In the Zone

Luke 11:9-13

“So I tell you, ask – it’ll be given to you; seek – you’ll find; knock – it’ll be opened for you.  Rest assured: everyone who asks receives; everyone who seeks finds; and for the one who knocks it is opened.”

This series of aphorisms is among the best known and – along with the Beattitudes – most basic of Christian affirmations.  It comes at the end of Luke’s series on prayer.  However, as we have seen, this particular selection of sayings and the interpretation was purely Luke’s. Scholars theorize that rather than being a promise of God’s answer to persistent prayer, Jesus’s directive to ask, seek, and knock was an assurance that those who take up the same kind of itinerant life Jesus led can expect hospitality wherever they look for it, or ask for it.  Even a knock on the door at midnight would not be ignored.

Luke’s point was that God will provide whatever is asked, will reveal whatever is sought, and will open the way to whomever knocks on God’s door.  He has Jesus expand on this by comparing God’s answer to prayer with giving good gifts to one’s own children.  But Luke’s Jesus here abandons the prayer for daily provision of bread, which he started with.  Instead of food, “the heavenly Father will give holy spirit to those who ask him.”  Later, in the Gospel of John, the emphasis shifted from God to Jesus.  John’s Jesus says “whatever you ask in my name will be granted to you” (John 14:13-14; 15:7, 16; 16:23).  Ultimately, the saying morphed into the icon from Revelation 3:20, in which the Christ declares to the Church in Laodicea: “Listen!  I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.  To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

The 1st Century transformation in the meaning of Jesus’s words is like the viral transmutation of political speech in the 21st Century news cycle.  In less than a week in May 2010, the meaning of the reported words of a candidate for the United States Senate evolved from idealistic, libertarian theory to racist bigotry. In less than 100 years from Jesus’s death, the expectation of hospitable acceptance for wandering wisdom teachers became justification for holy war.

Jesus’s original words to ask, seek, knock, and trust in the custom of hospitality have become a magic spell.  The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted in 2007 by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, found that 60% pray daily, although the content of the prayers was not broken down.  While no one has done a survey of the percentage of people in the general population who routinely pray for parking spaces and find them, the efficacy of intercessory prayer has been studied frequently.  Unfortunately, the results are inclusive at best.  One study that looked at complications arising after coronary surgery for patients receiving intercessory prayer versus patients who were not prayed for found a slight advantage in terms of fewer complications for those who did NOT receive intercessory prayer.

With such murky findings, the fact that belief in the magic power of prayer persists must be attributed to the mysterious way human consciousness has developed.  Perhaps we are hard-wired for hope in hopeless situations.  Or perhaps something else is going on.

Jesus was not originally talking about the answer to prayer, as Luke and the tradition like to think.  Jesus was invoking the ancient rule of hospitality for itinerant travelers.  Scholars are fairly certain that Jesus depended on that rule for his and his disciples’ support as they traveled from village to village throughout the region of Galilee.  He had an expectation, based on complete trust in God’s imperial rule, that he would find a hospitable response.  However, his followers did modify their own expectations in the interest of practicality.  As all three synoptic writers report, if the disciples Jesus sent out did not find a welcome, the solution was to “shake the dust from your feet” (Mark 6:11; Matthew 10:14; Luke 9:5).  Matthew’s Jesus adds, “I swear to you, the land of Sodom and Gomorrah will be better off at the judgment than that city [which does not welcome you].”  Sodom and Gomorrah, you may recall, was the Old Testament poster child for the total breakdown of hospitality.

Jesus himself seems to have experienced a level of trust in God’s realm that most humans find difficult or impossible except in rare instances.  If we take the words attributed to him in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount as his own, Jesus was able to live within the same kind of seamless realm experienced by the birds and the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:26).  In that realm, there is no boundary between creator and creation, God and humanity, or between the worlds of life and death, spirit and flesh.  For most of us, this experience manifests as a quality of life where everything works without effort.  It’s a string of lucky circumstances; serendipity; everything falls into place.  Miraculous healing can happen there.  I call it “being in the zone.”

