In life we are informed and formed by what we attend to, by whom we listen to and what we do. And the decisions that we make will shape our continuing faith development as much as they reflect our faith journey up to the present moment. This is either a life giving circle that continues to grow in depth and breadth or a vicious circle that diminishes us and those in our world. Our choice.
St Paul said it this way (Romans 6:12-23) “...you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin ... or of obedience.” verse 16. The language that St Paul uses can be read as though it only refers to ‘moral’ questions but I think Paul should be read as a mystic, and one of the first psychologically insightful wisdom teachers in the Christian tradition. “...you are servants/followers/students/devotees of the one whom you listen to/look to/give your time and attention to - either of sin/brokenness/selfishness/death focused culture ... or of obedience/listening to/looking to the Living God.” This is a theological truth. It is also a psychological and sociological truth. Let’s explore a little more in the light of our readings this week (Revised Common Lectionary Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; and Matthew 10:40-42.)
Abraham takes his long awaited son Isaac, the focus of all God’s promises, on a journey as he, Abraham, felt called to do and prepared to make the final and greatest sacrifice. There are some disturbing issues in this story which I don’t have time to explore at the moment so we will take it as a story of obedience which in this context is the intention I believe. Abraham is spared from needing to follow through on this occasion but his obedience in this moment is a reflection of his lifetime of listening to the Living God and following. And this is not the last of the demands on Abraham or Isaac to listen to and do what God requires of them. It is one, the largest one, of the myriad moments in which they are called to hear and do.
What and who we listen to influences what we do and how we go about it. At the end of Matthew’s gospel (25:31-46) Jesus spells out that what we do to and for others is a reflection of our relationship with God and indeed is the measure of the loving quality of our relationship. That is, our claims to follow the living God, if we do not act with justice and compassion to those who are in front of us, are hollow and meaningless.
In the portion of Matthew’s gospel set for this week Jesus says that “... whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple - truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” This is a similar teaching but does also seem to point out that we as disciples influence others just as we have been influenced. The circle gets bigger and bigger. What we do is not just a matter of personal salvation and morality but of leading, influencing, contributing to the culture of the whole community. Our lives are bound up in others and their lives to some extent are in our hands.
This cannot really be understood in a linear sense but only as a circle or a spiral. A circle of life or destruction. Like so many of the teachings of Jesus and Paul when you drill down, this teaching is both very simple and all demanding. There is no hiding place from such truth and it is a very high standard of living and loving that we are called to. It is also very simple and we can begin, or continue, where ever we are right now – with the thirsty person in front of us.
I don’t think we can stop with the thirsty person in front of us if we discern that they are thirsty because of systemic evil that has diverted the river upstream or poisoned it. We begin with what we can do and then together, especially those of us who are disciples, we address the structural sins of poverty and exclusion and oppression. What and how much we can do will depend on many factors but being called to play a part, our part, is true for all of us.
But how do we grow strong in our capacity to listen, to follow, and to obey? I cannot find better than a story I heard some years ago and while I am hesitant to borrow a story from another culture I am so inspired by this story that I will. I have heard it attributed to various first nations peoples but this source credits the version of the story to the Cherokee Nation.
A Grandfather from the Cherokee Nation was talking with his grandson."A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy. "It is a terrible fight between two wolves." The young grandson listened intently.
"One wolf is evil, unhappy, and ugly: He is anger, envy, war, greed, selfishness, sorrow, regret, guilt, resentment, inferiority/ superiority, false pride, coarseness, and arrogance. He spreads lies, deceit, fear, hatred, blame, scarcity, poverty, and divisiveness."
"The other wolf is beautiful and good: He is friendly, joyful, loving, worthy, serene, humble, kind, benevolent, just, fair, empathetic, generous, honest, compassionate, grateful, brave, and inspiring resting wholeheartedly in deep vision beyond ordinary wisdom."
The grandson paused in deep reflection of what his grandfather had just said. Then he exclaimed; "Oyee! (in recognition). Grandfather continued; "This same fight is going on inside you, and inside all human beings as well."
The grandson paused in deep reflection and recognition of what his grandfather had just said. Then he finally cried out deeply; "Oyee! Grandfather, which wolf will win this horrific war?"
The elder Cherokee replied, "The wolf that you feed. That wolf will surely win!" [www.rainbowbody.net/Ongwhehonwhe/Cherokee.htm ]
We are informed and formed by all that we pay attention to. Make sure that we pay attention to the word of the Living God (creation, scripture, spirit, the divine spark in all faces) and feed upon all that we have been given. Make sure that we pay attention to our neighbours and feed upon their generous gifts and insights. And let us make sure we pay attention to opportunities to feed and give drink to others.
Even so, come Lord Jesus the Christ, come to us in the everyday sacraments of love and life.