Saturday, January 22, 2011

It is Precisely in Those "Places" of Darkness and the Shadow of Death That We Experience the Dawning Light of God's Saving Power

"Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
 the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan,
 Galilee of the Gentiles,
 the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light,
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death 
light has arisen.
" (Matthew 4:15-16)

Why did Jesus spend the majority of his ministerial career in Galilee? Scripture scholars offer varying opinions. According to Barnes Notes on The New Testament, “It shows the great compassion of the Saviour, that he went to preach to such poor and despised sinners. Instead of seeking the rich and the learned, he chose to minister to the needy, the ignorant, and the condemned. His office is to enlighten the ignorant; his delight to guide the wandering, and to raise up those that are in the shadow of death. In doing this, Jesus set an example for all his followers." While this may be true to an extent, the problem with part of this interpretation is that it overlooks the fact that the needy and "sinners" in all the Gospels are the privileged recipients of Jesus' presence (i.e., they are given preference over the wise, the learned, the sleek and the strong); in other words, if this interpretation is taken to the extreme, it seems a bit condescending!

A more profound reason for why Jesus chose to sojourn with those who "dwell in darkness and the shadow of death" is because this is where Jesus knew he would encounter God and the Reign of God. We have to remember that, as fully human, Jesus didn't simply "bring" God or God's Reign to others; rather, he also encountered God and the Kingdom and than called others to attune themselves to this presence. The profundity and the implications of such a notion cannot be overstated! To begin with it suggests that God and the Kingdom of God, while "diffusely" present (meaning everywhere) is also present in concentrated form. What this means, of course, is that there are "places", both literally and figuratively, where God and God's Kingdom can often (but not always) be encountered and experienced to a greater degree than others. One symbol for where we are to likely to find God and God's Kingdom working it's way through creation? Galilee!

Galilee as a symbol refers to all those "places" in our lives and world that are shrouded in "darkness" and the "shadow of death." With regard to our lives and relationships, Galilee refers to those "places" where there is pain, brokenness, sorrow, fear, anxiety, terror, and, perhaps dysfunctional or addictive patterns of coping and behaving. Galilee is also symbolic of those physical places of our world that are suffering in one way or another. One such place that comes immediately to mind is Sudan. This country has been torn asunder from civil war and genocide and is full of tension as it awaits the results of a recent referendum that will likely result in the country being divided in two! However, the Kingdom is mysteriously and profoundly present in the undaunted hopes of the Sudanese people who continue to cling to it despite having so many reasons to give in to despair!

Very often we may find ourselves in full flight from such tense and uncomfortable spaces. Certainly our culture doesn't encourage us to "go there" and offers us many distractions to encourage us, whether advertently or inadvertently, not to got there! However, what if in not "going there" we are fleeing not only from ourselves but from God? What if in not "going there" we are missing out on the raw and deep beauty of life which defies logic by also including, and somehow transforming, the tragic? I learned this first hand, and continue learning it, by examining my own history of loss and tragedy. At the age of four I lost my mother. For most of my life I lived as if I were "hatched" and pretended that this idea would suffice. Well, needless to say, it didn't! Humans aren't hatched! After many subtle, and not so subtle, ways of trying to avoid my own "Galilee" of tragedy and loss, I have ever so slowly come to face it and have begun "going there." What have I encountered? A transforming power and love the likes of which I never imagined existed. What I am learning through my own experience, and through the experiences of persons such as those in Sudan, is that it is precisely in those "places" of darkness and the shadow of death that we experience the dawning light of God's saving power. Pat, TOR