The difficulty of describing that kind of experience – in any language – is clearly illustrated by what has happened to Jesus’s original teachings over time.  It is not a matter of simply saying the name of Jesus, or petitioning God to intervene and change the physical laws of the universe, even in company with two or three others.  The key, prosaic as it may be, seems to be the willingness to ride the horse in the direction it is going.  In other words, to ask, seek, and knock with the expectation of receiving, finding, and opening the way means to align oneself with the way things are.  In Buddhist terms, surrender.  That does not mean giving up.  It means total acceptance of whatever is happening now, with no concern about what any particular outcome may be.  While clear intent about the desired result may important, the key is not to care.

The idea of “not caring” drives most of us crazy.  How can we “not care” about our mother dying, or our friend with terminal cancer, or physical pain of any kind, or about torture victims, or the poor, or any of the other kinds of suffering produced by disaster, whether from natural or human causes?  Those are the tough questions.  Entire books have been written about the answers.  Tough or not, the key to the end of suffering, the power that drives healing, is to accept what is, right now.  That means a radical indifference to the nature of the ultimate resolution.  Mother may die; the cancer may win; the pain may only be alleviated with heavy doses of morphine; the torture may not end; poverty may continue to condemn the rich; disasters – of natural or human cause – may happen.

Jesus calls us into that radical indifference through trust.  It is a latter-day itinerancy, in which we let go of conventional ideas, unnecessary possessions, market demands, and even life itself.  We cannot answer that call so long as we see ourselves as the victim of our life circumstances, trapped in the normalcy of economic and political systems, or determined by the lottery of our biological heredity.  Nor can we answer that call if we resist or resent what happens to us, or if we ignore the realities of the world in which we live.  Tradition tells us that Jesus himself fell out of the zone at the horrifying end of his life.

Even so, the message of Christianity is that even death on a cross does not negate the truth of living in the zone – the realm of God – where we ask, seek, knock and find whatever we need for abundant life.  But you can’t just point your magic wand and scream “Aguamenti!”  Before the water comes from the rock, or the door opens to your knock, you have to trust the process.

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Hospitality 2010

Luke 11:5-8

The NRSV follows Luke’s apparent intention and puts under the heading of “The Lord’s Prayer” Luke’s anecdote of the friend at midnight along with the “Ask, seek, knock” and “Good gifts” aphorisms.  Conventionally, these passages have been considered to be a treatise on prayer.  If you pray as Jesus did, God will provide, just as you would if your next-door neighbor came to you to borrow a cup of sugar at some inconvenient time.  You might resent the timing, but you would nevertheless provide the sugar out of pious duty.  If  you pray as Jesus did, God will answer, just as you would if your own child asked for an egg.  You would not substitute a scorpion.

But suppose this series of sayings was not a related sequence at all?  Taken as an independent quotation, out of Luke’s context, we can readily see that the “friend at midnight” was not about how God answers prayer; it was about hospitality.  The 21st Century world has largely forgotten that “hospitality” was a matter of life and death to 1st Century people.  Welcoming the stranger into your tribal enclave for a night, or until the stand storm ended was a matter of honor on both sides.  The host asked no questions about whether the stranger was an innocent traveler or a fugitive from law.  The guest did not rob or otherwise violate the sanctity of the host.  This code assured some degree of safety for everyone in a dangerous world.

In addition, 1st Century Palestine was an “honor/shame” culture.  In Luke’s story, the host taken by surprise by unexpected guests may have run the risk of “shame” for not being able to properly care for them, but far more likely is the “shame” the sleepy neighbor would have experienced if he had not responded.  He and his family would have been socially ostracized.  The Jesus Seminar scholars point out that the original Greek that Luke used in the last sentence of the story can be translated either as “you will get up and give the other whatever is needed because you’d be ashamed not to;” or “because the other is not ashamed to ask.”  (The Five Gospels, p. 327-328).  The surprised neighbor is not ashamed to ask for help in supplying hospitality to the unexpected guests.

We cannot know why Luke did what he did with this snippet of oral tradition.  It seems to fit better with the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Luke interprets the parable in terms of the law that says “love your neighbor as yourself.”  A discussion about the unexpected need to help a neighbor seems to be a further illustration of the reliance of neighbors upon one another.  The Good Samaritan unexpectedly extends hospitality beyond what a reluctant neighbor might be shamed into offering.

