Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bible Road Trips: Jesus Goes to Solitary Places

an old postcard 
The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on those scriptures. 

Jesus Goes Off to Pray

This post isn't about a specific road, but a habit of Jesus to go off by himself to private places. In the Gospels, there are several stories of Jesus being alone in prayer (e.g., Mt 14:23, Mk 1:35). Do you have personal get-away places, where you’re thankful to be on the way to that place and then to be there? I had a friend in Flagstaff, AZ who liked to drive up U.S. 89 a bit, where he had a spot to be by himself and for quiet thought and prayer.

In my imagination, Jesus’ private journeys for solitary prayer were locations that he picked and could follow the terrain to get there--personally favorite places. Years ago, my grandmother's pond, on her farm near Brownstown, Illinois, was that kind of place for me. Jesus' followers always figured out where he had gone, though, so it was never completely private for him.

Why did Jesus go away to such places? That is, why did he need to pray? He was God incarnate, after all. It's a common question, that many of us have thought about.

For a long time I’ve drawn comfort from passages in the book of Hebrews, where we read: that he “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9).

Jesus is fully God, but also fully human. He was also a humble person, not someone entitled to having servants, for he himself was a servant. Because he was that kind of everyday person, he had to learn things, including religious faith and obedience. He was also tempted, and he experienced heartbreaking rejection. He knew he could meet a violent end. Yet his life was lead in conformity to God’s purposes. All in all prayer helped keep Jesus growing in wisdom and steadiness in his life and mission.

A book that I enjoy is Housing Heaven's Fire: The Challenge of Holiness by John C. Haughey, SJ (Loyola Press, 2002). We don’t use the word “true” so often as a transitive verb--to make something level and square, or to bring something to the desired accuracy---but Fr. Haughty reclaims that form in discussing Jesus. He writes that the Holy Spirit trued Jesus, that is, crafted him and kept him in “accurate” with God’s purposes.

“The Spirit gently crafted the identity of Jesus and accompanied him as he carried out all that God had intended. Specifically, Jesus needed the gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and counsel to meet the challenges of having the new creation emerge from the old. The Spirit’s accompaniment of Jesus can be described by saying that the Spirit trued him, deftly bending each aspects of his humanity to do and become that for which he was sent. When his will flagged or recoiled, the gifts of courage, the fear of the Lord, and piety stabilized him or trued him so that he could become the instrument God needed for the salvation of the world. What Jesus needed were great gifts of both intellect and will, which, according to the church, is what the gifts of the Spirit effect in the rest of us” (p. 85).

Fr. Haughey goes on to talk about the power of the Scriptures to true Jesus’ heart and mind, and that is certainly the case with us, too. Fortunately for us---as the Hebrews passage indicates---Jesus is now fully with us and has the power to help us, in our reading and in our quiet places. The same truing Spirit guides, helps, and directs us as well.

During the upcoming week, think about the quiet places where you go to be "trued", and the ways to them.

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