6 Epiphany—Year C–February 17, 2019
Jeremiah 17:5-10, Psalm 1, 1 Corinthians 15:12-20, Luke 6:17-26
I go back to the day as a kid in Atlanta when I listened to my music on AM radio. That’s where I heard for the first time the early Beatles songs like “I want to hold your hand” and “She loves you”. Then, in high school, I bought my first FM Tuner to listen to my music without all noisy talk and the commercials. That’s where I first heard one of my all-time favorite songs: “Beginnings” by Chicago Transit Authority, soon to be known simply as Chicago.
This is an example of an important, but often overlooked, philosophical principle taught by 13th century theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas. In English the principle goes: “Whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver”.So if my receiver, that is, my consciousness is at a primitive level, so that I imagine God is an angry dictator using force to prod and punish us, then I will see that belief in whatever I read in the Bible, because that is the only way I can receive anything.
Likewise, as I grow in the experience of God and realize that we do live and move and have our being in God, as St Paul says, then my level of consciousness is improved and my receiver is upgraded, so that I am better able to hear the truth of God in Scripture and in life.
“Whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver”.
Another way of saying the same thing is to notice that when we are reading, say, the words of St. Paul we are reading the words of a profound mystic who experiences Christ living inside his consciousness as his life. To understand Paul we must be willing to move toward his experience of Christ.
I was talking to a woman yesterday who had lived in Raleigh for a few years and we were able to have a delightful conversation about North Carolina that would have been impossible with someone who’d never been there.
So the mothers and fathers of the Church, from the New Testament on, know how important it is to develop our spiritual life—through prayer, silence, meditation, self-reflection, Bible study, so we can understand what they are saying to us.
As St Paul writes, “When I was a child I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, but then I became an adult I put an end to childish ways.” We do this in many ways, but sometimes we look at our spiritual life left over from childhood and decide no upgrade is necessary.
This problem is magnified when we listen to Jesus, for he is talking from the highest level of consciousness available to a human being. So we need to be alert as we hear the gospel today known as the Sermon on the Plain from the Gospel of Luke.
Heard with AM radio consciousness, we will hear the beatitudes from a transactional point of view. We will imagine Jesus is telling us that there is something good about being poor, hungry, weeping, and hated and that there is something bad about being rich, full of food, laughing, and loved by all.
Heard from this low level of awareness many think Jesus is telling us to live as joyless ascetics—avoiding money and food and embracing sadness and rejection, because to be rich, full, happy, and loved means you’ve been rejected by God.
But this view creates a cognitive dissonance with how Jesus actually lives himself: in the gospel story today he is loved by lots of people from all over the region, who reach out to touch him in order to receive the grace of his healing power. He attends fancy meals with the rich and he tells stories about wedding banquets to describe what the kingdom of God on earth looks and feels like. And then there is that story about a wedding in Cana where Jesus gladdens the hearts of everyone with a surplus of good wine.
So, here’s a clue: if our understanding of the gospel doesn’t match how Jesus lives, then we need to upgrade our level of consciousness.
Those, however, who have a more finely tuned consciousness, hear Jesus giving a very different message. Jesus is telling them there is nothing inherently good or holy in being poor, hungry, weeping, and hated. Further, there is nothing inherently bad or sinful in being, rich, full, laughing, or being loved.
The issue, Jesus says, is that the poor, hungry, sad and hated in their suffering are being cracked open to receive the message of the kingdom and are often willing to do just about anything in order to enter Jesus’ experience of God. They are willing to throw off their old life of suffering in order to step into healing, forgiveness, personal transformation, and a community of divine love of peace and unity.
While, on the other hand, the rich, full, laughing, and loved by all crowd are so full of the consolations of their happy life that they can’t see their mortal wound and therefore have no desire to seek God. Why seek God when I’ve got everything I need? This is a woeful condition to be in, says Jesus.
We remember the story Jesus tells of the rich farmer who builds more barns to hold his surplus crops and congratulates himself on how well he is doing—while not caring about the poor state of his soul. His impending death will, of course, take away his barns and reveal his wound.
Both Jeremiah and Psalm One today, point in the same direction using the image of a tree whose roots go so deep they are able to receive the water of life. Those who don’t care about anything other than what they can see, hear, taste, touch and smell—living with a low level of consciousness–will not care about their souls and the living water of Christ. They are content with their life. They have their reward, thin and temporary as it is.
Five verses before this Sermon on the Plain, Luke tells us that Jesus spends the whole night in prayer to God. If Jesus is regularly sinking his consciousness into the depths of God through silence, stillness, and solitude, then perhaps we need to do the same thing in order to begin to understand Jesus.
Next week Jesus moves from this teaching into the really deep waters of loving our enemies and praying for those who hurt us, teachings that low level consciousness is incapable of receiving.
For now, our Master is encouraging us to let go of whatever keeps us from moving more deeply into the experience of God. We are being invited on the journey of spiritual growth, whereby we let God upgrade our consciousness, so we in fact want to seek God first and gladly give up the trivial and superficial in order to do so..
“Whatever is received, is received according to the mode of the receiver”, so Jesus’ first job is to enhance our ability to receive God’s Word to us.
I still love those old songs I grew up with. There is nothing wrong with enjoying them unless I fall so much in love with my playlist that I neglect the satellite radio hidden deep in my soul and thus miss the transcendent, the beautiful—the love songs of God.