Prophecy, truth, love

Filed in Relationships by on February 4, 2016 0 Comments


Last Sunday, the readings the Church gives us help us to reflect on a fundamental experience of God in our lives: the claim that truth makes on us [Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13; Luke 4:21-30]. That experience of being in the spotlight, of responsibility. The readings also express our attempt to deny this, our desire to squirm out of truth’s grip, slip out of the sunlight and into the shadows. Finally, they also help us understand why truth has such a claim on us, why we feel it so intently, and how to live it again.

Our first reading introduces us to that basic experience of truth: that it exceeds us, that it is not of our making. Truth calls to us, and so we are always in relation to it. It is the description of the prophet Jeremiah’s calling.

The prophetic movement is considered one of the turning points in the religious development of Israel. Up until the prophets, it was the People of God who were called. The kingdom of God, the reign of God, was found among the people. It was kind of a communal reality. But now Jeremiah looks around and sees that the people have fallen away from God. They are no longer faithful to his word, they no longer live as they ought. Jeremiah can’t find God among them. But, in recognising God’s absence, he realises God’s presence, within himself. Therefore, Jeremiah feels all the weight of responsibility, the responsibility of living as he ought, a life that is faithful to God and the covenant. There has been a shift: the kingdom of God is no longer found out there. It is now found in here: in the private room that is the prophet’s soul. As in the trailers for bad sequels, this time it’s personal.

We can all recognise this experience. Something is not right. We know it, but it doesn’t look like anyone else is going to do anything about it. We are being called. Truth is demanding a response. Jeremiah describes this experience as being called before he was born. Truth is putting his whole life into question, asking: who are you? What are you going to do? He understands that truth is the form of his life. If he is not responding to it, then he is not really living. He experiences truth as a command. There is no choice. If he is to really live, then he must proclaim what he sees.

However, the reading makes a further point about this experience of being caught by truth. Even though there is no real choice, no other way to live, we can still choose not to live; that is, to live a false existence, a life that is no life. Instead of taking truth as the measure of my life, I can take something else, like popular opinion, as the ground on which to build my life.

In the first reading, such an existence is described as being nervous before people. Nervousness, squirming, wanting to get out of the light: all these come from basing one’s life in something other than the truth, something that provides no real support because it is always shifting and changing. One who is confident in truth is not nervous. Why would one be? If one is wrong, then one changes one’s mind. This confidence is not arrogance, because one is not in control of the truth. It’s not just mine. Truth is open to all. Indeed, one does not possess the truth. Rather, one is possessed by the truth. This experience of truth as the only sure ground, the only real foundation to life, is described in the final section of our first reading. If we are based in truth, then we become like a fortified city, a pillar of iron. We cannot be overcome because: what can beat truth? What can ever undermine it? The company of a really honest person can gives us this sense. We can get nervous because we realise that they are on solid ground, and, to the extent that we are not living or speaking from truth, we feel like we are on shaky ground.

We hear a similar description of truth in our Gospel. The previous Sunday we heard Jesus proclaim the good news that he was fulfilling the scriptures, and we realised that because we are the body of Christ that this is our task, too. Today we hear that his words win approval from all, and we are astonished by his gracious words. We, the hearers, are having the same experience as Jeremiah. What Jesus says, how he says it, who he is: all these combine to effect the experience of truth, the experience of grace in his words, on his listeners. They know they have been called. They can feel it in themselves. What Jesus says must now become the pattern of their lives, must inform the way they live. And we know the same. But then we see the squirming begin. Having to free captives, give sight to the blind, bring good news to the poor: all this sounds like bad news for us. It means we will have to change; and the changes are probably not small ones.

So, what do we do? We begin to squirm. We try to find some way to undermine the message. “Who is this guy? Why doesn’t he do here what he has done elsewhere? Maybe he’s not all he’s cracked up to be.” All of this is our desperate attempt to forget the truth we know we have just heard, our desperate attempt to get out of the spotlight. We don’t want to look Jesus in the eye. Again, we see this everywhere around us, especially in our own lives. We all want to go with the flow. We don’t want to be the ones who point out that things don’t make sense. It is so lonely pointing out the obvious when everyone is trying to ignore it. It is much easier to join in the noise and hope to drown out the truth. Join in the fake outrage. Dress up our excuses for inaction in reasonable clothes. Pretend we have more important things to do. Or that our pretence is more sophisticated than the simple truth.

When we realise our desperate attempts to avoid truth, we can despair. How can we get out of this fake life? But, all is not lost. Our second reading points out the one thing that can short-circuit our squirming, take away our nervousness. This one thing is also the force of truth, its power. Love. The second reading comes at the end of the section in which St Paul is describing the Church, all its members, all the gifts that make it up, all the roles that people fill. And he seems to be building to a climax. We can see him building the church before our eyes. And as he fills in the picture, as he discusses the higher gifts, you can see him needing to point out the gift that exceeds all other gifts. The glue that holds the church together. The fire that is blood of Christ.

We know this experience of being carried away by love, of being so passionate about what we love that we ignore whatever gets in the way. We must proclaim what we love. We must protect what we love. We must share what we love. We are no longer nervous or worried about people looking at us, because we are no longer thinking about ourselves. We are thinking about what we love, who we love. Now, truth is an experience of love, and love is an experience of truth, but we do not always feel this deep connection. Often truth seems not to have the passion of love. Often love seems to blind us to the truth. Passion can run away from us. But occasionally God gives us little moments when they come together. When truth and love are married and become one.

When we get these moments, these relationships, we must protect them. We must proclaim them and we must share them. Most of all, we must pray about them. Because if we do, they will begin to colour our lives. They will begin to shape our lives. Through them, God is calling us. Through them, we will become more attuned to the love that must be behind every truth and the truth that must shape every love. And our lives will once again be on solid ground.

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Fr Jerome Santamaria

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Fr Jerome Santamaria is a priest of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Australia.

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