Probably the most important thing about being human is security regarding food, clothing, shelter, and safety. Those are probably the most important things.
But right after that sense of security come two other important things about being human which are raised in the readings today.
The first of these two things is finding and trusting your authentic or true self, your reason for being, your purpose, or your basic identity. Who are you? And why?
The first and third readings today speak of two people who are getting in touch with their deep selves, their authentic identities. And both are given a hard time by family, friends, or the people around them because of who they are. The passage from Jeremiah is his attunement to his role as prophet, his authentic self, his identity embedded in him since before he was born. He is “called” to be a prophet: to proclaim the word of God. He is probably one of the most rejected prophets ever. You can see in the reading today, he and his message are being rejected because he is a young person. Young people can’t be prophets! He is too young to know what he is talking about! This is just the first of many forms of rejection that surround Jeremiah’s life and work. But note that he is firm in his understanding that he is called by God to this identity and that he will attune himself to this purpose. His real, true self gives him the courage he needs.
The passage from Luke is the attunement of Jesus to his deeper identity, his real purpose, his authentic self, his true nature. This incident in Luke comes at the beginning of his work. He is chosen by God to lift up the values of the old prophet Isaiah and to embody those values of caring for others and restoring joy. He is called to this identity, this purpose.
But he and his message are being rejected because he is the son of a carpenter or stone mason. What does he know? Carpenters can’t teach about God! He should be thrown off a cliff for such arrogance! His family, his friends, and his village all reject him. But note that he is firm in his understanding that he is called by God to lift up the old values that make life new. And this attunement to his true identity gives him the courage to face this withering rejection.
Today we might say that you should find your passion, or that you need to live your life the way you want to, or to be honest with yourself and others about who you are, or that you should find the work that suits you or something like that. Those are all good things. They are part of finding and living your true self. Many these days struggle with finding their authentic sense. Sometimes the issues involve sexual orientation, or the high expectations of family, or the limitations placed on us by limited resources, or the color of our skin, or not being able to clear away the pressures of friends or our culture. It can be difficult to be attuned to one’s true inner nature. It has been so since the time of Jesus and Jeremiah.
But whatever our struggle with identity, Jesus and Jeremiah remind us that we gain courage for the struggle as we deepen our self rather than deny it, as we move further into what matters rather than what people want or expect.
In his book, Becoming Who You Are, (Hidden Spring, Boston, 2005) James Martin, speaks of how Thomas Merton sought to move through of the layers of false self that need to be peeled away on the inner journey into the true self, that place of compassion, peace, joy, and justice where one is finally attuned not only to one’s self but also to God.
In New Seeds of Contemplation, (New Dimensions, NY, 1961) Thomas Merton writes: We must be saved from the sea of lies and passions which is called the world. And we must be saved from the abyss of confusion and absurdity which is our worldly self. The person must be rescued from the individual. The free child of God must be freed from the conformist slave of fantasy, compassion, and convention. The creative and mysterious inner self must be delivered from the wasteful, destructive ego that seeks to cover itself with disguises. (p.38)
In his book Immortal Diamond, the Search for Our True Self, (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2014) Richard Rohr says that we encounter God as we encounter our deeper self: The good, the true, the beautiful are always their own best arguments for themselves. Anything downright good, anything that shakes you with its trueness or beauty, does not just educate you. It transforms you. As we align ourselves with our deeper inner identity we are transformed, changed, and moved to courage we did not know we had. This courage comes from this inner encounter with God. (pp. 92-93) Its power and force creates the resurrection of the soul and body.
The human journey into courage is much more than finding your passion so that you can be a well-adjusted employee with obtainable career objectives. Jesus and Jeremiah, despite their youth and social backgrounds and despite the rejection, are grounding their sense of being in the One Who Is: the one who stands just underneath all being, the one who calls us by name and challenges us to live life to its fullest.
So let us encounter ourselves again, find ourselves, and live the lives we want to live, saved from the sense of falseness which pervades most of what passes for meaning and life.
But Thomas Merton also once said that introspection does not lead to isolation. And that brings us to the second reading, the one about loving others. The capacity to nourish and be nourished in relationships is that second theme of the readings this morning. We do need the security of food, clothing, shelter and safety. And we do need to find ourselves, our true selves. And the third thing is living together, living in community.
Sometimes life together is broken, as it is twisted to conform to false expectations and manipulated to sustain power. That happens in families, households, communities, nations, and churches. But we are not and never were meant to be people alone. We are called to life together. And the only thing that will make life together work is love. That is the theme of I Corinthians 13.
The love of which Paul speaks is not the love of brides and grooms. It’s about more than that. Paul intends these words to apply to all human relationships and all human community, especially those groups of people that are having trouble getting along. Paul intended his passage not for weddings but for shaping life together on the more difficult days. For those times, for Paul, love is the most important thing. It is the only thing that will save us from the mess we otherwise make of things.
But for Paul love involves lots and lots of work: forgiveness, willingness to work with others, listening, forbearance, patience, compromise all mark the life of love.
And for Paul just as the self is the pathway into the deep encounter with the sacred, so also love is the one thing that abides, that continues, that goes on and on: drawing us ever more deeply into the compassion of Christ, the grace of God, until overwhelmed by the love we have been given, we are given the courage we need to love, over and over again. Love endures, with hope, gradually giving us a clearer vision of what God intended for us and the world. Love never ends.
Probably the most important thing about being human is some sense of security regarding food, clothing, shelter, and safety. But after that security come two other important things about being human in the readings today: finding and trusting your authentic or true self and moving more deeply into the love of God and those around you.