Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 128: II Kings 1-3; Psalm 106; Acts 22

Rejection...and Acceptance
Anyone who has survived to adulthood knows what these two experiences are like. We know rejection: when who we are, what we do or what we are wind up being discounted, pushed away or worse, torn apart by others. God willing, we also know acceptance: when who we are, what we do or what we are winds up being valued and perhaps even sought out and celebrated by others. Sadly, we also know how to reject the things and people we don't like; and accept the things and people we do...and throughout life our relationships with each other, and with God, seems to continually cycle through highs and lows of experiencing both acceptance and rejection. It's like riding a roller coaster, only there is no safety bar or harness to hold us in our seats...and we cannot see the end of the ride for want of trying and wishing we could just get off and put our feet on solid ground.

The mantle is passed
Today's readings continue to remind us of how much we as humans are bound up in these cycles of acceptance and rejection. They define us in our human relationships, and our actions and reactions wind up defining our relationship with God. The good news moment today is the gift Elisha receives, a double portion of Elijah's spirit. This is both a revelation of God's radical embrace of Elijah in taking the prophet up into heaven...and a radical affirmation of Elisha's willing acceptance of Elijah's mantle and the challenges that Elisha will face in his own prophetic career. Elijah gets taken up to heaven, bodily. Elisha returns to an earthly, prophetic role with God's hearty endorsement: good news.

Not such good news for Paul. His return to Jerusalem has been decent enough. For the most part, as he retraces his steps and returns by way of the communities he and the other apostles have seeded with the Gospel message he is able to pause, pray and enjoy the embrace of the acceptance the churches offer to their teacher. He is accepted overall as a welcome presence, and though Agabus and others with the gift of prophecy foresee his eventual downfall in Jerusalem looming, he does not loose heart.

Paul looking into the face of rejection...
Still, my heart weeps for the man. He arrives in Jerusalem, as he has in other communities, as a polarizing figure. Many offer him love, respect and acceptance. Many as well are eager to condemn him, attack him publicly. They want his blood on their hands, and to see him not only rejected but also destroyed. Rumors are flying about, and those that serve to deepen people's rejection of his presence and teachings are encouraged. It seems that the more outrageous the things being said, the more that rejection is accepted and promulgated with prejudice. The only semblance of protection from that rejection is found in the chains that bind the Apostle over into the authority (read: condemnation) of the Roman state.

It would be easy to decry human nature, to condemn the crowds for the attacks on Paul and to embrace without reserve the parallel we see in his arrest with the rejection Jesus experienced in his Passion; but I think  that if we embrace that parallel without some discernment on our part, then the Church will lose out on some valuable lessons on what it means to risk everything for the sake of the Gospel. Following Christ is more than just giving up possessions (or the ambition to possess), more than dropping attachments in order to follow Jesus as a servant to the Good News. It means being willing to take up and accept the crosses that are ours to bear: both the rejection and acceptance we will face in this life because of and for the sake of the Gospel. It means living as openly committed to the grace of God as Paul is able to manage (through beatings, imprisonments...even stonings) as he performs his ministry as an evangelizing apostle of the living God. It also means giving glory to God that acceptance means opportunity to deepen our witness to God's grace active in our lives.

Acceptance and rejection, two states of being that, when placed in proper perspective-with our faith at the center of our perceptions and practices, work to serve and proclaim the Kingdom of God. May God give us the strength and resolve of Elisha and Paul to persist through them both, that our common witness be one of faith and hope in God's love for us, and through us for the world.

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