Citizens of these United States pride ourselves on the fact that we can rely on our neighbors for help in time of need.  In fact, we are so proud of that fact that 20% of us think the government should have nothing to do with providing disaster relief , health care, education, or social security.  But as the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast learned after Hurricane Katrina, relying on our neighbors is nothing more than a romantic notion.  The hurricane happened in 2005.  Assistance in recovery was not forthcoming from the federal government.  Five years later, volunteer efforts on the part of corporations and non-profits have not been able to complete the task.

But what best illustrates the 21st Century failure to live up to Jesus’s 1st Century expectation of hospitality in Luke 11:5-9 is our treatment of immigrants – specifically, people who risk their lives to cross the Mexico-U.S. border.  Our friends on the Christian Right insist that we are a Christian nation, yet we offer travelers nothing and lock our doors against them.  We refuse to allow them food, clothing, shelter, education, and medical care.  Even when the worst of humanitarian violations force the disintegration of “undocumented” immigrant families, we are unashamed.

The Elves who put together the Revised Common Lectionary do not get to Luke’s series on prayer until late July this year (Proper 12, Year C).  The tradition has followed Luke’s lead and ignored the more likely (and troublesome) subject of hospitality.  The accompanying Old Testament RCL readings are Hosea 1:2-10 and Genesis 18:20-32.  The prophet Hosea is condemning the land and people of Israel for forsaking God.  The story in Genesis is the preamble to the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Both readings support the idea of God’s judgment and God’s answer to persistent prayer.  When God threatens to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham convinces God to spare the cities for the sake of 10 righteous men.  What is never read if the Revised Common Lectionary is followed is Genesis 19:1-29.  But it is the full story of what happened to Lot in Sodom that goes to the heart of Jesus’s teaching about the friend at midnight.

The two angels sent by God to search out 10 righteous men arrive in Sodom in the evening.  Lot sees them, and greets them with respect, and invites them into his house to wash their feet and spend the night.  The angels decline, saying they will be fine spending the night in the village square.  But Lot insists.  They come into his house, and Lot prepares a feast.  But then, before they retire for the night, the men of the city surround Lot’s house and demand that he throw the guests out so that the men can “know them.”  The intent of the village men is clear.  When Lot reminds them that the visitors have “come under the shelter of my roof” and offers them his daughters instead, the men of the village are outraged.  But they are not outraged because of the offer of the daughters.  That is a historical-cultural artifact that turns the story into a feminist “text of terror,” and can easily distract 21st century minds from the point.  The men of Sodom are outraged because “this fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge!”  In other words, the immigrant has the nerve to shame the citizens for their failure to offer safe haven to the strangers.  (If this were an academic paper, the next comment would be in a footnote:  One has to wonder how the story of the destruction of Sodom became so well known, given that the Elves have skipped it altogether for purposes of Sunday morning preaching at least as long as the Common Lectionary has been in use.  Surely such a story of violence and unexplained custom is hardly suitable for children’s Sunday School lessons.)

The ancient rule of hospitality was broken at the risk not only of shame, but of one’s own future security.  In a world dependent upon the most primitive of communications, once the word was out that your tribal lands or your household did not honor the rule, you could find yourself denied assistance or shelter.  The angels warn Lot that because of this sin – this failure of the men of Sodom to follow the most basic rule for human survival – God is going to destroy the city.  Lot had better leave with the angels and bring along sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone else that belongs to him.

Post-modern minds have drifted away from hospitality as an expression of distributive justice-compassion, where the stranger is given shelter – even feasted and entertained – for a night, with no questions asked.  The post-modern form of the failure to honor the rule of hospitality plays out on a daily basis along the United States/Mexico border.  It can also be clearly seen in the wall the Israelis constructed along the West Bank of the Jordan

The ancient rule of hospitality still stands.  God’s judgment – or the consequences for acting unjustly – does not apply only to people perceived as enemies.  Throughout the Bible, God is just as likely to favor the enemy and condemn God’s own people because God cares only about justice-compassion.  See, e.g., The Healing of Naaman, 2 Kings 5.   We rightly reject the idea that God’s judgment for violating hospitality or ignoring God’s demand for justice takes the form of volcanos, hurricanes, or plagues.  But we are mistaken if we think there is no judgment.  God’s judgment in a post-modern world is expressed in political and environmental consequences.  Politically, we now have the so-called Arizona “papers” law, which requires that Hispanics in Arizona now must carry proof of U.S. citizenship at all times or run the risk of arrest and deportation.  Some may think that is no problem for citizens with blue eyes and blond hair.  The implications of such naivety for human rights should be clear.

