The Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Thoeni
Feb. 19, 2019
Teresa of Avila was gifted in many ways. She was bright, articulate, a natural leader and a shrewd and effective politician.
This is all quite remarkable because she also possessed a remarkably tender spiritual life given to ecstatic visions of Christ. So significant were these events, she became known as Teresa of Jesus.
During one vision she endeavored to introduce herself to her Lord as such. “I am Teresa of Jesus,” she said plainly. Our Lord replied quickly. “Ah,” he said, “I am Jesus of Teresa.”
Several years ago I read a short little quote that has stayed with me since. It said, “Jesus has no favorites, but he does have intimates.” Teresa was certainly an intimate of Jesus.
Of course, we are all called to be intimates of Jesus. But what does it mean to be an intimate of Jesus? What are the costs, the demands?
We have some insight into these questions in today’s Gospel reading. Today we hear a story about the disciples. But the word disciple is used rather broadly in this passage; we are told of a great crowd of disciples. Usually we refer to the disciples as the closest followers of Jesus, more or less the Twelve men known as the apostles.
But consider the strata of followers of Jesus in this passage. We have those who had heard of him and were fascinated by him, those who sought to benefit from Jesus’ healing powers, and those to whom he spoke directly by lifting up his gaze upon them and teaching them.
It seems that this roughly corresponds to the types of people who call themselves Christians today. There are those who have heard of Jesus and are somewhat taken with Him. There are those who know of His power and seek it for their benefit. Then there are those who know of Jesus’ transformative grace and seek to grow in it.
I believe this last group are the intimates of Jesus and I believe it was this last type of people that Jesus was addressing in our reading.
This adds some clarity to the paradoxical teachings Jesus offers in this sermon. Jesus says that it is not within the satiety, ease, fame and social position of this world that we will find comfort. Such things only bring the intoxication, or perhaps addiction, of this world.Instead Jesus tells His intimates, or maybe warns them may be a better understanding, that discomfort, sorrow, and defamation are more likely the returns of a faithful life in the eyes of the world.
This certainly would not have been a message the multitudes would have longed to hear. This surely would not have been the comfort the sick sought or the balm the curious anticipated. These teachings were not for those on the periphery, they were for Jesus’ intimates.
Why? Because these words would have spoken to those who had suffered for their faith. They would have given hope and solace to those who knew that there is more to this life than meets the eye. Those whose only goal was to find themselves within the favor of God knew that the favor of the world is illusory and fleeting.
Perhaps this is why we have the phrase, “Then he looked up at his disciples...” just before Jesus began to teach.
I think it is curious that we have this note, that Jesus looked up. The text does not say that He opened His mouth, or that He began to speak. Instead, Jesus looked up, He lifted up his gaze.
Just as our Lord offered these paradoxes to tell us that life as one of his intimates would not be one of ease, he demonstrated the antidote for such a dilemma: He looked up.
In doing so, he illustrated that the horizon we seek is further than our net worth, a comfortable life or a high social standing.
We seek life eternal while trekking through this life temporal. We are strangers in a strange land. We are not called to make our comforts here. Instead, we are promised that despite the sacrifices and turmoil we face as God’s children in a world estranged from His grace, still we are called to lift up our gaze to the horizon ahead.
In doing so we are promised that want will become consolation, sorrow will become joy, hunger will become fullness, disregard will become our beatitude. Such is the life of an intimate of our Lord but such is the reward.
Make no mistake, we are called to a costly life. But we are promised a reward beyond measure. As we seek to be the intimates of Christet us not be discouraged by the struggles and turmoil we face.
Instead, let us be like our Lord, and lift up our gaze to see that farther horizon where our true reward and our surest consolation await us.