The readings for Sunday, May 16, 2010:
First Reading: Acts 16:16-34
Psalm: Psalm 97
Second Reading: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
Gospel: John 17:20-26
This Gospel always inspires Trinitarian thoughts when I read it: to whom does Jesus pray, when he prays? Why does Jesus have to pray, if we really believe in what we say we do, which is a Triune God? Is it a divine version of talking to oneself?
Archbishop Desmond Tutu recounts a story of asking the Dalai Lama about his prayer life. The Dalai Lama cracked a joke about talking to himself when he prays, since, of course, the Dalai Lama is the incarnation of the deity to Tibetan Buddhists.
Lately, I've been thinking about the prayer life of Christ, which we get a glimpse of in this Gospel. I find it deeply moving to think of Christ praying for me. I think of him praying for those that will come later (in our case, much later, 2000 years later) and want to weep in amazement. To the very end, Christ prays for his followers, for those that have been and those that will be. In these last prayers, he continues to focus on his central message of showing God's love to the world.
Christ also reminds God that he wants to share the glory that God has given him. He wants to give that glory to his followers. Think on that for a minute. What if you actually were capable of being like Jesus?
Many theologians would argue that we are, in fact, capable of being Christ like. If we but believe, anything Christ could do, we could do too. Of course, that would mean we'd have to shuck off the ideas of success, the way the world defines it. We'd have to give up our comfortable habits of anger, greed, meanness, looking out for our own skins. We'd have to practice radical love. The good news: the more we practice being Christlike vessels of radical love, the better we'll become at it.
But there's a downside. If you read the chapter that comes after today's Gospel, you'll see that this image of Christ praying comes just before his crucifixion and death. Unfortunately, when Christ instructs us to pick up our cross and follow him, he's not just talking about a metaphorical cross. He may actually mean an earthly sacrifice. Many a Christian has been slaughtered by unsympathetic governments.
Fortunately, those of us in the industrialized northern hemisphere (the Western part, at least) don't have to worry about giving up our lives, not in the literal, physical sense. However, we should start thinking about re-ordering our lives. But start small. Nothing is more overwhelming than thinking that we need to give up all our treasure and go out to solve the intractable problems of poverty.
Here, too, as with any change, it's better to start with the tiniest of baby steps. Maybe this summer is a good time to increase your charitable giving. Maybe you want to donate some time to work with the poor and the oppressed. Maybe you want to remember to pray for those who aren't as fortunate as you are. Maybe you want to clean out your closets and give your surplus to those who have little.
How else can you be a Christ-like light in the world? We are surrounded by people who are poor in spirit, people who are suffering terrible blows. You could be there for them. You could be the person in the office who always has a smile and a kind word and reassurance that all will be well and all manner of things will be well (to use mystic Julian of Norwich's words). You could sow the seeds of hope and help fight despair. You could be the person that makes people wonder and whisper, "I wonder what his secret is? What makes her so capable of being happy?" Maybe they'll ask and they'll really want to know, and you can talk about your faith. Maybe they'll just be drawn to you and hang out with you, and you can minister that way.
A smile is easy. Praying for the world, like Jesus does, is easy. And it's these little changes that lead to happier habits. Eventually, you've changed your trajectory and you didn't even realize it. Maybe you'll look back from a certain vantage point and say, "That was when I started to claim my glorious destiny. That's the starting point that led me on a road to be this close to the Christian God wants me to be." Begin today.