At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea. (New International Version)
A domesticated Jesus is nothing more than a fictional character, part of the panoply of old classic literature, and just another person in the Christian writings of the New Testament.
Many so called Christians want to control Jesus, to have him serve their purposes. Like some magical entertainer, they want to hold onto him, keep him around, trotting him out occasionally to impress friends and family.
Such persons have not yet come to terms with the spiritual reality that Jesus belongs to others, to everyone, not just me or people I like.
Whenever we grab hold of Jesus to keep him from going to others, we play the role of Mary Magdalene, who did not recognize her Lord when he was standing in front of her face. Then, when realizing who he was, did not want Jesus going anywhere. Yet, the Lord responded:
“Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17, NRSV)
Jesus did more than proclaim good news; he was the good news itself, embodied, for the life of the world – and not only for the life of a particular race or ethnicity or gender, or even religion. As the Lord of Life, there is enough Jesus for everyone.
Maybe the true mark of a Christian is not having bumper sticker messages or a bobblehead Christ or an impressive Bible on the living room coffee table or erudite theological ideas. Maybe its in telling others about Jesus from our own mouth, from a heart that overflows with the gospel of grace.
We must let God be God. Yes, there is a very important place for us to ask, seek, and knock on the door of heaven. And there is also an equal necessity for solitude, silence, and patience, in waiting for the Lord to say, “Come here to me.”
The wisdom to know when to practice solitude, and when to actively seek, arises by purposely engaging in both. We must have an action/reflection model in which we seek to do the will of God, then step back and reflect upon the experience and learn from it. And, at the same time, we are to practice a contemplation/response model that communes in solitude with God, then responds with active involvement of just and merciful acts toward others.
Our Gospel lesson today highlights the need for solitude as a Christian spiritual practice because our Lord practiced it. The solitude, however, is not to be unending. At some point, we must descend from the mountain peak and enter the valley, just as we ascended it from the activity below.
Good news needs proclamation. And for that to happen, it must be proclaimed from both the top of the mountain, as well as the lowest valley. The gospel cannot be chained so that it is tethered for only my group of cronies. No, Jesus is for all, and so, good news is meant to spread to every corner of the earth.
Perhaps we need to sit still long enough, without allowing our inner anxiety to rule the day, to let Jesus call to us and invite us to come. Then, maybe we will be able to hear the gracious words of the Lord:
“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, CEB)
There’s no need to break down doors, trying to squeeze ourselves into the kingdom of God. We need only respond to the gracious invitation of Jesus and let him invite others. Truly receiving amazing grace changes us, and we then do not seek to keep Jesus from leaving.
“How amazing, amazing that the one who has help to bring is the one who says: Come here! What love! It is already loving, when one is able to help, to help the one who asks for help, but to offer the help oneself! And to offer it to all! Yes, and to the very ones who are unable to help in return! To offer it, no, to shout it out, as if the helper himself were the one who needed help, as if he who can and wants to help everyone were nevertheless in one respect himself a needy one, that he feels need, and thus needs to help, needs those who suffer in order to help them!”Søren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity
Coming and going, silencing and proclaiming, holding and letting go. We allow Jesus to do it all. And we simply follow in his footsteps.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Humanity, your presence here on earth never becomes a thing of the past – thus never becoming distant. Our faith and experience of you is very present and very much real in the here and now.
Might all people see you in your true form and in the way you walked this earth – not in an empty or meaningless way of mere thoughts or distortions. May all people see you as you are, a lowly man, yet the Savior and Redeemer of humanity – who out of love came to earth to seek the lost, to suffer and die, to call the straying soul, and to absorb the opposition of others without raising a hand in defense.
Would that we might see you in this way, and not be offended at you and your gracious gathering of all kinds of people into your glorious kingdom. Amen.