Reflection for Tuesday, September 6, 2011: 23rd week in Ordinary Time.
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It is said that the English and the Americans are two peoples separated by a common language. The point is that, though we use the same words, we may mean different things. The same is certainly true for modern biblical English and ordinary everyday spoken English. The words sometimes mean different things and when that is the case we misunderstand what the Biblical passage is all about. The word "pray" is the poster child for this semantic confusion.||Today's Gospel tells us that "Jesus went out to the mountain to pray and spent the night in prayer to God". Today we think of "pray" as any type of communication with or meditating about God - thanking, praising, imploring, and so forth. With the benefit of post-Resurrection hindsight, we accept Jesus as Son of God, and we are not surprised therefore to read that He would spend some time communicating with His Father. It is the kind of incidental detail that perhaps makes the passage more authentic. The Gospels tell us about Jesus going off to pray roughly seven times, but only in the garden of Gethsemane do they tell us what He prayed for. (There He asked His Father to let this chalice pass, if it should be His will to do so.) |The word "pray" in the New Testament almost always means ask, or implore, or plead. When Jesus went off by Himself to "pray", He went off to ask His Father something. This happens, the Gospel narratives tell us, at critical points in Jesus' ministry, when He had to make a decision about what to do next. In today's reading, the context (which we've heard in the Gospels of the past two days) is that Jesus has been spreading the news of God's forgiveness of sin and calling people to change their lives. But now He begins to encounter opposition. His adversaries set legalistic traps for Him, try to trip Him up. I don't think He expected that. So He goes off and asks His Father something like: "What am I doing wrong?" "Why aren't people responding wholeheartedly to Your self-giving generosity?" "What should I be doing?" Always it was His Father's will that He sought to follow. Always He had to discern that will the human way, the hard way. As the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, He was in all things a human like us - save sin (Heb 4:15). I don't imagine that the answer He got was any clearer than you or I would get. God isn't pushy. We have to discern God's will, and we have constantly to ask for help in figuring out what to do next.|So instead of an interesting narrative detail that gives the story some color, what we have in these few words is a Jesus who is in fact a model for the Christian, not so much in terms of perfection, but in terms of struggling to know (and do) God’s will. |What was Jesus' decision in this situation? From Luke's description of what Jesus did, I guess He concluded that, despite the opposition, His course - God's will for Him - was "full steam ahead". Immediately He names twelve of His disciples as apostles, thereby making a quasi-political, but strongly symbolic statement about restoring the full Israel of God. Then He moves, as we will read tomorrow, to the Lukan version of the beatitudes, where He describes what God's reign will be like - is like.|Jesus was not following a clearly laid out game plan. At various times during the course of His ministry He does precisely as Luke said in the opening of today's passage. He goes off "to pray", asking His Father for mid-course corrections. There is no clearly laid out blueprint for us either, as we, His disciples, try to tell our world that it is careening down the wrong path, that there is a better way.
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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