then start there: why it is that you are afraid to talk to Jesus about your fear. Tell him! Go ahead. Try it. Jesus is all ears. Jesus has an open heart. And he is waiting.
Here, an ancient Celtic prayer:
Jesus, from this world’s stormy seas
Give your hand for lifting me.
Jesus, lift me from the darkest night.
Jesus, lift me into the realm of light.
Jesus, lift me from my body’s pain,
Jesus lift me up and keep me sane.
Jesus, lift me from the things I dread,
Jesus, lift me from the living dead.
Jesus, lift me from the place I lie,
Jesus, lift me that I never die. Amen.
[v]Matthew 10:39; 16:25.
[vi]John Macmurray (1891-1976), a Scottish moral philosopher, writing in Persons in Relation (Humanity Press, 1998), p. 171.
Saint Peter and Saint Paul
2 Timothy 4:1-8; John 21:15-19
Jesus had said to his apostles, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”[i] This certainly applies to Peter and Paul. I don’t think they would have chosen each another to be members of Jesus’ closest circle.
Paul was erudite, both a Pharisee and a Roman citizen. He was literate and probably multi-lingual. Peter, on the other hand, was from backwater Galilee, way up north and nowhere. There was this rhetorical, tongue-in-cheek question people from Jerusalem asked about Galilee: “What good can come out of Galilee?” What did Peter actually know about? Fish. Peter knew his fish. In the ensuing years, two letters attributed to Peter eventually found their way into the New Testament. Whether Peter penned these letters himself or if he used a scribe, we don’t know. And Peter was married; Paul was not.
Peter and Paul did have several things in common. They were both very strong-willed. And they both had significant character flaws. At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter publicly denied even an acquaintance with Jesus. And Paul was complicit in a murder, the murder of a fellow Jew, in an attempt to squelch the cult that was following Jesus.[ii]Both Peter and Paul were eventually arrested – their attention was arrested – by Jesus. Both of them became zealous, fearless followers of Jesus. Both of them were ultimately martyred for Jesus’ sake.
For many years following his conversion to Christ, Paul had lived in a self-imposed exile in the desert and in Damascus. Paul eventually comes to Peter to learn about his leadership in the church at Rome. Peter has come a long way. In his writings, Peter speaks of Paul as his “beloved brother” and acknowledges the wisdom of Paul’s writings, but as an aside, Peter says he knows that some people find Paul’s writings difficult to understand.[iii] On the other hand, Paul recognizes Peter’s seniority, Peter having been called by Jesus as “the rock” on whom Jesus planned to build his church. Peter and Paul held each other in deep respect and affection… except when they did not.
Did the non-Jewish converts to Jesus actually need to become Jews? Must Gentiles be circumcised? Must they adopt Jewish dietary laws? Or was baptism sufficient? Should the focus of Peter and Paul’s energies be on their fellow Jews, or should it be on the Gentiles? The two of them wrangled about these things and others, sometimes agreeing, sometimes not.[iv] St. Paul’s letters are very self-revealing. When Paul writes to his fellow Christians, more than once, about “jealousy, quarreling, anger, dissension, factions, slander, gossip, and conceit,” he’s not just writing about other people; he’s writing autobiographically, about himself. Peter is much the same. When he writes to “rid yourselves of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander,” he’s writing to the church; but he’s first writing to himself.[v]
What ultimately unites these two deeply faithful, deeply flawed followers of Jesus is not their virtue, but their need. What unites them is their weakness, not their strength, what Paul calls “strength being made perfect in weakness.”[vi] What broke their hearts open for one other and for so many other broken followers of Jesus were two things: one, a humility, redeemed from their mistakes in judgment. Peter writes in a very self-revealing way: “All of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”[vii] And Paul is first coaching himself when he writes to the church in Corinth: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”[viii] Paul is reminding himself.
The other character flaw that unites them was their own need to be forgiven, endlessly. They realized that they, again and again, had either missed the mark or attained the mark but in the wrong way.[ix] St. Paul confesses: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”[x] These two very driven, very hard men were broken open by their own awareness of need.
Michael Ramsey, sometime Archbishop of Canterbury, says that “the secret of the Christian is not that he [or she] is always in the right and puts other people in the right, but that he [or she] is forgiven. That is the secret of a Christian’s humility, liberation, and strength.”[xi] In the end, both Peter and Paul were driven to practice what they preached. They could not save themselves. They needed, daily, to surrender to the intervention of Christ’s grace.
Blessed Peter and Paul, whom we remember today.
