Friday, June 26, 2009

This scripture must be fulfilled in me

‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.’

He said to them, ‘When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘No, not a thing.’ He said to them, ‘But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was counted among the lawless”; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.’ They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ He replied, ‘It is enough.’

- Luke 22:31-38

This is a time when what's "right" is turned on its head. The logic of the kingdom - that the Good should be embraced, that life should be reinforced, abundance chosen - is being stood on its head, reversed. This is a time of deep reversal, and, in Jesus' words, an attack of the evil. Christ is betrayed by one of his own, Jesus fears for the faith of his most devoted and emphatic followers, and he tells his own flock that now they must be prepared for anything, for any reversal. The savior of the world, the preacher of the good news, is now counted among the criminal. It is a time when Logos (the universal creative principle, the giver of reason, form, understanding) is declared "lawless" in the affairs of the world. We are in a time of strange reversal, of that which obstructs the good, sets back progress and love, and denies the reality that helps we humans see ourselves through life in this world.

No wonder human superstition persists through time and throughout the world. We see in this example of this dark hour something akin to what is colloquially called a "witching hour" but is in fact something much more tragic and difficult. Because what we understand to be a deep reversal of the Good is in fact something we're vulnerable to. At our most powerful moments, we are tried in ways we don't expect. Jesus stands on the brink of a final saving moment, of the moment of sacrifice which in fact will change the course of history in establishing this story we still read and ponder. But at this moment is the greatest temptation and acts of evil; the door is opened to persecution and harshness. I feel, quite often, that as I take a step forward in faith in my life, it is also somehow a time of trial. Perhaps I face a great temptation at the same time, or I need to "undo" through my own internal capacity for change, something from the past that I had decided long ago was a way to live my life, or some great false attack of guilt or of what I "should" do instead takes on great force in my mind. Here we see Peter warned that he'll be tempted. He too, will betray his Master. But Christ sees past this temptation and betrayal, and prays for Peter's restoration on that path of faith. And I think this is what we must remember.

How can the apostles possibly prepare themselves for what is to come? It must have been unimaginable to them. How could it be that the Messiah could be murdered, hung upon a cross with the greatest criminals, the most dangerous, and those considered deserving of this harshest form of death? How is it possible that human beings could put God to death? These questions will serve as stumbling blocks, and still do. We are in a time of reversal - yet, also, the time of opportunity. Through the strange workings of this will of God, of the Father, Jesus will go voluntarily to his unjust death, and in so doing, sow the seeds of redemption, transcendence and victory. Nothing makes sense, and yet it is still with us, this story of deep paradox and the deepest challenges, saving in its power and its grace, and its power to inspire us to acts also of transcendence and commitment to the Good.

Transcendence is the word here, now, at this moment, for so many things. We know of one great betrayal by Judas; and yet at the same time Peter's betrayal is also predicted but his redemption is also in the picture. Judas did not return to the flock for forgiveness - one wonders what would have happened if he did. Peter will go on to become the great orator and leader of the apostles. But in this moment, we understand the test and the darkness. Fear is a power reflected in our lives to this day; violence continues to shake our world, to set back hopes for peace or progress; culture and civilization break down in that violence of war that has been called "hell." We cling to our prayer, our hope, our redemption. We need it as much as ever. It is good to remember that in times when we take our deepest steps forward, we also just might face a trial of reversal - and remember that transcendence and victory just might not look like what we predicted or thought it might. May peace be with you in all of your trials; may we all have the wisdom - the grace - to understand what victory is like, even if it's not what we expected at all.

Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.
From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.
- Psalm 73

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