Keep Moving Forward

Moving ForwardIn those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

—Mark 1:9-15

Jesus has a job to do.  According to Stanley Hauerwas’ interpretation of Jesus’ journey into the wilderness immediately following Jesus’ baptism by John, we get a glimpse as to the unique nature of the job Jesus is about to undertake.  As prompted by the above Lenten reading from Mark’s gospel, we might remember the threefold temptation Jesus endures, there, in the wilderness on his 40-day job interview.  Jesus is asked to turn rocks into bread to satisfy his hunger, to throw himself from the temple to be rescued by God, and to worship Satan in exchange for ruling the world.  And, following each temptation, Jesus successfully resists.

A Christian theologian and ethicist, Hauerwas reads this text as not just a way of demonstrating Jesus’ fidelity to and clarity for his mission and work.  Hauerwas sees in Jesus’ resistance a sophisticated literary presentation by the gospel writer, outlining the vocational character of Jesus’ work.

In resisting the temptation to speak rocks into bread, Jesus demonstrates that the nourishing power imbedding in speaking the word of God is not to be self-serving but to feed the powerful the truth of their abuses and to feed the oppressed with the hope of liberation.  In resisting the temptation to throw himself from the temple, Jesus acknowledges that his mediation of the Divine to the human is not to link himself to God but to serve as a conduit that connects God and humanity to each other.  In resisting the temptation to worship Satan in exchange for ruling the world, Jesus recognizes that the kingdom he is to rule is not an inheritance of power.  Rather, his ruling is but part of an entirely new kingdom yet to be made visible, a kingdom characterized not by present standards but by radically different conceptualizations of power.  In other words, Jesus’ job is uniquely defined by the characteristics of prophecy, priesthood, and kingship.  He is well suited for his soon-to-be-assumed profession.

Our word “profession” originates with a Latin word professus, meaning “to declare publicly.” Thus, someone’s profession is what one claims she is committed to doing.  And, the degree to which one is successful in her profession may be measured against the degree to which she adheres to the virtues and attributes associated with that profession. For instance, a successful teacher is someone who carries out well the tasks associated with teaching, including the virtues she might require to enable learning to occur.  If a teacher is to be judged faithful to the task of teaching, she needs to be knowledgeable in her field, understand techniques of communicating information, and create a trusting relationship with students that enable challenging instruction and exacting but affirming evaluation.  As an example, if a teacher makes her students feel disliked or disrespected, then those students will not trust their teacher, preventing those students from opening themselves up for the necessary vulnerability required for new instruction, expression of personal thoughts, critical evaluation, and radical change.

For Jesus, his job requires prophecy, priestliness, and kingship.  He is professionally successful in his work to the degree to which he serves those roles and (in some respects) the degree to which he helps redefine them to accomplish his chosen tasks.

As prophet, Jesus routinely speaks truth to power, the task associated with prophets.  Recall his encounter with Nicodemus, a leader in the Sanhedrin.  Nicodemus, a leader meant to guide the Jews in the light of God, meets Jesus in the dark.  In that meeting, the light of the world found in Jesus enlightens this leader with a declaration that leading is done more through self-sacrificial service than anything else.

As a priest, Jesus regularly mediates humanity with Divinity, the role of the priest.  In his ministry, Jesus explains and bodily demonstrates that the link between God and humanity is found in their intersecting love.  Consider his many conversation with the Pharisees, love serves as the origin and nexus of life, a life defined by a love that gives more than receives, lets in more than keeps out, and expands more than contracts.

As a king, Jesus rules with power.  Yet, his rule is defined by a power that seeks not to dominate but to empower the powerless.  Jesus encourages Mary’s position as a disciple; he lifts up Zacchaeus who was thought low; and, in the end, he authorizes his followers to embody the creative—not restrictive—power exuding from a life found through rebirth in him.

While unorthodox, in Jesus we find a model for work that conforms to our standards as to what we might expect and the realization that fidelity to our work does not demand mindless inflexibility but assumes some innovation to execute our work.  Underneath Jesus’ entire ministry, a singularly important virtue seems required, a virtue we might call flexible constancy.  Flexible constancy is that capacity to remain committed to one’s task while nimble enough to adjust as needed to different circumstances.

Recognizing the importance for flexible constancy as a cardinal virtue is important as we all move toward the embodiment of our own work and, possibly more importantly, in our own faith.  To be faithful does not mean we cannot innovate, as long as our innovations keep our proper end or goal in mind.  Such fidelity to the vision of who we are called, destined, or hoping to be will ensure that we arrive at our goal and do so virtuously, faithfully.

Like Paul might have suggested to the Corinthians, the faithful life requires our ability to bob and weave, as long as we keep pressing forward toward our final goal.

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.

—1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Keep moving forward.  Have a great week and see you along the way.

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