The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, February 07, 2010

"More" is never "enough"




7 February 2010
Epiphany 5C
Luke 5:1-11


O God, the author of Peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom. Amen.

It’s a remarkable story that we hear in the Gospel lesson this morning.

Perhaps you will stand in awe of the crowds that followed Jesus. They knew him to be a worker of miracles, and the word of his wonders spread quickly throughout the region.

Perhaps you, like the people of that time and place, found it remarkable that he was able to lead these struggling fishermen to their catch despite their futile efforts up until then. Perhaps it is the miracle that grabs you.

Our bishop preaches on this text from time to time. He tends to be drawn to the instruction that Jesus gives to the fishermen – go deeper. Cast your nets into the deep water. It’s often a parable for our lives – just when we think we’re in over our heads, the answer is often to go deeper – to delve into the depths of a problem until the solution becomes clear. The advice is for us not to linger in the safety of the shallows, but to take a risk by venturing into the unknown for a greater reward.

I have, however, come to see this text as a parable of freedom.

“Freedom” is a kind of buzzword in American culture. It’s one of those words that we hear so much, that it begins to lose its power. We certainly hear about freedom in the context of national security – our soldiers around the world are fighting for our freedom; the terrorist threat is an attack on freedom. Our politicians talk about “freedom” as though it’s a commodity that can be bought from one supplier or another at competing prices. But perhaps the greatest degradation of “freedom” happened a few years ago with the suggestion of “freedom fries” – some politicians’ snarky attempts to shame the French for refusing to participate in the war in Iraq.

We spend a lot of time talking about freedom. But do we have any clue about what it really is?

To varying degrees, we are all captive. We are captive to our goals and ambitions. We are captive to those dreams and aspirations that linger just beyond our reach. We can be captive in our jobs or to the lack of them. We can be captive either in our relationships or to our loneliness. We are captive to both our possessions and to our lack of them.

I’m reminded of the movie of about a year ago, “Revolutionary Road”. In it Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet star as the Wheelers, a young couple on the edge of destruction. They had met, years earlier, as a couple of free spirits, each equally attracted to the promise of adventure held in the other. But as time progresses, their free spirits diminish at the hands of their plans for achieving freedom. They achieve their goals, but along the way they become seduced by the trappings of suburban mediocrity.

And they were trapped indeed. Trapped between a sense of security and a lust for freedom. Trapped between achieving their goals and achieving their heart’s desire. And when they recognized that entrapment, they were destroyed – as individuals and as a couple – by their unexpectedly competing lures.

I imagine that, were it not for the presence of Jesus, Peter, James, and John may have found themselves in the same kind of predicament as the Wheelers. They were fishermen. Their goal was to catch fish. It’s easy to imagine that throughout the long night of catching no fish they had prayed with all of their hearts that they might have a catch, for their own sustenance as well as for their livelihood. It was only once their goal was achieved that they were freed from it. Free to leave it all behind at the realization that their goal was short of their hearts’ desires.

Like the Wheelers, those first disciples had prayed for “more”. All the while what they actually needed was what they already had – “enough”.

We stand at the cusp of Epiphany and Lent. The joy of Christmas has softened into the glow of the Epiphany, but in just a few days’ time our collective focus will sharply shift. Like the cusp of a gothic arch, we will sharply plunge ourselves into a season of penitence – namely, penitence for the ways in which we inhibit our freedom in Christ.

Theologians often talk about the “cost of discipleship”. That is to say, following Christ very often requires leaving something behind: status or power or possessions. In the Lenten season, many of us will symbolically reenact this “cost of discipleship” by giving something up. And in the midst of that spiritual discipline we will recognize that in the “cost of discipleship”, the cost often gives way to “freedom for discipleship”.

Our faith in Christ is not all Lent – it’s not all about “giving up”. It is also Epiphany – the light, the invitation in Incarnation. And it is Easter – the dawn, the freedom of Resurrection.

We learn, in the Gospel According to Janis, that “Freedom’s just another word for ‘nothing left to lose.’” Freedom is the distinction between our goals and our hearts’ desires. The products of our goals entrap us, while the fruits or our hearts’ desires free us.

Peter, James, and John saw that their goals were fruitless when measured against the freedom that was offered in following Christ.

They got “more”. In fact, they got more “more” than they had imagined to be possible. But “more” wasn’t “enough”. It never is. “Enough” is enough. “Enough” is freedom. Amen.



4 comments:

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well done, Jon. Well done.

Jon M. Richardson said...

Thank you, Dr. Kaeton :)

Fr. Warren said...

Good stuff. It's been cool to 'get to know you' through the chance of SocMed. I think Janis (actually Kristofferson) might have been a muse to DMB in Jimi Thing a bit too. 'We are surrounded by what we need and chasing after what we want." Are our 'needs' always met and does not Lent give us a chance to learn that anew each year?

I like your blog format. I'm going to be checking in regularly. Keep it up.

Kudos from Central Mass!

Jon M. Richardson said...

Thanks, Warren. Yeah - it's been amazing to see how Facebook and Twitter (and even Blogs!), and all those things (that I'll admit to having initially scoffed at) can actually be vehicles for building up and being more fully the Body of Christ.

I'll have to give DMB a bit more attention... It's time to bring them up on the iPod rotation again :)

And thanks for stopping by (and saying kind things about) my humble home here :) I'll leave a light on for ya!