Fifth Sunday of the Year Reflection
The suburb of Bertrams in the Johannesburg is what you would term a ‘rough neighbourhood’; there are gangs, drug lords, prostitutes and destitute squatters. It was here that I live and worked with the ‘street kids’. I occupied an apartment as well as an office in a block of apartments shared with the Catholic Psychological Services and the Catholic Community Services.
One particular early morning, around 3 AM, I was urged awake to confront two armed men hovering over me in the bedroom. My reaction was pure ‘lizard brain’: kill! With a terrible growl of a cornered wild animal, I bounded up from the bed and attacked: kill! By blessed chance, the intruders fled. The anger, fear and regret that I experienced afterwards would have little to do with those intruders. To kill; this was what I was capable of; this was what lay hidden within me. I was shocked, mortified and deeply humbled. Go from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man. But God’s response is always the same, “do not be afraid!”
Through the years since, I have discovered that these are truly moments of grace. To see ourselves as we are, this is grace. Yes, God is within me and light is within me, but there is also something else. It is against the revelation of this shameful reality of our hidden faults and sins that God’s grace is something beautiful, awesome and overwhelming.
Without this revelation our tangled motives and glib self-righteous anger is continually at work feeding the ego to keep us satisfied with the egos’ constant false assurances: I am right, I am good, I am better than those others and I am deserving of success and happiness and the fulfilment of my desires and dreams. This is the path that leads to claiming for ourselves the right to designate good and evil according to our own judgement, claiming for ourselves equality with God.
This illusion of self-righteousness will always keep us static, block our development and makes us unteachable and incapable of true unselfish love. Suffering and sorrow are most often the key to the door of a hardened and prideful heart. Suffering and sorrow lead us into that compassionate stance that knows our own need of mercy and forgiveness; knows our need of the healing hand of Jesus the Christ. If we allow our hearts to become soft and vulnerable, our Suffering partakes in the story of Jesus the Christ in Love, vulnerability, suffering and overcoming death through service, renunciation of self and status.
Being in the Presence of Holiness
We can only imagine what was going through Peter’s mind as the truth and goodness of Jesus was revealed to him on the Lake of Gennesaret. We do know that the experienced of this revelation led to an acknowledgement of his own sinfulness, “Go from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Here we see the Jewish understanding that sin and holiness cannot inhabit the same space; holiness will totally annihilate any evil and darkness in its presence. Being in the presence of holiness is a fearful and dangerous thing. For better to be out of sight and out of mind.
The words of Jesus that Peter had heard earlier had sparked Peter’s conscience. Perhaps it was the spontaneous outbursts of anger that we see in the nature of Peter that must have calloused over the regret and sadness that accompanies a lifetime of difficulties, losses, struggles against good and evil, and failures.
I rather like this about Peter; so much like us, angry and fearful, jumping to conclusions, subject to procrastinating yet at the same time filled with enthusiasm and great empathy. This is the nature of Peter who betrays the Lord so many times, suffers guilt and remorse, cries bitterly, but returns each time to the source of grace and Love that he experienced that first day in the encounter with Jesus; an experience of awe!
Awe is the power that will release us from the terrible fear and her sister anxiety, that can grip our minds. This is the call that turns our awareness towards the sacred coming from a profound sense of wonder, beauty, reverence and humility in the presence of a power that is greater than we are. Awe helps us to create a genuine vision of life’s meaning that leads us through our fear and anxiety.
Discernment of Truth is not optional for Christians
Without a foundation of this beacon of true awe, we can so easily try to manipulate religion, spirituality, those around us and even God who is the source of all that is Good, beautiful and True.
Not every emotion of apparent awe is however genuinely based on that which is truly holy, respectful and loving, nor will it nurture the loving kindness and humility on which joy, peace and spiritual freedom depends.
Discernment is needed. Discernment is the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth. Discernment needs the light of God’s Word who is the person of Jesus.
St Paul teaches that it is the responsibility of every Christian to be discerning: “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every from of evil.” The apostle John issues a similar warning when he says, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world”.
According to the New Testament, discernment is not optional for the believer; it is necessary.
Without God’s Word We Are Defenceless
The key to living an uncompromising life of integrity lies in our ability to exercise discernment in each and every area of our lives. Failure to distinguish between truth and error leaves the Christian subject to illusion, fear and anxiety.
Discernment is an area where many of us stumble. Often we exhibit little ability to measure the things we are taught against the standard of God’s Word, and we inadvertently engage in all kinds of compromise, convoluted decision-making and distressing behaviour. Without God’s Word we are unarmed and defenceless.
Discernment intersects the Christian life at every point. And God’s Word provides us with the needed discernment about every issue of life. According to Peter, God “has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence”.
Do not be afraid… I am with you always – Isaiah 41:10, Matthew 28:20