[iii]2 Peter 3:14-16.
[iv]See Galatians 2:11.
[v]1 Peter 2:1.
[vi]2 Corinthians 12:9.
[vii]1 Peter 3:8.
[viii]1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
[ix]See 1Corinthians 13:1-3.
[xi]Michael Ramsey (1904-1988), was the 100thArchbishop of Canterbury.
In the scriptures, illustrations that come from the land – metaphors about farm and field, about gardens and vineyards, trees and orchards, flowers and fruit – recur repeatedly. People who live close to the land will immediately understand the analogies about how things grow: about seeds, and soil, and sowing; about cultivating, watering, weeding, pruning, and harvesting. Jesus was well versed in these things, clearly, and he has a lot to say. In this gospel lesson, we hear Jesus asking rhetorical questions: “Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?” No. Clearly not. Grapes are not gathered from thorns, nor figs from thistles. What’s the point?
Jesus’ point is about outcomes. If your end goal, your heart’s desire, is to harvest succulent grapes and figs, how will this happen? Only with intention.
Jesus presumes we have a dual citizenship. We belong both to earth and to heaven. We could say that the one – heaven – is our beginning and our end. The other – earth – is where we find our way. We have dual citizenship. Today’s Gospel lesson is an alert to what we treasure, that is, to what we give ultimate value, importance, and worth.The English words “worth” and “worship” come from the same etymological root. What we worship – to what we give ultimate worth – will have the highest claim on our life and our attentions. What we treasure the most we worship.
Jesus is not being a killjoy. He is certainly not telling us not to treasure earthly life. Jesus is certainly not telling us not to enjoy earthly life with it many beauties, and wonders, and opportunities. Nor is he warning us not to invest in life. Invest in life! Absolutely! Jesus was passionate about our living life abundantly on this earth.[i]Jesus’ point is about where and how we apply “treasure” to our earthly life. He commends us to invest in treasure that will last, treasure that will last into eternity.[ii]Think of yourself as a trustee of your earthly life, not an owner or possessor. Legally, we may be called “owners” of any number of things, but I’m speaking here the language of the soul. We are trustees of life, which is temporarily entrusted to us.
You might find it meaningful to take an inventory of your life. Consider the physical things to which you have been entrusted – finances, properties, heirlooms, knickknacks, whatever. Sooner or later you will probably need to do some estate planning with your lawyer, and inventorying with your family and friends. But alongside these “durable goods,” do an inventory from your soul’s perspective: how it is you hold the intangible elements of your life: your reputation and stature, your abilities, your titles, your attributes of mind and body, your relationships. Acknowledge and cherish their importance, be deeply grateful for them… and simultaneously remember they will all die with you, and most likely diminish before you die.
All these things which you could call your “possessions” – both the tangible and intangible – give them up. I’m not saying to disregard them or devalue them. Quite to the contrary, I’m speaking of “giving them up” like an offering, acknowledging to God how God has entrusted you with them, temporarily. In the ancient vocabulary of the church, this is called “an oblation,” living your life as an offering, and offering of thanksgiving.[iii] This is a way to treasure life on earth in a way that mirrors the treasure of life in heaven.
Oblation might be too archaic a word for you to use. If so, find another word, another phrase that allows you to live life abundantly on earth, and on speaking terms with life in heaven. The phrase I’ve latched onto is “living my life with nothing to lose.” You cannot lose what you have already given up. Live your life with nothing to lose. Do this. Find the language, find the prayer and practice, that enables you to treasure the fullness of life: life for now and life to come. Live your life wholeheartedly. As Jesus says, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
[ii]“…For to your faithful people, o Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 382).
[iii]“Oblation,” from the Latin oblation: an offering, presenting, gift. he prayer, as we set the altar for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist is: “Let us with gladness present the offerings and oblations of our life and labor to the Lord” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 377).
I well remember in my early adolescence discovering these words from the Gospel: Jesus telling us when we pray, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.”[i]That really got my attention! I began asking away, and for a great many things: that I would get an “A” on my geography test. That I would win the prize at camp. That Martha, my classmate with whom I was smitten, would like me. That Butch Hendricks wouldn’t beat me up after school. That my Aunt Ingeborg would get over her cancer. That I would make the cut on the basketball team, and get a uniform. I prayed almost without ceasing. I asked for everything and anything on my mind. It didn’t work most times. And so I got up early to pray. I stayed up late to pray. I clasped my hands when I prayed. I opened my hands when I prayed. I closed my eyes; I opened my eyes. I knelt beside my bed. I secretly carried my Bible to school in my backpack. I memorized Bible verses. I avoided cracks on the sidewalk. I avoided odd numbers. I promised to eat all my vegetables. I ate all my vegetables. I didn’t chew gum at school. I promised never to cheat. –It was like trying to open a safe which I knew was full of treasure. If I could only get the combination right, I knew I could make this verse work: that I could ask Jesus for anything, and I would get it. It didn’t work. Not often. It sure wasn’t anything to depend on, and I remember “dropping” this Bible verse, like dropping a fad.
