September 24, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 20:41-44.
Then he said to them, “How do they claim that the Messiah is the Son of David? For David himself in the Book of Psalms says: ‘The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool.”‘ Now if David calls him ‘lord,’ how can he be his son?”
Apparently, the scribes made no response to Jesus’ question. To this point some people had called Jesus the Messiah, the son of David. Barclay writes, “[T]he title Son of David was inextricably mixed up with world dominion, with military prowess and with material conquest.” Jesus seemed to them to be the answer to their desperate yearning for a king to reestablish the glory of Israel and drive out the Romans. This was their image of the Messiah because that was how men had conquered others throughout history. As Luke Timothy Johnson writes in The Gospel of Luke, “We see the expectation of a Messiah who is a descendant of the ruler who symbolizes the nation’s glorious past, and who by being nothing more than such a descendant holds out a hope for no greater realization of ‘God’s rule’ than safe borders and prosperity….Not only lack of faith in God but an impoverished imagination insists on portraying such a hope in terms of earthly preoccupations about descent and property!”
It was the limitations of this impoverished imagination that Jesus was trying to overcome. As Barclay states, “He was telling men that they must revise their ideas of what Son of David meant. They must abandon these fantastic dreams of world power and visualize the Messiah as Lord of the hearts and lives of men. He was implicitly blaming them for having too little an idea of God. It is always man’s tendency to make God in his own image, and thereby to miss his full majesty.”
Jesus is still trying to overcome our impoverished imaginations. We still fashion God in our image. We dream of earthly power and might; we proclaim that we are a Christian nation. We strive for material wealth and tell ourselves that that’s what God wants for us. Sometimes I think that it’s not that we have too little an idea of God, we have no real idea of God at all.
What I must do is try to overcome my own spiritual impoverishment. In Pope Francis’ recently published interview in La Civilta Cattolica, he described himself as a sinner. He talked of contemplating the painting of the calling of the sinner Matthew by Caravaggio. That painting is the one that stands most clearly in my mind of the hundreds or thousands we saw on our trip to Italy two years ago. In the gospel Jesus simply said to Matthew, “Follow me.” Matthew ultimately could not resist the imperative. In that surrender his life was changed, his spirit was nourished, and his image of the kingdom of God was re-created.
In my tenuous, timid response to Jesus the last two years I am slowly allowing him to be Lord of my heart and life. It began, though, with my acceptance of his love for me just as Matthew found in responding to Jesus’ call. That has enabled me to re-make my image of God, not to make Him conform to my image of Him. However, I need to keep moving on with more urgency. Pope Francis provided guidance for me in how he prays, “I ask myself: ‘What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What should I do for Christ?'” My answers will let me know how I’m progressing.