Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 54, “Behold, I Come . . . to Do Thy Will, O God”

Dear friend,

Why I love The Lord, Romano Guardini’s book we are reading together, is first that it brings me nearer to The Lord. Of course. But for the convert like me, coming back to Christianity after forty years, The Lord is also a refresher course of the New Testament. (We haven’t yet reached RG’s amazing final chapters on the letters of Paul and the Book of Revelation.)

This chapter begins as a dramatis personae of Holy Week. Who are the main characters in Jerusalem as Jesus moves through it toward his death? Guardini names each group: the Pharisees, “the real bearers of the historical consciousness of the Jewish people”; the Sadducees, the cosmopolitan rationalists who have adopted Hellenistic culture; the people, who sense that Jesus is the Messiah but “are unable to reach a clear decision concerning him”; and finally, the rulers, including Jesus’s “compatriot,” Herod, and “the real representative of power in Palestine, Caesar‘s procurator,” Pontius Pilate.

“This then the little world into which Jesus walked.” I love that statement. It represents so much of what I love about this book. The Lord makes Jesus Christ vivid: a real figure living in a “little world,” a truly historical figure, God inserting himself squarely at the center point of the human timeline from BC to AD. It also reminds me that we live in little worlds, you and I, my friend—not little in the sense of insignificant. No, in fact our “little” worlds are important because they’re all we’ve got: these particular historical circumstances in which we are called to live now, and no others. Our little world is where, if we are Christians, the presence of Jesus must walk today. Down “the street where you live.” Just here.

“Jesus is flinging all his strength into this hour, advancing with all the love of which he is capable,” Guardini says. Any other historical figure—an “ordinary hero”—would operate in this “little world” differently. He would work it. He would fight it. He would try to convince with his last breath those who oppose him. But Jesus is different. “The moment we try to fit him into any familiar human category, all genuine recognition is destroyed.” None of the Jewish groups around him—Pharisee, Sadducee, or commoner—responds favorably. Jesus “makes nothing like the effort we expect of him.” Yet neither does Jesus capitulate. “Never is there the slightest trace of ‘breakdown.’”

In fact, Jesus remains serene. “Jesus’s soul knows no fear, not only because he is naturally courageous, but because the center of his being lies far beyond the reach of anything fearful. . . . The more closely we distinguish between Jesus and any other man, the more clearly we see that what is happening here is not measurable by human standards. . . . God’s will is done, and Jesus wills this will.”

In this, it seems to me, more than in any moralistic following of commandments, is where we are called to follow Jesus, though we hardly can. God’s will is done, and we are asked to “will this will.” “Thy will be done” = “I will that you will what you will.” The Jews in Palestine of Jesus’s day did not do so, and this was “humanity’s second great test and failure—brought about by a specific people at a specific time.” Guardini adds that, “because of our solidarity with all human existence,” this second great failure is also “our woe.”

And our challenge, too.

God bless you, my friend,

This series of posts on The Lord by Romano Guardini continues here with chapter 55.

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