It was the context of Jesus’ invitation that I only later discovered. The weight of what Jesus promises is not on the word “ask” but on two other words: the pronoun ‘you’ and the word ‘name,’ Jesus’ name. What about the name?
There is an extraordinary amount of power in knowing someone’s name and then using it. To know someone’s name gives you a clear access to them and a claim on your relationship. To use someone’s name gives you the power of identification. And I suspect we all know when that power is misused. It’s when someone “name drops.” When someone feigns to know another person – who they are, what they believe, how they can be accessed. If someone invokes the name of a person with power, but without the license to use that name, it will backfire, eventually… because other people will always know better… that this person whose name is invoked would not say that or could not have said that. It’s inconsistent or incongruous… and the pretender will be exposed.
Which is the key in claiming this invitation that Jesus gives us: that Jesus will give us whatever we ask in his name. We must know Jesus to invoke his name. We must know the mind of Jesus, the heart of Jesus, the words of Jesus to speak in his name. The purpose, the goal, the reason in invoking Jesus’ name is for one reason, one reason only: it’s for the sake of love, so that we may love Jesus, and be loved by Jesus and then love others in Jesus’ name, that is, as Jesus loves them. If we’re to take Jesus’ invitation and ask for whatever it may be, our asking cannot be just on behalf of our own private self, but on behalf of all whom Jesus claims.
And then, when Jesus says ‘you’ – “whatever you ask” – this is not a ‘you-singular’ but ‘you-plural’: “you all.” This isn’t about me; this is about us, what wecollectively need. The founder of our own community, Richard Meux Benson, calls this “the relative life.” Father Benson says, “Your life must be a relative life. The moment you are imprisoned in your own self-consciousness, in your own separate individuality, in the selfishness of your own separate existence, you commit a worse suicide than taking the life of your body. You destroy the very life of your person.” Father Benson says that we are a relative being, and we have no existence except when we live, ask, and act on behalf of another, in Jesus’ name.[ii]
We should take Jesus at his word, to ask away. Jesus assures us, “I will give you whatever you ask in my name….” In my adolescence, the problem wasn’t that I was asking for too much; I was actually asking for too little. We need to know a great deal about Jesus and the enormity of his love – what Jesus would want for those for whom we pray – and then pray our hearts out. And in our praying, we should presume that Jesus will very likely reciprocate, in asking us, asking you, to be a part of the answer to that prayer.
[i]To make a strong point, Jesus is here repeating what he has said in the previous chapter of the Gospel according to John (14:6-14).
[ii]Quoted from Further Letters of Richard Meux Benson, pp. 36-37; 297.
Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-16
There’s a cartoon with Jesus talking to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, who are sitting in a circle. One of them is looking out the window, distracted; one of them is dozing; one of them is doodling; one of them is fiddling with his tunic. Jesus notices all this, and he says to the group: “Now listen up! I don’t want there to be four versions of what I’m saying….”
Well, we have four versions of the Gospel, all quite similar, and yet each one distinctive. Today we honor the witness of one of these Gospel writers, Saint Mark. Mark was not one of the original 12 apostles; however Jesus also appointed a wider circle of 70 disciples, believed to have included Mark.[i]Information in the New Testament about his life is sketchy, though we know that Mark was a fellow missionary at various times with Saints Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy.[ii]We can infer Mark had a close relationship with Saint Peter, who writes about “my son Mark.”[iii]And according to the Acts of the Apostles, his mother’s house in Jerusalem was a center of Christian life.[iv]In Egypt, the Coptic Church remembers Saint Mark as its founder and patron, Mark having been martyred in Egypt in year 68.
In his Gospel writing, Mark keeps a secret. It’s actually Jesus’ secret. In Mark’s Gospel account, Jesus will typically ask something, listen to something, do something like perform a healing or other miracle, and thenJesus will say, “Don’t tell anyone.” In many instances, Jesus insists on silence.[v]And it’s not just with outsiders. The same pertains to his relationship with the 12 apostles. Early on, Jesus asks them, “‘Who do yousay that I am?’ Peter answers, ‘You are the Messiah.’ And [Jesus] sternly orders them not to tell anyone about him.”[vi]
So what’s going on? Why the secret?
