Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 50, “Induration”

My dear old friend, *

I had to look it up. I hate to admit it, but I did. Induration means sclerosis or hardening, and here it means a hardening of hearts. Once Jesus makes his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, which we have memorialized as Palm Sunday, the hearts of the leaders of the Jewish people—the Pharisees and the Saducees—slam shut.

His authority is scorned. He is questioned on points of law. It’s at this moment that he is asked whether a Jew should pay “tribute” to Caesar. There follows the famous examination of the denarius and answer: “Render, therefore, to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Jesus does not fall into the trap, as Guardini explains:

“Jesus says nothing about paying or not paying tribute; nothing of the rights or wrongs of foreign occupation or obedience to its laws. He says judge for yourselves and do what is right. . . . He refuses to profane his mission by discussing worldly problems, for which they have their own judgment. . . . Actually, what he is saying is: over and above Caesar, regardless of who he is or what is his, stands God. That is Jesus’ real answer.”

Is there anything we hold higher today than Caesar—questions of politics and social justice? Is any question more important at this moment in time than that of the US presidential election in two weeks? Who are you for? Caesar or Caesar?

We should not be too hard on the Pharisees or Saducees, since our hearts are harder. At least they spent time in the temple, worshiping the God of their understanding. In our senior year at school, the church requirement was dropped. Our school minister and the deacons made noble efforts to lure us into the pews, but few went. Of us more than of them Guardini was surely writing when he said—

“That of so many questioners and hearers hardly one really wholeheartedly accepted him; that instead, with all the powers of intellect, with the long religious training of the Old Covenant, they kept him at a distance and their hearts hermetically sealed—that is a phenomenon for which the word tragedy hardly suffices. . . . ”

With all our powers of intellect—it was a very good school—we kept him at a distance too.

RG ends this powerful chapter on the theme of tragedy. The word, he says, “does not fit” the case of Jesus.

“To tragedy belongs a world that is not in the hands of the living God. Its sense is that in this world nobility perishes becausee it is related either to weakness or to pride, but that in the very process of its destruction, it is exalted to the spheres of the ‘ideal’ or of the ‘spirit.’ The pith of tragedy—in spite of all its sense of freedom and exaltation—is hopelessness. Behind ancient tragedy stood at least the hope of Advent; behind modern tragedy there is nothing but a dream, for the modern world is complete in itself and self-isolated from its Creator and Sustainer. . . . Last paling shimmer of a once known, genuine kingdom of freedom—that of God and his grace—it is only a remnant that makes no demands and consoles only as long as it is not examined too closely.”

I have never read another theologian who writes like that!

Best always,

This series of posts continues here with chapter 51.

* This post is one in a series of meditations on The Lord by Romano Guardini in the form of open letters to a very dear friend of mine from boarding school days.

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