Jesus went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees on a Sabbath to eat a meal. They had him under close scrutiny.
Luke 14: 1
I thank my God whenever I think of you, and every time I pray for all of you, I pray with joy, remembering how you have helped to spread the Good News from the day you first heard it right up to the present…You have a permanent place in my heart, and God knows how much I miss you all,loving you as Christ Jesus loves you. My prayer is that your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognize what is best.
Philippians 1: 3-4, 9
The tension of Luke’s gospel continues to build. Jesus enters the house of “one of the rulers of the Pharisees” but rather than being welcomed with the hospitality that sharing a meal connotes he is “under close scrutiny.” It is pointed out that the Greek verb used in this verse has the nuance of “hostile observation.” There is on Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem an increasing intensity of the hostility being directed toward him.
By sheer coincidence today’s gospel is paired with the opening of the letter to the Philippians. Here Paul reflects quite the opposite attitude toward the persons he has come to know there: an attitude of gratitude, joy, and heartfelt love. The contrast in today’s readings invites us at the interpersonal, societal and global level to reflect on the tension between trust and mistrust, hospitality and hostility that we experience in relating to others
As we ponder the increasing tension of Luke’s gospel account of Jesus’ ministry and destiny, we come to appreciate how much human violence is rooted in fear and envy of the difference and especially the uniqueness of others. Sometimes it is the strangeness of others’ appearance, culture, mores, or religion that arouses our fear and threatens us. At other times it is the otherness of a person’s gifts, talents, accomplishments, and originality that evokes our envy and compulsion to bring them down. But, whatever the source, if we attend to what is occurring within us, we are able to recognize the violence and destructive power that is latent in our hostility.
Paul’s expression of love and appreciation for those he has met and worked with in Philippi, however, reminds us that the counter dispositions to fear and envy are gratitude and appreciation. When we live from our fears and insecurities, the strangeness of the other constitutes a threat to us. When we live in awe and gratitude, the differences are complements to us; they don’t threaten but rather complete us. Secure children need to learn fear of those who are different. Before developing social and cultural prejudices, they are innately in awe of something new and different. They are eager to receive and to learn from what this “difference” has to offer. The don’t fear their vulnerability and so are hospitable and welcoming to the mystery of the strange and different “other.” And, presuming the other is trustworthy, they are able to receive the “love” that comes from the “increasing knowledge” and “deepening perception” that the presence of the other to them affords.
The very first, and in some ways foundational, stage of psychosocial development for Erik Erickson is the stage of trust versus mistrust. For Erickson this phase of development takes its root between birth and age one. Yet, although this very initial stage of our personal formation is key to our personal and social development, our lives constantly summon us to formation and reformation in this regard. Our very possibility of growing in love, interpersonally, societally, and globally depends on our humble acceptance of our need for formation and growth in trust. Do we want to live lives with others that are constantly under “close scrutiny,” or do we want, in some small ways, to realize the possibilities of loving others “as Christ Jesus loves” us? We come to know the demands and possibilities of love in us, as we humbly encounter and open to reformation and transformation those areas of mistrust and hostility within us as they arise.
It is most human to mistrust and be afraid. But to know the presence of the Risen Jesus is to slowly learn how to trust that “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18), and that we can always be learning anew how to love, giving further birth to the life of the Risen Christ within us.
Fear. Of nothingness. Of dying. Of failure. Of change. It is of different degrees, but it all comes from one source which is the isolated self, the self willfully held apart from God. There are three ways you can deal with this fear. You can simply refuse to acknowledge it, dulling your concerns with alcohol, or entertainment or exercise or even a sort of virtuous busyness, adding our own energies to the white noise of anxiety that this culture we have created seems to use as fuel. This is despair, but it is a quiet despair and bearable for many years. By the time that grinding wheel of the world rolls over you for good, you will be too eroded to notice.
Or, if you are strong in the way the world is strong, you can strap yourself into life and give yourself over to a kind of furious resistance that may very well carry you through your travails, may bring you great success and seem to the world triumphant, perhaps even heroic. But if it is merely your will that you are asserting, then you will develop a carapace around your soul, the soul that God is trying to refine, and one day you will turn to dust inside that shell that you have made.
There is another way. It is the way of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, pleading for release from his fate, abandoned by God. It is something you cannot learn as a kind of lesson simply from reading the text. Christ teaches by example, true, but he lives with us, lives in us through imagination and experience. It is through all these trials in our own lives, these fears however small, that we come close to Christ, if we can learn to say, with him, “not my will, Lord, but yours.” This is in no way resignation, for Christ still had to act. We all have to act, whether it’s against the fears of our daily life or against the fear that life itself is in danger of being destroyed. And when we act in the will of God, we express hope in its purest and most powerful form, for hope as Vaclav Havel has said, is a condition of your soul, not a response to the circumstances in which you find yourself. Hope is what Christ had in the garden, though he had no reason for it in terms of events, and hope is what he has right now, in the garden of our own griefs.
Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss, pp. 166-7