Saturday, June 04, 2016

He Went Down With Them

After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.  Luke 2:43-47

“That which is done for love (though it be little and contemptible in the sight of the world) becometh wholly fruitful.” (Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ)

In between sessions with the spirit of Dan Berrigan (through his autobiography and essential writings), I have been working through a book entitled “A Nazareth Manifesto: Being with God” by Samuel Wells.  In it, the Rev. Dr. Wells and I are wrestling two complex theological terms to the ground.  Those terms are “for” and “with.”  Today’s Good News gives us ample space to stretch our minds around the concepts.

Wells’ idea is that there are three primary ways to interact with people across major social, economic or racial barriers: “we can work for, work with or be with.”  Wells observed that Jesus spent 30 years of his life being with others, three years of his life working with others and only one week of his life working for others.

Jesus did not come down to earth for any reason other than to be “with” us.  When you are with someone, you are together, sharing, exchanging ideas and experiences with each other.  There is an equality to with that does not exist when someone does something for someone.

Working with the poor is a lot more difficult. This means recognizing that being poor is not just about lacking income, but also being excluded from positions of power. Working with the poor means waiting for poor people themselves to define what their needs are, and to support them in the action they decide to take to change things. It involves entering into a relationship with poor people, and so surrendering some of one’s own autonomy and sense of power in being able to identify what needs to be done and take steps to make a difference. It means offering what one has and is for their use.[i]

Wells says that “being with the poor” is even more difficult still. It means experiencing in one’s own life something of what it is to be poor and oppressed, to be disempowered. To set aside one’s plans and strategies for change, and simply feel with the poor the pain of their situation.

Working for may be done for love, or for many other reasons. Working with may be done for love, though it is possible to have other goals in mind. But being with, as far as I can tell, has only one motivation: it is because the other is precious for their own sake, solely to be enjoyed with no thought to use. Being with can only be done for love.[ii]

The teaching in the temple is the scene today.  Mary and Joseph were looking FOR Jesus. Yet, they eventually found the boy in the temple WITH the teachers listening and asking questions.  All were astounded WITH his understanding and answers.  Jesus is not doing anything for his parents.  Rather he is just acting out as intended – as “God with Us” would act.

Jesus made his point.  Now, he realized, it was his time to be with his family until his public ministry would begin.  “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51)

Think about how the concepts of FOR and WITH materialize in the Sorrowful Mysteries, the Mysteries of Light and the Glorious Mysteries.  Going beyond that, how does this concept change your view of Christian witness with God and with each other? 

One thing that comes to mind is Pope Francis and his exhortation to bishops (shepherds) that they must smell like the sheep.  You cannot smell like the sheep if you stay perched in your chancery, cathedra or predella.  Or in our car, living rooms or offices.  We must get down and live with the refugees, the prisoners, and the poor just like St. Mother Theresa or Servant of God Dorothy Day. 

Where will you find God today?  How does God show he is for you by being with you? With God at your side, how can you be with the poor?

[i] Sarah White and Romy Tiongco, Doing Theology and Development: Meeting the Challenge of Poverty [Edinburgh: St Andrew Press 1997] 14.
[ii] Wells, A Nazareth Manifesto

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