A bit more Joy

Sortly after posting The Joy of …, I saw that had pointed to this wonderfully thoughtful re-telling of the rich young ruler meets Jesus on Real Live Preacher. comments that this story illustrates perfectly what I see as the major flaw in seeking solace through religion. At least he doesn’t say “the major flaw of religion”! Instead he says that the story illustrates the problem of “seeking solace through religion”. I had to look up solace to make sure I understood what he was saying: “Comfort in sorrow, misfortune, or distress” or, more simply, “comfort in disappointment.” In RLP’s version of the story, there seem to be levels of belief. When Solomon first asks his question, Jesus answer is, essentially, “You’re doing exactly the right thing.” And many people would be satisfied with that answer. It would give them the solace they desire. They could return to Jesus words again and again in later days and be assured that they were doing the right thing. But, for Solomon, it isn’t enough. He wants more. He wants, in venacular of the Orthodox, Theosis. And the answer he gets from Jesus isn’t comforting. Instead, it shakes him completely. “Give it all up,” Jesus says, “and follow me.” The written accounts of Jesus Life that we have — the Gospels — are pretty cursory. They touch on the high points and don’t tell us a lot aabout the context of each encounter. For example, it wasn’t until I began to contemplate what was going on in the three short verses of Matt 4:18-20 as an adult that I began to understand the challenge of Jesus message. My Sunday School teachers told the story more than once – Jesus said “Follow me” and the fisherman went — and I just accepted it. Of course they would follow him — it’s Jesus, after all! But, as an adult, I began to think about the challenge more and I could see myself in the fisherman’s shoes. And I wondered how many other people, confronted with Jesus’ invitation couldn’t take it. We only read about the rich young ruler, but surely there were others. If there is solace in the Gospels, it is this: that Jesus showed us God has compassion on everyone — even those who can’t bring themselves to commit themselves unreservedly to him. The people in the crowds followed Jesus only intermittently, but he still taught them, still kissed their children, still healed their diseases. I’m a lot like the people in the crowds. If I can find the time, I’ll go meet him, but I still have business to attend to and sometimes that gets in the way. I end up struggling even to believe — Help my unbelief! — and I’m not even close to giving up everything. But there are moments when, like Solomon in RLP’s story, I fantasize about sleeping under the stars.

One thought on “A bit more Joy”

  1. That deaf, dumb and blind kid

    Yeah, I used “solace” deliberately, also because I experience that word as cognate with “solar”…

    A few weeks ago I was at a new-age-y chant/sing-along, experience a vibe that I enjoy part of. The part that grates on me is when people get all “I see a world of peace and harmony and…”, and I find myself thinking “in that belief, you’re denying a fundamental aspect of human nature.” Like it or not, we occupy the place we do on the food chain because of our ability to exploit systems, to see patterns, and while coexisting peacefully is sometimes a dominant strategy, to kick ass when that becomes necessary.

    If we deny that reality of ourselves, rather than accepting that that is one aspect of who we are, we’re doomed to a life of forever wanting something that’s inimical to the nature of our being.

    With that in mind, had the parable turned and said “…and Solomon was enlightened”, I’d have cheered it. Perhaps it’s that I have spent some time sleeping under the stars, but the happiness in his searching wasn’t going to come from chasing enlightenment with a bunch of long-haired wanderers, it was going to happen when he accepted his own nature, realized that the things he’d taken on as his “duties” could be the roots of his own spiritual practice.

    So when the Messiah pointed to the door and Solomon didn’t have the guts to leave the temple it’s not that the door lead to sleeping under the stars, and it’s in that interpretation where I differ from Real Live Preacher.

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