Environmentally, adding insult to injury in the Gulf of Mexico, now comes the mother of all oil leaks whose magnitude defies description.  Again, government assistance is nowhere to be found; corporations are pointing fingers at one another; and class-action trial lawyers are on the prowl as BP offers pre-emptive $5,000 settlements to devastated families and businesses.  Apparently all we can muster for our neighbors are internet campaigns to collect used pantyhose and dog hair.

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Bread and Debt

Luke 11:1-4

The version of “the Lord’s prayer” in Luke is the one that is included in the Revised Common LectionaryMatthew’s version is skipped.  Perhaps it is skipped because Matthew’s version is closest to the “Our Father” that is prayed in nearly all Christian denominations.  The Elves include Luke’s version in a series of readings for Proper 12 of Year C that appear to relate to how God answers prayer (Luke 11:5-13).  As we shall see over the next two weeks, Luke’s parable about “the friend at midnight,” the “ask, seek, knock” aphorism, and the “bread/stone fish/snake” dichotomies have little if anything to do with Jesus’s original prayers about bread, debt, and adversity.

The NRSV translation of Luke’s form is:

        Father, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread.  And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.  And do not bring us to the time of trial.

The Jesus Seminar Scholars suggest that when verses from both Matthew and Luke are combined, the prayer that probably appeared in Q was:

        Abba [Daddy], your name be revered.  Impose your imperial rule.  Provide us with the bread we need for the day; Forgive our debts to the extent we have forgiven those in debt to us.  And please don’t subject us to test after test.  The Five Gospels, p. 327.

What has been known as “the Lord’s prayer” for nearly two millennia was probably never prayed by Jesus in any form that appears, whether in Q, Matthew or Luke.  Instead, the prayer consists of a collection of individual prayer fragments that may have been public prayers, or prayer-like aphorisms that Jesus said, on the order of “God forbid!” or “God only knows!” or “God’ll get you for that!”  The intent was to nudge listeners into changing their attitudes, joining the Way, and ushering in the realm of God.  In a 1998 essay published in The Fourth R, Jesus Seminar Fellow Hal Taussig discussed Jesus’s prayer in detail (“Behind and Before the Lord’s Prayer,” May-June 1998).  One of Taussig’s more provocative statements is, “[T]hese prayers . . . were wise-cracking prayers which pushed those who said them to re-examine themselves.”  I would also suggest that Jesus’s prayers were the opposite of petitions (desperate or trivial) to an interventionist god, and far removed from the pious mantra used to open 21st century church committee meetings or finish off the Sunday pastoral prayer.

The first phrase, “Daddy, your name be revered,” sounds shocking to 21st Century notions of holy propriety; for 1st Century Jews who were prohibited from speaking the name of God, it must have bordered on blasphemy.  Next comes the request to “Impose your imperial rule.”  That means God’s imperial rule, not Cesar’s.  The next two phrases were seriously modified by Luke.  First, Luke’s version asks for God to provide bread each day.  The Q version – closer to what Jesus probably would have said – asks only for the bread needed for the day:  today; now.  But the kicker in the Q version is eliminated by Luke.  The Q people prayed, “forgive our debts to the extent we forgive those in debt to us.”  Luke says, “forgive us our sins because [for] we ourselves  forgive everyone indebted to us.”  Luke’s pious community is off the hook.  Finally, the last prayer fragment whines: “And please don’t subject us to test after test.”

To address deity as “Abba” – “Daddy” – presumes a partnership, not a hierarchical order of power.  To then ask for forgiveness of debt to the extent that the one praying forgives debt owed presumes active participation, not passive acceptance of whatever “God’s will” might turn out to be.  In other words, Jesus’s prayers are an illustration of the Covenant relationship demonstrated in the stories of the Jewish people throughout the Old Testament.

