Today’s readings are all about loyalty and recognizing changing truth. Often we must live with paradox. Abraham marked the beginning of the faith story for Israelites. The “Jews” Jesus was confronting felt comfortable with Abraham. Now Jesus is telling them they will have to step out of their comfort zone and begin a new journey according to the truth Jesus is revealing from the Father. Remember Jesus is a Jew. He is not calling them to a new religion. He is challenging them to step up to a new level of relationship with God within the context of Judaism.
This could well be a parable about church and belief in God. Like Jesus, prophets and mystics challenge us to step out of our comfort zone and to take fresh personal look at God. Often what we understand about God seems to be in conflict with churchy orthodoxy and orthopraxis. Jesus told them that it is not about institutions, though it can be about institutions that speak and do the truth. He said, “I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence; then do what you have heard from the Father.” If institutions that have become comfortable and possibly even corrupt over time seem to be telling us one thing while our conscious awareness of God and the Christ who is with us is telling us another thing, then we must follow our “conscience.” When enough people follow their consciences, it is called “sensus fidelium.” This is the exact scenario which emerged after Paul VI’s commission on birth control missed the mark.
The story from Daniel about the three men in the furnace is about being faithful to God. The men whose names had been changed by Nebuchadnezzar refused to eat meat sacrificed to other gods. The book of Daniel is all about remaining faithful in a culture that does not recognize Yahweh. Christianity is all about remaining faithful to God and the Christ in a culture that does not follow the teachings of the Risen Christ while it professes to be Christian.
Here we are living with paradox and I am becoming increasingly convinced that we can only live with paradox when we have entered the second half of life. In the second half the structures—faith in Abraham—no longer fully serve us. This is the freedom with which Jesus is gifting us. We are free to drop down into the very depths of our being and discover our relationship with the God within, with the true self we are called to be. Like the three men in the fiery furnace we are now free to choose life or death and hopefully we will choose life—life in the Risen Christ. However, the faith journey into our deeper self is not a solipsistic journey. Faith is very much about communion—union with other. This is why Eucharist is so central to fully living Christ’s truth. There were three men in the furnace plus a forth. One commentator pictures the fourth as being the Risen Christ who is with us and among us at all times. The Spirit of the Risen Christ is fully with us as we emerge from the cocoon of the first half and enter the butterfly second half.
In the words of Shakespeare we must be true to our own self. In fact we can do nothing other if we are serious about the spiritual journey. The first half foundation will have served us well but in the second half we are invited to fly with new, brightly colored wings.
In New Seeds of Contemplation, Merton wrote:
Everyone of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves. (34) Contemplation is not and cannot be a function of this external self. There is an irreducible opposition between the deep transcendent self that awakens only in contemplation, and the superficial, external self which we commonly identify with the first person singular.(7) Our reality, our true self, is hidden in what appears to us to be nothingness….We can rise above this unreality and recover our hidden reality….(281) God Himself begins to live in me not only as my Creator but as my other and true self. (41) (http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/297129-everyone-of-us-is-shadowed-by-an-illusory-person-a)
Let the Risen Christ live within! Fly away. Fly away.