March 14, 2014
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from John 10:17-18.
“This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.”
I think this is a fascinating statement. I don’t take it for its literal reference to his crucifixion and resurrection, although it certainly must be so. Richard Rohr in his daily meditations has been writing about this in terms of laying down my false self, the self that leads me to believe that I am autonomous and self-sufficient, that I am the mask that I have created and present to the world. He posits that unless I lay that aside, no longer cling to this illusion, I will not be able to live in union with God, to give and receive His love fully.
Jesus learned that before he began his public ministry and enabled him to proceed in spite of every injustice inflicted upon him. He was able to lay aside his false sense of self, the man he was expected and encouraged to be by family, friends, and culture. At some point he grew into the realization that that path was not the way to God. He laid aside his preoccupation with what others thought of him, of material needs, of success and security. All those things that I have been raised to believe are important, vital, to a good life.
That allowed him to come to an understanding that God’s spirit resided in him and he lived in union with his Father. They were one even though he was manifested as a man, a human being subject to all the slings and arrows and temptations that we are. It was up to Jesus to make that decision to lay aside his false self; God wasn’t going to do it for him. He had the free will to choose just as I do. He had to lay it down on his own.
I’ve had some experience in this dying to my false self, though I resist giving it up every day. It’s not something I can choose and do and be done with it. I have to fight against the habitual way I’ve lived most of my life, fight against the expectations that others have of me, fight against the carefully constructed falsehood that I am captain of my ship, that I’m in charge, that I don’t need anyone else. When I am able to let that false self die even for just a few hours or a day or two, I gain a sense of union with God. I experience His limitless, unearned, undeserved love. When that happens I experience a sense of joy makes me alive in a way I’ve never felt before. Then, I’m able to love my true self, the one that He created and longs for me to be, the son that He wants to be in communion with.
You’d think that I’d want that all the time. I guess that’s one of the things that distinguishes me from the saints. Their desire for union with God is more persistent than mine, more unyielding to the temptations and demands of the world. I’m not beating myself up about this. I’m using it as a reminder that union with God should be my first thought when I wake in the morning and in the forefront of my mind as I go through my day. It’s not impossible. Jesus showed me that it is within my power. The encouraging thing is that God always meets me where I am and eases me down the road just a bit further, most times just a small step but sometimes a good, long trek tiring but exhilarating at the same time. That keeps me going.