In the most recent edition of The Fourth R (Vol 23, No. 5, May-June 2010), Jack A. Hill explores the relationship of contemporary American culture with what he calls “the Divine Domain.”  He lays out three aspects of a “culture of fear” in the United States: 1) fear of personal non-existence; 2) fear of diversity; and 3) fear of transformative innovation.  He speaks of “evolutionary amnesia,” which is the root for a prevailing fear of death, and cuts us off from a realization of our commonality and profound relationship with the natural world.  He relates two stories of people who survived shipwreck in the open sea because dolphins came to their rescue.  He says, “we have forgotten what it feels like to greet the morning breeze as a friend, to be kept safe in the womb of the ocean, to be warmly regarded by the birds . . . .”  These are experiences of what might be called “enchantment.”  For a few years before the turn of the 21st Century, there was some discussion of the need for “re-enchantment” of corporate life.  Perhaps even a reclaiming of the root meaning of the word “religion”: the realignment of human spirit with the divine realms, i.e., a return to Covenant.  We must assume that is the kind of relationship Jesus had with God’s realm – God’s world.  This relationship is reflected in his prayers.

This is not misty-eyed, romantic, “spirituality.”  Jesus’s prayer suggests a non-violent alternative to oppression under the Roman empire.  If one lives in God’s realm of distributive justice-compassion, then there is no reason to be worried about having bread for the day.  Forgiving debt means declining to participate in the normal economic systems.  Finally, God does not need to test people who are already participating in the Kingdom.  Mark’s story about Jesus and the Devil comes to mind (Mark 1:12-13).

Eckhart Tolle is a popular, contemporary “spiritual teacher.” He has written two books that are categorized by Amazon.com under “Health, Body, and Mind.”  They combine a variety of western “Zen” or “Buddhism” and generalized Christian traditionalism.  But the basic message both in The Power of Now and A New Earth is the quest for what Tich Nat Han calls mindfulness, and what these commentaries would call “Covenant,” and what Jack A. Hill described above as “Divine Domain.”  Tolle writes:
  

        The mind is more comfortable in a landscaped park because it has been planned through thought:  it has not grown organically.  There is an order here that the mind can understand.  In the forest, there is an incomprehensible order that to the mind looks like chaos.  It is beyond the mental categories of good and bad.  You cannot understand it through thought, but you can sense it when you let go of thought, become still and alert, and don’t try to understand or explain.  Only then can you be aware of the sacredness of the forest.  As soon as you sense the hidden harmony, that sacredness, you realize you are not separate from it, and when you realize that, you become a conscious participant in it.  In this way, nature can help you become realigned with the wholeness of life.  A New Earth (Penguin, 2006) p. 196.

This experience leaves no room or role for an interventionist “god” who is outside of ourselves and the world in which we live.  The relationship is more intimate than even a concept like “Daddy” can reach.  “Mama” may come closer.  A petition for food or debt relief or forgiveness becomes meaningless in such a context, where there is no boundary between me and the divine.  If there is no boundary, then there is no greater or lesser transformational power than my own.  But while this hidden harmony, this sacred space, is a place to gather strength, it is not a place where I can hide.  To live in that divine domain (as Hill describes it) requires mindful action.  The struggle is always to find our way into that divine domain, or as Jesus put it, to find the treasure that is hidden in the field, or mixed like leaven into the flour.  The joke is that we are already there – all we have to do is open our eyes and look and listen.

Jesus’s prayer makes that clear: God’s sacred space is holy, and that holy realm rules.  We have what we need for now – indeed there is no other time than now.  And there is no debt, so long as we do not hold debt ourselves.  Finally, there is no demand for perfection, no trial, no test, unless – to stretch Tolle’s metaphor – we fail to see the forest because of the trees.

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Mary, Martha, and Zen

Luke 10:38-42; Amos 8:1-12; Genesis 18:1-10; Psalm 52; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:15-28

As with last week’s commentary on the parable of the good Samaritan, the Revised Common Lectionary does not get to Luke’s story of Mary and Martha until mid-July of this current Year C.  However, the RCL does follow Luke’s sequence.  It may be that Luke’s back-to-back scenes illustrate the grounding laws of Judaism:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength” (Deuteronomy 6 :4-5) and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).  The parable of the Samaritan – according to Luke – is about loving your neighbor; the vignette with Mary and Martha – again according to Luke – is about loving God.

