Two men – Saul and Peter – two narratives of challenge to ‘be in the world differently’
Saul, suddenly and decisively, brought to his knees – shocked out of his perception of himself into a new perception – brought to his knees only to rise with a changed heart and mind and interestingly a changed body – he is blinded for several days. All his senses are challenged to realign and rearrange themselves as he is guided into this new path he is to walk.
Peter – challenged to own his identity as a disciple and to take up the ongoing formation involved in shepherding people on the way of Christ.
Two examples of conversion – the first that of metanoia – a sudden insight that turns everything upside down and inside out so that one can’t go back to how it was before.
The second example, the ongoing formation that is characteristic of recovering, discovering, reworking, and reforming. A pilgrimaging through life from the perspective of discipleship.
When the career fishermen failed to catch any fish they were confused – they realised they couldn’t go back to how it was before Jesus but they didn’t know the way forward. The entire narrative in the gospel passage today was an invitation to join with Jesus in a way that is not about heaven when we die or about converts to a religion but about being in the world as followers of the way of Jesus.
This kind of discipleship requires humility. Real humility is the ability to see the truth – to recognise within oneself ones strengths and weaknesses, and to own what is uniquely yours and your contribution. Peter and the disciples had to recover the habits of discipleship they had begun to form in the three years they had with Jesus and be willing to hone those in the danger and opportunities of their future path. They had their own commission and their own challenges for ‘being in the world differently’.
Saul’s challenge was to see the truth of who he was as a persecutor. It’s like being challenged on being racist, or sexist, or privileged or whatever other position one might take without realising it until one is ‘called out.’ Once the scales have fallen from one’s eye so to speak the next challenge, given what one now knows to be true of oneself, is how to be in the world differently with this new sense of who one is and can be.
So – intertwining threads of conversion. The sudden insight that leads to a new way of being, interwoven with the ongoing formation that is conversion.
It doesn’t take much effort to perceive the link of this train of thought with the events in Christchurch and NZ these past six weeks. As a nation we have been challenged to perceive our country as not as caring as we might have thought. The nation has had its own Damascus Rd experience . The challenge of course is how to live out our nation’s life differently at an individual, local, and national level. As churches to ask ourselves what specifically can we contribute from our own tradition and perception.
It requires ‘paying attention’ – paying attention to the needs of the world, to the guidance of the tradition, to the discipline of continuing to grow in what and how one thinks of faith. It requires paying attention to what is worth giving of oneself to. It requires discernment in this age of false news and false prophets – not that different from any other age – but with its own false paths paved with good intentions. It requires allowing change to work within us and to recognise it. It requires prayer – not prayer as lots of words aimed at changing God’s mind about us or about anything else, but prayer as making room to allow God to change our mind about the reality right in front of us which we usually avoid or distort.A disciple of Christ has faith that God’s Spirit is working in us at the level of our fears, including our fears of mortality and of one day not being here anymore. So to be a disciple is to be ‘a work in progress’. To be a community of faith is to be a ‘work in progress’. As soon as you try, like the career fisherman to return to the old ways – to the way it used to be – to the tried and familiar – there will be no catch – there will be no fulfilment – there will be no flourishing. (Italics: Sr Joan Chittester)
The gospel passage today demonstrates how by accepting his identity as a follower and disciple of Christ Peter was freed of his fear. It seems that Saul in his transformation into Paul the apostle was also freed of his fear of change. Perhaps at the most basic level that is what conversion is – the recongition that we are free to change – free to accept an identity as a ‘work in progress’ – free to ‘be in the world differently’.
So, how do we live authentically the Christian life of ‘an open table’. How do we expand rather than narrow the vision of what God is up to in the world? What, in our good intentions, do we mis-read completely? Where do we need to be brought to our knees and where do we need encouragment and support to own our task? These are the challenges that face us all both individually and communally.
They’re not easy questions and there are no easy answers. Nevertheless that is the challenge of discipleship. Such a challenge can only be met from a foundation of trust. Trust that in Christ ‘all will be well and all manner of things will be well,’ to quote Julian of Norwich.
Retired Presbyterian minister and current Benedictine Oblate, Ross Miller, notes in Sharp Darts of Longing Love that he tends to be amused when people that stateament. It demands, says Ross, the Tui Beer response: Yeah right! But, he points out, Dame Julian of Norwich was speaking from her personal inner freedom. She was saying she wasn’t afraid anymore.
So – let us not be afraid of conversion – of open hearts to change – of discernment and pilgrimaging. Let us walk in the way of the Christ.