08 August 2009

Knowing nothing but the crucified Christ

Solemnity of Saint Dominic: 1 Cor 2.1-10; Luke 9.57-62
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

While “knowing nothing” and without the “sublimity of words or wisdom,” what does a preacher proclaim when he proclaims “the mystery of God”? And if this proclamation is preached out of “weakness and fear and trembling” without “persuasive words of wisdom,” from where does the demonstrative “spirit and power” of the preaching come? Paul writes to the church in Corinth, claiming that he preached to them so that their “faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. . .not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. Rather,” he insists, “we speak God's wisdom, mysterious, hidden. . .” If contemporary Dominican preachers speak God's wisdom, without “sublimity of words” or the wisdom of this age, while “knowing nothing,” from where we do draw the “spirit and power” we need to prepare eyes and ears to see and hear His saving words and loving deeds? Paul, recklessly but not without hope, sets before us a demanding quest: to know nothing “except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” What does it take, what must we do to grow ignorant of this world's wisdom and flourish in God's?

While on a journey with his disciples, Jesus is approached three times by those who would join his traveling school of wisdom. Each time the prospective student would declare his intention to become a student of the Master. The first intended disciple says that he will follow Jesus wherever he goes. Jesus replies, “. . .the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” The second is told “Follow me,” but he needs to bury his father before committing to the life of a preacher. The third says that he too wants to follow Jesus, but that he wants to say goodbye to his family first. Jesus, knowing what lies ahead for anyone who follows him, issues these potential preachers a warning: you may follow me wherever I go, but there is no place for rest, and if you follow, you must do so absolutely, without condition, doing nothing—not even burying the dead or saying farewell to family—putting nothing and no one before the preaching of the gospel. Let the dead bury the dead, never looking back at what you have left behind.

God's wisdom, revealed in Christ, and him crucified, is this: to follow Jesus as a preacher of the Good News is to abandon all attachments to the burdens of this world, to throw off the yoke of man's wisdom, and do nothing else but proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all nations. Paul could have said that he knows nothing except Jesus and leave it at that. Instead, he says that he knows nothing except Jesus. . .and him crucified, nailed hands and feet to his cross, abandoned to death. The vows we take as Dominican preachers are not meant simply to regulate belief and behavior, what we think and how we act. Our vows—even when imperfectly lived—are meant to make us into the sorts of men and women who are eager to seek out crucifixion, to run after Christ along his way to Golgotha, all the while proclaiming the Lord's mercy and love to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear. Will you long to stop along the way to say farewell to family, or feel the obligation to bury your dead, or look over your shoulder to see what you have left behind? Of course. And not only will we long to cultivate and harvest these worldly attachments, we will do so, sometimes with great fanfare and expense. Thank God then that there is more than just one of us walking the path in this gospel adventure! Paul says that “we speak God's wisdom.” We use our strengths. We perfect our weaknesses. With Christ and one another, we live this reckless life of gospel preaching.

From where do we draw the “spirit and power” to proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all nations? Even as we empty ourselves out on the cross of Christ, we are filled with a purer sort of knowing: we are, whole and entire, the sons and daughters of a loving God, the Father of a preaching family, the only source of anything and everything we will ever need.

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