Because Luke made up the story of Mary and Martha out of whole cloth, we can do with it whatever we wish.  Jesus never had this encounter, never hinted that women disciples are better (or worse) than women supporters or servants of his ministry.  We might wonder, briefly, if Luke created this story in order to address an issue in his community.  As John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg are fond of reminding us, prohibitions on or sermons about particular behaviors never arise unless there is a problem.  For example, posting a sign on the church door saying that nudity is not acceptable would only be necessary if someone had walked in naked.  Perhaps a debate had developed in Luke’s community about the proper role of women as disciples vs. caretakers.  It is impossible to know.  But in any event, this story is not about women’s liberation from patriarchy.  It is not about the proper role for women in 21st Century church and society.  It’s about choosing to follow Jesus’ Way into God’s Kingdom.

The Common Lectionary readings that accompany Luke’s story offer metaphors of fruitfulness and spiritual maturity.  The prophet Amos talks about the basket of summer fruit that will become famine because the people turn away from God’s great work of justice-compassion.  Sarah and Abraham– in their spiritual maturity and trust in God’s word – will bear the fruit of a son, and be the ancestors of many nations.  Psalm 52 warns that evil doers will not succeed; Psalm 15 says that those who will dwell on God’s holy hill will be “those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right.”  The only piece that is a clanging gong in the ensemble is the Colossians rant about “Christ” being “the head of the body the church,” and the theology of substitutionary atonement, which the real Paul had no time for.  Perhaps it’s a way out for orthodox preachers who don’t want to consider unconventional interpretations of Luke’s Mary/Martha drama.  Contrary to much contemporary preaching, the story is not about sibling rivalry and woman’s real place in the home.

In the 14th Century, Meister Eckhart may have had the same accompanying scriptures in mind.  In 1980, Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox published a collection of Eckhart’s sermons titled Breakthrough:  Meister Eckhart’s Creation Spirituality in New Translation.” In commentaries on each of 37 sermons, Fox spells out the Catholic mystic justification for his theology of Creation Spirituality.  Two sermons are on the subject of Mary and Martha, using the metaphor of fruitfulness as a sign of spiritual maturity.  Meister Eckhart’s Sermon 20 talks about how Martha represents the mature person – the “wife” who bears fruit, who serves the master.  Mary is the “virgin,” the young sycophant, enamored of the guru, naive, and trapped in ego-involvement.  Mary Magdalene’s aria, “I don’t know how to love him,” from Jesus Christ Superstar comes to mind.  But “wife” and “virgin” are metaphors for Eckhart, and gender is irrelevant to this discussion.  In Sermon 34, Eckhart continues with the metaphor of a spiritually mature person (Martha) living in depth with God, not – as is Mary – enamored with the idea of being a disciple.  For Eckhart, contemplation is not better than action, nor are ideas more valuable than work.

Eckhart writes, “I call it obedience when the will is sufficient for what our insight commands”  (Sermon 34p. 485).  Mary cannot yet imagine what action her devotion to Jesus’s teaching might demand.  But Martha has already integrated the desire to follow Jesus’s teachings with the work required to do so.  Eckhart imagines that Martha’s complaint that Mary isn’t helping is really a bit of gentle ribbing to get Mary to let go and let be – to get out of her mind and into the fruitfulness of service.  Mary’s “better part” is that she is learning to live in God’s kingdom and to join in the ongoing work of distributive justice-compassion, but is not there yet.  Fox suggests that this Mary is the Magdalene, who only later . . . learned how to . . . do works of compassion. . . .”

To be spiritually mature is to participate in the great work of distributive justice-compassion, in order to bring about the transformation of human society from greed to sharing, from violent retribution and payback to the non-violent, radical abandonment of self-interest.  Fox writes, “Eckhart believes that contemplation is not better than, nor in the mature person even different from, work. . . . Compassion and the works born of compassion are themselves acts of contemplation.  This is the fulness of spiritual maturity: to be in the world, active in the world, and yet not hindered by these actions from being always in God.”  Fox commentary on Sermon 34, p. 489.

Fox says that our work is an enchantment.  That means, we live, breathe, move and have our being in that ocean of compassion that is God.  We are possessed by and obsessed with that spirit.  At the same time, the Zen of following Jesus’ Way and doing the great work of God’s Kingdom of Justice Compassion means letting go and letting be.  Let go of the mind chatter about being a disciple, activist, whatever, and just do it.

Progressing from naivety to maturity is not a linear journey, but a continuum of experience.  Luke’s story is a snapshot of a moment in time, not an allegory about women’s role in the early church.

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