There’s another marvelous wisdom saying, this time of Paul, that I’d like to introduce at this point because it warns us that as we progress in the spiritual journey . . . You are now changed. You’re not the same as you were when you began. And now some of the tools you used to support your spiritual journey or some of the experiences, sensible, or mental or even spiritual, that you counted on to sustain your faith and your hope and to move you along in the ever deeper and purer love of God ... these are challenged.
And we find it in 1 Corinthians, toward the end of that first chapter. Jews, he says and read progressives in the spiritual journey, demand signs and the Greeks again, translate into a certain kind of progressive look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and an absurdity to Gentiles; but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ, who is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s folly is wiser than men and his weakness more powerful than men. There’s an intriguing juxtaposition of words and paradoxes, a kind-of magnificent jumble of images that need to be properly reflected upon and interpreted . . . . Paul’s poking a little bit of fun at the Jews, not as a people, but as a symbol of those who are progressing and think that they’re serving God greatly and deserve, you know, the admiration and praises of the people that they are serving; not that that’s wrong. It’s just that it’s not enough. It’s not the purity of love that is this path, which is the more excellent way, eventually requires.
But once faith has been established with a certain depth, then you don’t need signs anymore because you believe without the reassurance of these human props or events that support the weakness of our faith. We see that especially in several places in the Gospel where Jesus deliberately congratulates people on their faith. Think of the Canaanite woman where she persevered in faith even in the presence of God’s seeming indifference to her needs. In the end he said: Dear woman, your faith is marvelous. You can have anything you want.
As he said on that occasion or at another one a little later: This generation is looking for signs and wonders and none will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. Now Jonah, as you know, was three days in the belly of the whale and has become a symbol of the Paschal mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. What Jesus is substantially saying is: That’s the only sign you need, if you’re progressing in faith to a certain degree of solidity and depth, then you’re not going to get these signs and wonders anymore because you don’t need them.
And so, the miracles of Jesus, then, need to be interpreted or at least reinterpreted to mean he wasn’t just trying to persuade people of how great a wonder worker he was. That meant nothing to him; but rather to give them enough evidence that would support the weakness of their faith and help it to grow to a solid strength that could then meet the demands of daily life where faith is constantly challenged by various difficulties: the struggle with the false self, and the daily routine of everyday life which tends to bring back the same old problems, the same routines, the same difficult relatives, the same friends who forget you, and the same jobs that you get fired from, and all the things that we experience as humdrum and of no importance . . .
And so, in the New Testament, faith should normally be translated as trust. It’s very close, the two ideas. And so, it’s trusting in God that makes signs and wonders unnecessary. Still you may get a few and you may have more than you had before, but the point is what God demands of us through the purity of this love is that we give up the attachment or the dependency on signs and wonders, or spiritual experiences, or spiritual consolations – all of which are just human props. Because, as I said earlier, we cannot see God just as he is in this world and still live. So, we have to live contentedly on the other side of vision and this is the side of faith that see through a glass, as Paul puts it, in a dark manner. But that doesn’t mean that God is not there. It’s just that he’s not there for our selfish or our self-centered demands for consolation, reassurance and for the gratification of our instinctual needs for happiness, for security, power, control, affection, esteem and approval translated to the spiritual life. So that instead of looking for them in material goods or climbing the corporate or ecclesiastical ladder; we now are interested in the truth about ourselves and about God. And we’re aware that now we need a new relationship with God or to modify our attitudes towards this new depth ... not of punishment, please, but of love.
In God’s relationship with us, there is no such thing as punishment. God is love. Where could punishment come from? It doesn’t belong there. And so, what we project from God as punishment is what we would expect big shots to do to us if we misbehaved or didn’t keep their laws, or whatever it was. But God isn’t this way. What we interpret as disastrous events or disappointments or a failure on God, the sovereign power, to take care of us and to make sure that we never get sick and we never have an accident, that natural disasters never overtake us, that we never get shot by a terrorist’s bullet or something ... who said that we wouldn’t get the same kind of treatment as every other human being? It’s not a sign that God doesn’t love us, but that God is inviting us always into ever more sophisticated, sublime, and glorious even participation in the ultimate divine plan for humanity, which is the transformation of the whole human family, past, present and to come, into the fullness of the divine light, love and life. And so, what we interpret as disasters are, in actual fact, the mercy of God confronting us in a way that is necessary because of our density of mind, at the depth of our attachments to our own way of wanting God to help us or to even dictate to God how he’s supposed to treat us. And this is not pure love. This is love that is looking for reward first of all and if God doesn’t measure up to that standard, too bad for Daddy!
What it means is that Jesus is challenging what people regard as unassailable standard for judging what is good and what is evil. And in the religious atmosphere of Jesus’ time what was good was the feast day, the holiday, the sacred place, the sacred person and what Jesus is teaching is saying: that’s not so. The kingdom is no longer exclusively in the temple, in the holy day, in the feast day, in the temple rituals. Where is it then? It’s in everyday life. . . Jesus has revolutionized the idea of the sacred. So now the Kingdom of God is at work in where you least think it, or where you can’t believe it is, or where nobody can find it. In other words, it’s in the storm; it’s in what strikes me as tragedy; it’s in what strikes me as moral disaster or spiritual loss or mental disaster. And so, we find Jesus saying that now the maximum of the Kingdom of God is not where you think it is; but is where you don’t expect to find it. And, hence, if you change your attitude, you give up the myth of trying to rise to some kind of serenity in which nothing can ever disturb you, in which you enjoy all knowledge and all truth, can answer all questions. Everybody comes to you for the bottom line in how to solve their difficulties; or the ambition to be a spiritual master, to be beyond the ordinary human boredom, routines, ups and downs of daily life, whatever your particular lifestyle is. THE GOD OF EVERYDAY LIFE. If we accept the God of everyday life, you have him right now. If you’re looking for the God who is going to rescue you from oppression and from the difficulties of everyday life, forget it. Try another universe. In any case, this is the extraordinary teaching that Jesus delivers . . .
the Kingdom of God is in the most ordinary circumstances and more so if these circumstances are difficult; because difficulties tend to accelerate the spiritual journey and move us beyond the routines of selfishness that are so deeply rooted in us that we’ve brought with us from early childhood and that in general we call the ego or the false self and its two basic roots: one is the emotional programs for gratification, through power/control, affection/esteem and security and survival, and our over-identification with the social group from which we come or which we join.
GOD IS RIGHT WITHIN US What Jesus is saying in this parable is: God is so close, is so loving, is so present, you don’t have to go anywhere to find him. God is right within us twenty-four hours a day, in sickness and health, life and death. There’s no place to go to find him because he’s already here. It’s rather, us who have to stop going other places mentally or physically on a regular basis so that we can begin to access the mystery of God’s presence within us. And this is the work that Paul recommends.
Jesus says when you don’t know where you’re going; when you have no proof that you’re on the right road; when you’re totally confused; when everybody rejects you; when you’re persecuted; when everybody speaks ill of you; rejoice!, he says because this is the gift of divine wisdom that opens our eyes to the fact that God’s kingdom is most accessible at times in the most unexpected, difficult, and unacceptable situations.