To fully understand today’s reading from Paul (1 Cor 4:7-15), we need to back up a few verses to get the context. Light shines out of darkness to reveal the face of God in the face of Jesus the Christ. As far back as Moses, people have expressed the desire to see the face of God. They feared that, if they saw the face of God, they would die; however, they still yearned for the intimacy of seeing the face of God. Jesus shows us the face of God. God did not grant Moses wish. Instead, God showed Moses the backside as God passed by.
We look for God in the wrong places. We seek God in the light but find God in darkness. We are like the man who was crawling around on all fours on the pavement under a street light. A policeman approached cautiously and asked, “What are you doing/” The man looked up and replied with somewhat slurred speech, “I am looking for my car keys.” The policemen then said, “Where did you lose them?” The man said, “On the next street.” “Why then are you looking for them here?” The man said, “There’s a street light here.”
Jesus is the light of the world. He illuminates the darkness that surrounds us and dwells deep within us. It is in the darkness of our nothingness that we find God present to us as Love. Merton says that we fall in the abyss of our nothingness and tumble out into the love of God.
Our fragility, our nothingness is reflected in Paul’s use of the term “earthen vessels.” In our weakness, in our earthiness, in our poverty, we find God. Rather, God finds us and brings the light of unbounded Love into our darkness.
The surpassing power is the power of God and the power of Jesus crucified. It is all about the cross. Being afflicted, being perplexed, being persecuted, and being stuck down matter not because we are dying to our false self and coming into our true self in the glory of Jesus crucified and risen.
Jesus was fully human. He grew in wisdom, age and grace. He grew into deeper union with Abba God. It was not without struggle. Throughout his ministry, Jesus has referred to God in the endearing term, “Abba God.” In his darkest moment, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He had come to the depths of his own nothingness. There Jesus found his true self in relationship to Abba God and the Spirit. As man, as earthen vessel, he now understood surrender and abandonment to Abba God, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Drawing closer to God does not mean the end of our nothingness and our travail and our suffering. Our dying to the false self is our coming to new life in our true self. We shed the acquisitive, greedy consumer self bit by bit and ever so slowly and put on the garment of life. Jesus the Christ now lives in us. While all rages outside and within, we are grounded in the love of God who leads us to our true self. God leads us to our true identity. We come to the point vierge where we too can say, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”
The mother of the sons of Zebedee did not understand what Jesus was about. In Mark’s version which Matthew cleans up, the two apostles did not get it. They were looking for power, prestige and possessions. Operating from the false self, they wanted assurance that their commitment would be amply rewarded. It really does not matter who posed the question to Jesus. What matters is Jesus’ response. Life is not about power, prestige and possessions. That is the stuff of the false self. That is the stuff Jesus rejected when the Evil One tempted him.
Life is about love and service. Descartes put us on the wrong track with his statement, “I think; therefore I am.” Modern culture leads us astray, “I acquire; therefore, I am.” No! Jesus got it right, “I love; therefore, I am.” In loving we are in union with I AM and with one another. Trinitarian relatedness defines our true self. The reciprocal, unbounded love shared by Abba God, the Only Begotten, and the Spirit is the model for our life. Loving service creates the true self. In Eucharist, we break bread so that we can be broken. Eucharist heals our brokenness, our false self, and brings us to more intimate union with God and with one another.