Pathos and Mission

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And as he approached, he saw the city. He wept over it. He said: “If you–even you–had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes . . . .because you did not recognize the time of your being visited.”
Luke 19: 41-2, 44

And I wept bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look inside it. But one of the elders said to me: “Do not weep; the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has won the right to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as though it had been slain . . . . Then he went and took the scroll from the right hand of the One seated on the throne.

Rev. 5: 4-6

It is only in Luke’s gospel that we read of Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem. The journey of Jesus to Jerusalem has reached its goal; the time of visitation has arrived. At this moment of fulfilling his call, of giving his all in obedience to God’s compassionate love for his people, Jesus realizes the lack of awareness and recognition of most of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and of what will soon befall them. In the symbol of Revelation, peace has come in the Lamb’s sacrifice, but most of the people of Jerusalem remain blissfully or obtusely unaware.

There is a lot of weeping in today’s readings. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and its people, and the prophet of Revelation weeps because no one is worthy or able to open the scroll, that is to both “reveal and accomplish God’s purposes.” (Wilfrid J. Harrington, Revelation, p. 86). He is then reminded that “the Lion from the tribe of Judah” has won the right to open the scroll, to effect God’s saving plan for the world. In a total reversal of expectation, however, the powerful Lion of Judah appears rather as a slain Lamb. God’s power and presence is manifest in the One who lays down his life for a people who refuse to even recognize the time of their visitation.

In today’s readings we see in Jesus and in the prophet “John” that their recognition of and suffering through the pathos of the world lies at the very source of their call and mission. Luke has Jesus, at the very moment when the culminating events of his passion are about to begin, recognize the apparent fruitlessness of his work: not only will these people not experience the peace that his sacrifice offers, but they and their city will, as a result of their inattention and apathy, be utterly destroyed. Yet, Jesus is revealing to us the very nature and power of God through his tears. The author of Revelation points out that it is not the power of the Lion that will “reveal and accomplish God’s purposes” but rather the Lamb that was slain.

Today, we are invited to recognize God’s purposes and to discover our mission for the world by opening our hearts to the pathos of our and our world’s human experience. We know pathos when we allow ourselves to experience the contrast between the deepest human possibilities that we carry within and the ways we live out most of our days; when we experience the disparity between the wideness of God’s love and mercy and the narrowness of our daily routines and our superficial relationships with each other. When the tears and the pathos of that experience rise to the surface and inform our minds and hearts, we begin to sense the inner impulse of our unique God-given mission in the world. In what small way can we contribute to bridging the gap between the promise and desire of God and the “ways of the world” in which we are immersed.

The task of the prophet is to convey the word of God. Yet the word is aglow with the pathos. One cannot understand the word without sensing the pathos. And one could not impassion others and remain unstirred. The prophet should not be regarded as an ambassador who must be dispassionate in order to be effective.

An analysis of prophetic utterances shows that the fundamental experience of the prophet is a fellowship with the feelings of God, a sympathy with the divine pathos, a communion with the divine consciousness which comes about through the prophet’s reflection of, or participation in, the divine pathos. The typical prophetic state of mind is one of being taken up into the heart of the divine pathos. Sympathy is the prophet’s answer to inspiration, the correlative to revelation.

Prophetic sympathy is a response to transcendent sensibility. It is not, like love, an attraction to the divine Being, but the assimilation of the prophet’s emotional life to the divine, an assimilation of function, not of being. The emotional experience of the prophet becomes the focal point for the prophet’s understanding of God. He lives not only his personal life, but also the life of God. The prophet hears God’s voice and feels His heart. He tries to impart the pathos of the message together with its logos. As an imparter his soul overflows, speaking as he does out of the fullness of his sympathy.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, Pathos and Prophecy

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