In Jesus’ day, palms were carried in joyful, triumphant processions by Jews and Romans alike. Roman soldiers, returning from a successful conquest, would wave palms as they returned home to their welcome. Jews used palm adornments for their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to the Festival of Tabernacles. And palm decorations were carved in stone within the Temple. Palms symbolized an oasis in the desert, victory in public games and in conquests, and a sign of blessing and homage.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem replicates how the Roman Emperor and his emissaries would enter the city: on a roadway strewn with palms, and with the crowds waving palms, shouting their praise. The crowds welcoming Jesus are shouting, “Hosanna,” which, in Hebrew, means “savior.” “Savior” is the very title already claimed by the Roman Emperor. The Roman Emperor’s titles included the “Savior of the World,” and “Son of God,” and “Lord of Lords.”[i] That’s the Roman Emperor. Unlike the Emperor and his party, whose processional entry would be on magnificent Persian stallions, Jesus is on a donkey.
A Retreat Is Not an Advance: Why We Retreat & What To Anticipate
A retreat is not an advance. For much of life we are on the advance as we anticipate, investigate, instigate, navigate what is ahead. A retreat is moving in mostly the opposite direction. A retreat is a time to recover, restore, redeem, renew what has been spent or lost in life. If you only live life on the advance, you will completely miss the perspective you glean by looking back on your life. Your retreat experience will give you gratitude for the past, clarity and strength for the present, and hope for the future.
For many people, life is navigated at a pace which may blur their being able to see clearly what is going on. Sometimes what is happening in your life is so close to you, you cannot make sense of it. It’s blocked. Only by retreat, by stepping back, can you find perspective and clarity. The psalmist calls this experience “being lifted up.” Or you may have passed through a period of suffering. It is very difficult to see clearly through pain and tears. We want to escape from suffering. And yet, there may be something important to redeem from what is otherwise only pain or loss. Something incredibly good may be claimed from what was undeniably bad. The significance of something lost on you is now found. Until an experience is remembered – until life is remembered – it’s not a complete experience, because life looks very different looking ahead than it does when you look back and see it from behind. What even may have seemed a black hole at the time may well prove to be a goldmine, in the fullness of time. A retreat is an invitation to get on good speaking terms with the whole of your life, for “the eyes of your heart to be enlightened” (Ephesians 1:18).
A retreat is also a graceful time to look and listen deeply into life. Entering a monastic setting, you will come into a place of silence, sanctuary, and sustenance:
Silence, where you can be still and listen deeply to your life, where God is meeting you, leading you, healing you, nourishing you. The psalmist says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
Sanctuary, where you feel safe, where you can let down your guard. Who you are, what you are, why it is you are the way you are, God knows and God loves. A retreat is often a breakthrough. Meister Eckhart, the 13th-century German Dominican, said that “the eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love”
Sustenance, where you are fed deeply. The psalmist speaks of our hungering and thirsting after God; Jesus speaks of his “food that will last.” Soul food. And yet, Jesus went to many dinner parties and also knew that people are hungry for real food. A retreat time will help assuage your hungers.
A retreat also affords time for a reckoning with life. Life is a gift, and it will make a world of difference to you if you live your life as a gift, rather than as a given. Take nothing for granted; rather, live your life in gratitude. A retreat will offer you space to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” to recollect how your life teems with blessing (Psalm 34:8).
I am not suggesting you should sugarcoat an experience of life that is bad; however I am saying that claiming gratitude for so much that is so good in your life will be a significant counterweight on the scale of your life. Gratitude will rebalance your life. The psalmist speaks of this as “the sacrifice of thanksgiving,” where you have the time and perspective to name, claim, and offer your gratitude to God for the wonder of life that God has shared with you. (The psalmist speaks of “the sacrifice of thanksgiving” in Psalm 50:14 & 24; 107:22; 116:15). Gratitude transforms life from the inside out. Make your retreat time a sacrifice of thanksgiving as you reckon with your life.
Will your retreat time be difficult? Maybe. The clarity gleaned in retreat may be comforting; the clarity may also be confronting, exposing you to a spiritual trial. In the SSJE Rule of Life, we acknowledge there may be an emptiness in retreat time that “may compel us to face the painful signs of our need for healing that it was easier to overlook during our usual routines. So our retreat times will be opportunities to strive against everything that would discourage us from radical dependence on the love of God” (SSJE Rule of Life, Ch. 29, “Retreat”).
