“All those who used to be my friends
watched for my downfall,
‘Perhaps he will be seduced into error,
Then we will master him
and take our revenge!’”
Jeremiah 20: 10
Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?” . . . If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
John 10: 32; 37-8
What is it in us that would want to diminish and destroy someone who is doing good in a different and unique way? Why does another’s unique contribution to the world, the excelling of another, and even a different manifestation of the Mystery of God enrage us? Jesus touches the heart of the matter when he asks: “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?”
A confrere once pointed out, in reference to another confrere who was consistently negative and angry: “His greatest fear is that someone, somehow, somewhere might be happy.” We want to bring down others who are making their unique contribution to the world because at the level of spirit we are envious of them. We are all mindful of the chasm between the gift of life we are given by God and our living out of that gift. When someone enters into our field of experience who is living out their call from God in a more complete and joyful way, we experience the pain of our own refusal of life. In short one who does “many good works from the Father” is a source of pain and, thus, envy for us. The pain is strong enough that we need to bring them down to our size.
One of the ways we do this is described in today’s passage from Jeremiah. “Perhaps he will be seduced into error, then we will master him and take our revenge.” We watch with a critical eye, to prove to ourselves and others that these good works are somehow a sham. This person can’t be so good because she or he is “in error,” s/he isn’t “right-minded” or “true believing” enough.
In commenting on this section of John’s gospel, the scripture scholar J. Painter writes: “The one Word is revealed in the witness of the Old Testament and the Word made flesh. There is a continuity of salvation history. But the coming of the Word made flesh has fulfilled the witness of the Old Testament and abolished its significance as a closed system.” The truth is that each of us individually and as communities and collectives are forever rebuilding “closed systems.” When a truly original and generous person enters our experience, especially if they look strange or believe radically differently from us, we feel threatened by their manifestation of “life to the full.” No less than those who came into conflict with Jesus, we, too, tend to look not for the life in the exceptional other but rather to seduce her or him into error so that we might “master her/him and take our revenge.”
The good news is that we are, at the level of spirit, a capacity for receptivity and openness. We have the potential to believe in the works of God whatever ways they are manifest, however strange this manifestation may appear to us. We can transcend our unconscious tendencies to build and defend our various “closed systems.” To do so, however, means to practice a contemplative mode of living, one that allows the life and call that is uniquely ours to be the source of whatever we do and say at each moment. When we are devoted to living fully our call, then we are able to recognize the original lives and gifts of others as the “works of God” that they are.
Our task and our responsibility are to assimilate the wisdom of bygone traditions and, having made it our own, to allow it to grow. Life is neither repetition nor continuation. It is growth, which implies at once rupture and continuity. Life is creation.
If creation is an act of contemplation, as Plotinus says, real growth would be to reenact in a contemplative way our partnership in the very creative activity of reality:
And Nature, asked why it brings forth its works, might answer, if it cared to listen (to our queries) and to speak: It would have been better not to ask but to understand and to be silent just as I myself am silent and have no habit of talking.
The philosopher goes on, questioning Nature and answering in her name:
And what have we to understand? This; that whatsoever comes into being is my vision, seen in my silence. . . . The geometricians from their vision draw their figures: but I draw nothing: I just contemplate and the figures of the material world take being as if they fell from my contemplation.
Raimon Panikkar, The Rhythm of Being, p. xxvii