Some in the tradition of Christian thought make an important distinction between anger, which can be neutral, and wrath, which is excessive or misdirected anger, from passion, a normal emotion. I said last week that the sins which make the seven deadlies list has evolved over time: wrath was on the ancient lists, not anger. Passion can be constructive, an intense energy to be harnessed, but wrath can smolder and then start to take over, like a forest fire.
At the core of both these virtue and vice pairs is the question: how aligned are we with God’s love for us? How secure are we in who we are, in that love? Myers quotes a rabbi friend of his who said, “A man who does not love himself will make a casualty of the neighbor sooner or later.”
That’s one reason why I love Jesus and am fascinated by him: the profound compassion he has for crowds, for random strangers, for vulnerable and suffering people… What I have trouble with, in this story and with Jesus’ teaching in general, is the compassion he has for the likes of the Centurion. I’m fine with Jesus having this gut-level mercy for someone marginalized like the widow, but a Roman solider, a commanding officer?
Two thousand years later and a world away, what can we learn from how Jesus confronts the Pharisees, while still upholding the practice of Sabbath? I see two relevant take-away points here: 1) resistance and 2) rest. Being faithful and courageous in these times is going to take holy stamina. As we try to follow in Jesus’ footsteps right where we are, Luke reminds us that there’s a time to resist and a time to rest… so we can keep resisting.
The point is that Jesus meets Simon exactly where he is. Jesus speaks to him in the matrix of his livelihood and culture. He gets in the boat with Simon and shows him how to catch an abundance that yields far more than he could have ever imagined. Simon’s vocation comes in the midst of everyday life. And that’s exactly where Jesus meets us: right where we’re standing.
To quote Jack Good, “The text, then, is about both calling and task. Those who speak out must be able to report: ‘I cannot refrain from doing this. I am anointed by, pushed by, inspired by One who will not let me express my faithfulness in any other way.’ The opening scene of Jesus’ public ministry left no doubt: a commitment to Jesus involves a commitment to build communities of peace and justice. But first comes the calling.”
But that’s not the molten core of your ministry. That’s not why you are called, at the foundational level of that vocation. You’re called because you’re loved. All that other stuff might be true, but it’s secondary to the fact that God is abundantly pleased with you. You might not hear a voice or see the clouds part and a dove might not descend, but it’s still true. God says, “You are my Child, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
What counts, what really counts at Christmas time, or any other season of the year for that matter, is being with. Time spent, sincere words exchanged, authentic presence offered— that’s what really matters. We know deep down that money, flattering words, and other “stuff” are poor substitutes.
God is indeed with us, and there is hope, but the sign of that promise doesn’t look like our normal conceptions of power. The sign God sends is of a different kind of power, one that is patient and enduring and willing to play the long-game. A mother will give birth to a child who will grow up and “learn to reject evil and choose good.”
Advent reminds us that his is the sort of “dawn” that comes to us in Jesus Christ. Like the sun, that light is life-giving, but it also uncovers injustice. It gives hope and offers the promise of a new future. A new beginning emerges so faintly that it’s almost undetectable… at first.