In last week’s post, I wrote about the concept of pilgrimage as a crucible. In this post, I want to share some ideas about expectations from the homily I preached at the Mount of the Beatitudes in Galilee while we were on pilgrimage last November. I’ll share more from the homily during Lent, as I continue to unpack the wisdom that came to me during the pilgrimage through the grace of the Spirit.
Part of my personal journey in the crucible of the pilgrimage was discovering one night, after we left Nazareth, that I would need a new homily the next morning because our schedule had changed once again. I had an awesome homily prepared about Peter as the rock on which Christ would build the church, but we would not be able to celebrate Eucharist at the church built on that rock. We would get to Peter, but not yet. (And yes, I will share excerpts from that homily in Eastertide.)
Instead, we were celebrating Eucharist in an outdoor pavilion on the Mount of the Beatitudes. Like with so many impactful moments of pilgrimage—and our lives as a whole—this moment was not planned. Instead, it was part of the Spirit’s turning my expectations upside down and revealing something new in the process.
We have lots of expectations and assumptions about what a spiritual life looks like. This occurs naturally and is not necessarily a problem—except when it closes our hearts and minds to new possibilities. I was enlightened and sometimes challenged, as I think other pilgrims were too, to understand—and incorporate into my spiritual worldview—some of the Middle Eastern concepts and Jewish perspectives that our guide Shafik was explaining to us. He was turning our world upside down, just as Paul and Silas were accused of doing in Acts 17:6. We struggled to comprehend. We resisted what didn’t make sense to us. We have been well-trained to understand Western spiritual tradition, and this was not it.
To share but one example, we don’t tend to think of Jesus as the scapegoat. We think of him as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” We think of lambs as pure and pretty, fluffy and innocent. We don’t want to think of Jesus as a scruffy goat who wanders the hillsides eating just about anything in order to survive. Yet that is a more likely image for a first-century oppressed member of the peasant class who dared to speak out against the dominant culture that oppressed him and his fellow Jews. As Jesus himself said, as recorded in Matthew 8:20, foxes have holes and birds have nests, but he didn’t have a place to lay his head.
Do your spiritual expectations and assumptions include the image of a pure, fluffy lamb? What was it like to read about Jesus as a scruffy scapegoat? What does that shift in image do to your understanding of Jesus and of his role in coming to live among us? What else comes to mind as you consider this?
At what other time has God turned your expectations upside down? What happened and what was the result? What did you learn, and how did you grow?
I think that what has shifted my image of Jesus is really contemplating, perhaps for the first time, that Jesus was a poor itinerant rabbi in a minority group that was oppressed by those in power. And he not only challenged the powerful rabbis of his own religion, but also the Roman occupiers. If we listen carefully to what he taught, it was truly revolutionary. I have grown in feeling more compassion toward those who are less fortunate than I am.
I hear you, Aston, and thank you for sharing your experience with increasing compassion. Yes, he truly was a revolutionary, and as Richard Rohr says, we prefer to worship him rather than follow him….