Monday, November 06, 2006

Watching with Christ in Gethsemane

Photo courtesy of Cindy Mercer Photography

In his collection of essays entitled, There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech, and It’s a Good Thing, Too, Stanley Fish, one of the most influential public intellectuals at the dawn of the twenty-first century, argues that human beings are "so enmeshed in time and circumstance that only circumstantial and timely (i.e., historically bounded) truths will be experienced as timeless."

In other words, Fish clarifies, people wouldn’t recognize an absolute truth "if it happened to pass through the neighborhood." It would be very "difficult to even to say what one would be like," he ponders. "In short, it would not be clothed in any of the guises that would render it available to the darkened glasses of mortal—that is, temporarily limited—man." Even if we grant that such a thing as "truth" exists, it could "only be known from a god’s-eye view," and he, or it, is certainly beyond our limited comprehension.

Not so. "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world" (Hebrews 1:1-2).

Writing to his friend, Eberhard Bethage, from a prison cell in Germany in 1944, theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "During the last year or so I have come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity." Not to be misunderstood, he emphasizes, "I don’t mean the shallow and banal this-worldliness of the enlightened, the busy, the comfortable, or the lascivious, but the profound this-worldliness characterized by the discipline and knowledge of death and resurrection."

Christian disciples should be "living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities." This means sharing the sufferings "of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gethsemane." Suffering, Bonhoeffer wrote several months before his imprisonment by the Nazis, teaches us "to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless." "Personal suffering," he says, "is a more effect key, a more rewarding principle for exploring the world in thought and action than personal good fortune."

Bonhoeffer’s challenge is pointed: "how can success make us arrogant or failure lead us astray, when we share in God’s sufferings through a life of this kind?"

Do you remember what Jesus told His disciples in Gethsemane? "And when He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow, and said to them, 'Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation'" (Luke 22:45-46). Essentially, Jesus says, "Wake up and pray!"

Lord, help us to pray--and "watch with Christ in Gethsemane."

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