Will your retreat time change you? Yes and no. Much of what you leave behind at your home and work will still be waiting for you, unchanged, upon your return from retreat. However your retreat will help you garner perspective and strength to do some old things in new ways. Think of the captain of a ship going to sea. In the course of the journey, the captain will need to adjust the ship’s course multiple times. It’s not likely that the captain will make radical, 180° course adjustments; more typical is the adjustment of the course by a fraction of a degree. Those slight adjustments will make all the difference, and will ultimately bring the ship to different port of call. A retreat will be a significant help to get you on course (or back on course) in life. In the SSJE Rule of Life, we speak of this as “lifelong conversion.”
What should you bring with you on retreat? Bring with you your emptiness, your ache, whatever fills, overjoys, or breaks your heart. Bring your questions. Bring your desire. Bring your exhaustion and your need. God is already powerfully at work within you “to accomplish abundantly far more than all [you] can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).
Minimize whatever will likely prove distracting. Don’t bring a satchel of books or work projects. Consider taking a sabbatical from your electronic gadgetry: email, social media, mobile phone. Bring a notebook to log what is catching your heart’s attention. You may want to bring walking shoes or exercise clothing to enjoy movement and the beauty of God’s creation. You may want to bring something for gentle recreation in solitude: sewing, drawing, painting, photography.
God has already caught your attention. Take Jesus at his word that he is with you until the end: the end of your retreat, the end for which God has created you, the end of your life. Your retreat will be an answer to prayer, an answer to God’s prayer for you.
Br. Curtis Almquist
Versions of these kinds of complicated family dynamics exist throughout the world – always have, always will – but as for this particular Gospel story, that’s what it is. It’s a made-up story by Jesus about two lost brothers and their father. This is one of Jesus’ parables. As were the two parables that Jesus tells immediately preceding this: about a lost sheep and a lost coin.
Sheep may know they are lost, but they are certainly not repentant. Lost coins are completely clueless. And yet, when either is found, there is rejoicing. The scholar Amy-Jill Levin reminds us that in Jesus’ parable about the brothers and their father, no one has expressed sorrow at having hurt one another. No one has expressed forgiveness.[i]And yet there is rejoicing. Sort of. Two out of three. So what’s Jesus’ point? What’s his point in this trilogy of parables?
Don’t wait. Don’t wait until your offender “gets it.” Don’t wait until you have received an apology. Professor Levin says, “share a cup of coffee; go have lunch.” If creating a banquet for this other person is too much of a stretch, at least keep in mind that’swhere this is headed: a heavenly banquet, where all will be well, and all will be reconciled. In the meantime, if you cannot begin to reconcile, cannot even imagine doing it, know that some day you will, if not in thislife, then the next. In the meantime, don’t be mean. Move away from resentment… a right move which will help prepare the way in your own heart and maybe in the other’s. Jesus reminds us he’s come “to seek and save the lost.”[ii]All of us get lost periodically. Most of us, most of the time, cannot find ourselves without help.
[i]My inspiration is Amy-Jill Levine in her Short Stories by Jesus; The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi (2014); pp. 25-70.
[ii]Matthew 18:11; Luke 19:10.
Jesus spoke of people in four categories – they are either family, friends, neighbors, or enemies – and he tells us to love them all, including our enemies. Who is your enemy? This is someone who is out to destroy your life or destroy your vocation or reputation… or (more likely) someone who irritates you, who has a way of ruining your day, who is “not helpful to your program.” An enemy. And Jesus says to love our enemies and to forgive them. It’s a very tall order. Several thoughts come to mind.
Jesus tells us to “love our enemies,” notbecause it makes for more pleasant living, though that may be true. Rather, we love our enemies because our enemies can be our teachers, sometimes our best teachers. Our enemies can get us in touch with “our own stuff,” and like no one else can. Those outbursts or eruptions or emotional reactions that rise up in us. Where do they come from? And why are they sometimes so disproportional to the “offense” we have experienced from this other person? Our enemies expose us. They can be extraordinary agents for our own conversion. I’ll call this the “Velcro principle.” When the hooks of someone else’s “Velcro” sticks to our own “Velcro,” there’s something there in us, to look into, to open up, to offer to God. Our enemies can be our teachers.[i] Don’t hate them, love them, Jesus says.