Calm in the Storm

Thoughts on the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 3, 2019

by Rev. Jim Ryan,  jimryan6885@gmail.com

If you hold to the theory, as I do, that Jesus grew into his identity then this event of Jesus’ visit to Nazareth, when seen in terms of his own personal history, is one of baseline importance.

Take a look at the opening chapters of Luke’s Gospel and you see that today’s story took place when Jesus was still operating alone.  At the time of this visit (Luke 4:16-30), with its citizenry who wanted a good show, Jesus was still traveling around on his own.  He didn’t start calling disciples until after this very frustrating visit to his hometown.  I imagine Jesus traveling on the roads and to the villages with a strategy of visiting synagogues having the thought, apparently, that they would be places where people gathered who were open to the Word of God.

Well, wasn’t he in for a surprise.  The fully human Jesus needed experiences that would affirm his growth in the Creator’s presence in his life.  Sometimes those experiences were of the negative variety, such as this story of the treatment he received from his longtime friends and neighbors, and, presumably, some of his relatives.  They did not like what he said and weren’t in agreement with him in his openness to gentiles.

Early in his ministry, this experience taught him the lesson of gaining comfort and assurance, as we might say today, in his own skin.  He found himself among people who quickly went from saying nice things about him to taking him to a high place and threatening to throw him down.  Picture this event and put yourself in Jesus’ place.

In the way of Ignatian spirituality get yourself into the middle of this picture.  Look into the eyes and hear the angry words of this synagogue gathering become a mob.  Let yourself wonder with Christ how is it possible for such a nice homecoming to go so sour.  Different than the method of monastic spirituality where the point is to go to the desert for the purpose of letting go and emptying oneself of things and stuff, this Ignatian spiritual method is more akin to being part of a Broadway musical.  Let all the pieces of the story fill the stage of what plays out in order to gain a sense of what it may have been like for Jesus being confronted – and so early in his ministry that had started out with such success.

And then read again the final line – literally, the final steps in the story.  Luke writes that Jesus, surrounded by threats and warnings “went straight through their midst and walked away.”  I like to think that Jesus was just as surprised as anyone would be who deals with the angry crowd by just calmly walking through them and on to whatever was next in store for him.  Jesus, the fully human person, grew greatly that day and as a result of that walk.  He realized that his message really was at a different level than the silly demands that people presented to him.

Jesus was the picture of calm in the storm.

And, I wonder, was the calm and his deliberateness an experience for him of how it was in his life that his humanity was divine and his divinity was human?  When I consider the calm that marks this decision by Jesus there are two meanings of calm that come to mind.  The first is an apparent calm.  It occurs to me that this is in fact the kind of calm that a parent musters up on certain occasions in order to discipline their children.  The parent may be all assured on the outside, but inside they question themselves about what is actually best for the child.  It is an apparent calm and they put on a good face to prevent the child from seeing the inner turmoil of their own experience.

The second kind of calm is actual calm.  And it comes after long and trying times of challenges to one’s self-assurance.  I believe that it was this kind of calm that Jesus had while confronting the synagogue crowd on that Sabbath morning.  This kind of calm, though, is not a mark of character that comes by the effort of oneself alone.  No, this actual calm, for Jesus – and for us – comes in a true relationship with the divine.

Actual calm is very much like the serenity that is so often asked for in the alcoholic’s serenity prayer.  It is achieved in relationship with the divine.  One likely needs to have an interior sense of God’s love and affection in one’s life in order to reach a level of calm that makes it possible to walk straight through the angry crowd.

Michel Henry, philosopher and theologian, thinks of this relationship of Jesus with his Beloved Parent as a co-belonging.  The life of Jesus is in its incarnational joining of humanity and divinity, as Henry puts it, “a co-belonging in absolute self-affection.”  The love of God is absolute which means that the calm of Jesus comes as the result of his experiencing his own inner growth in this relationship with the ever-present divine.  So actual calm is not a private, solitary characteristic developed in some personal isolation.  Rather, it is the interior relationship – each of us with the divine – that makes it happen.

I like to think that when Jesus went on to call the first disciples in Luke’s next chapter he did so fresh from an early lesson learned that he could share with them in their training.  I’m guessing he shared with them that day when, faced with the angry crowd, he could do nothing other than walk in his own truth through their midst.  However, as he walked away, he may have also shared with them that it was clear that he was not alone.

A Prayer

May we have the mind of Christ.

Let it free us from that which we must put aside so that we will take up

the will to care and to do good.

We gather in this circle of faith and worship to be fed with your Word and Eucharist.

Let these strengths equip us to live every day as witnesses of your justice, peace, and love, you who are Christ— the Word of God among us.

Amen.

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