Sunday, October 03, 2004

See the spiritual and live, or ignore it and turn to stone - "Spir Dev &Gospel Narratives 4" by John Shea

John’s Gospel is always contrasting darkness and light, and he shows us how all-encompassing and important is the world of difference between the human and the divine, the flesh and the spirit. In varying degrees all the Gospels show us that Jesus has no time for the flesh, He doesn’t want to give himself to those who want to remain in the flesh and are content, for example, to take delight in their amazement over the works that Jesus does. John calls them signs rather than miracles or wonders in order to take our attention away from the wonder of it and look rather at what is truly important, the spiritual life, life God offers us to live in union with the Divine Persons, which wants to erupt into the visible and social world and take form as love in presence and service.

It’s not necessary for those who study and interpret the Scriptures to hold that the events retold are only literary fictions in order for there to be masterful artifice in the retelling. Over the years, I've read commentators and exegetes give the impression - at least I was left with the impression - that the only artifice in the Sacred Scriptures was that of the writers and that they exercised literary license at the level of the historicity of the events themselves. I've glad to discover in this course that of course there is also artistry in the telling of the event, the telling of the story if you will, and the story can be a true and historical event as much as it can be a literary creation. What distinguishes the evangelists is that they present themselves as eye witnesses and interviewers or reporters of eye witnesses to Jesus and what He said and did until the time of his passion, death and resurrection.

So, we can consider Nicodemus real, as we find him in John chapter 3, but John shows him in such a way as to demonstrate to us what we are to avoid, the incapacity or unwillingness to grasp the spiritual; so that we might understand Jesus’ teaching and call. We are all capable like the Pharisees of reducing spirituality to a religion of accounting, keeping track of pious practices and condemnable sins, reducing God to the One who rewards and punishes. A true spiritual teacher, Jesus turns that view on its head and declares that God has no interest in keeping accounts and judging, but rather in bestowing Himself in love.

Jesus says of himself and those seized by the Spirit, as John says of his community “we speak of what we know.” Jesus brought about an awakening experience of the Spirit in all who received Him. John – under the impulse of the same Spirit – retells the experience to allow us to enter into it ourselves today. At that time as now, there are those who claim to be able to "go into spiritual realms to consult with spirits, particularly of the dead" and John - as all Scripture writers and prophets - conveys God's deep distaste for this practice. He is our loving Father, and He knows that the only spirits we can get in touch with in such ways are the rebellious spirits or angels - devils or demons - which are not to be trusted. Jesus is the true Gate to Heaven – we must give up trying to manipulate God or Spirit through mediums – we are rather to come to Jesus and let the Spirit lead us where He wills, as He did for Jesus. When our mind is stuck in the flesh, we are like the Israelites who got into trouble with fiery serpents, and Jesus is the One on whom we are to look, because He is the life and healing of God offered to us.

In Jesus’ death He revealed to us that He was born of God not to judge the world but to give life. When we are born of God, we also do what God does; we do not judge but pour ourselves out in love. In Nicodemus, John shows that the judgment happens in our refusal to enter into Spirit. John relates Jesus’ teaching that those who prefer their evil deeds and life in the flesh stay in the dark out of fear of being exposed by the light; so they reject Jesus. The flesh is afraid of the light and considers the spirit dangerous and false – its view is wrong side down and needs to be turned over. It uses the religion of keeping accounts to try to tame or put in a box the frightening mystery of the spiritual. Out of fear and insecurity, out of touch with its own spiritual hunger and incapable of compassion for the spiritual hunger of others, it grabs control of religious practices and keeps others outside the circle of the elect.

Calling to Jesus, believing in his Name, we become open to the power of the Spirit filling Him, and like the apostles in the boat who immediately found themselves on the shore from the storm, we become grounded in Jesus, no longer react to the world out of fear, and are ready to pour love into it. Like Jesus first did, the Gospels call us to realize we are borderland beings living in both the physical and spiritual realms simultaneously, called to live in both but lifted by the Spirit above the constraints and misgivings of the flesh. We are manifestations of God’s love, loved by Him and destined to freely be his instruments and willing servants of his passion to transform creation.

Entering within, we are to go out into the world aware of our union with God and radiant of his life, love and power for the world, always resting in Jesus as John rested in Him and He rested in the Father, drawing upon his grace and seeing the world through his eyes. Union with God is what sustains creation in being. We are called to become Jesus and say with Him to others, “Don’t be afraid.” Moral transformation can come to the world only through those who are transformed in this metaphysical way, becoming new persons, born again of the Spirit. The Gospels and other Scriptures point out this way, theology tries to map it out, but we must walk the path and find our own way, because no one can really do it for us.

to be continued.....

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