Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday of the Third Week in Lent

4 Kings 4:1-7 / Matthew 18:15-22

What do we imagine to be at center stage? In theater, and by analogy in film or literature or the visual or plastic arts, there is no necessity that what is most prominent is what would be necessarily the most public. We are accustomed to hearing monologues or soliloquies that are meant to occur in the privacy of a character's own room, or even the privacy of his own heart. We are invited in literature into the intimate conversations of friendship, whether tender or tense, far from the prying eyes of the rest of the public in that literary world. Paintings can as frequently show us scenes of domestic joy and triumph as they can the pomp and display of manifestly public persons.

Do we imagine that such scenes, such images, give us a true or a false picture of the way things are? We might at first want to complain that these are false, that a neutral, third-party perspective would never notice them and would pay them no heed. Still, is there a view, that succeeds in being anyone viewing, from a neutral vantage point? Are not all visions perspectival, and this knowingly placing something in the foreground, other things at the periphery? Indeed, since we confess that the grounding of all reality is personal, the tripersonal being of the Holy Trinity, then ought we not to be suspicious of claims to see things from a public, neutral, impersonal view?

God means to correct our gaze, and he has turned us away from the public to the intimate not merely for our humility or to avoid showy displays of power, though these too may be among his reasons. However, at the heart of Jesus' continuous appeal to pray, consult, and reconcile in private, is an assertion of this fundamental truth, that reality is at its core personal, indeed interpersonal, and it is thus at the interpersonal level that God most lovingly casts his gaze. This is why Elisha directed the debtor widow at risk of losing her sons to experience the miraculous multiplication of oil not in public view — And go in, and shut thy door, when thou are within and thy sons: and pour out thereof  into all those vessels: and when they are full take them away. This is also why Jesus directs discipline and correction in the Church to occur normatively not in the open court of the assembly, but between the brethren in private conversation — If thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother. And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. However public the consequences of these actions may be — the widow paying off her creditor and living off the remaining oil, the brethren either reconciled or tragically the recalcitrant party dismissed from the assembly Church as the heathen and publican — the core, what is most crucial, is to happen where we speak and are spoken to, where we hear and are heard, where we see and are seen, at the most personal level.

Our Lord Jesus Christ wills the restoration not of impersonal collectives, but rather of persons gathered together into community, as one, interpersonal body joined to the person of the Head. Let us attend, then, not to our public selves nor waste our energy worrying so much about what it manifest, when the hard work we have to do, the working out by the Spirit of our salvation, is no more distant than our neighbor next door.

Defend us, O Lord, by Thy protection: and ever keep us from all wickedness.

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