Dangerously New: A moving God versus static religion
The only building that can symbolize the traveler God is a pilgrim community which constantly needs to contextualize itself. It cannot have static dogmas, rituals, rules, organizational setup, and so on.
By Fr. Dr. Subhash Anand
As I was preparing for Mass for 24th Dec. (Latin Liturgy), I was in for a painful surprise. The first reading was 2 Sam 7:1-16:
Now when the king lived in his house and the LORD had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.”
And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you.” But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: Would you build me a house to dwell in?
I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”
‘Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you.
And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies.
Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”
What saddened me was that the words in bold were left out. The Vatican committee that prepared the lectionary either did not understand what the author meant or they found it too anti-establishment.
Some may defend the committee by saying that it wanted to focus on the messianic meaning of the text. This solution would be worse than the problem. The messianic meaning is precisely in contrast to the earthly dreams and plans of David: a temple of stone built by an earthly king.
The words “He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” anticipate the building of the temple in Jerusalem by Solomon—a temple made of stones. The first set of words in bold place us as the heart of the divine self-disclosure.
A stone building is static, while God is a traveller—always walking ahead of us. None of our constructions can ever capture and domesticate him. A static building brings in static dogmas, rituals, rules, organizational setup, etc. While a traveller constantly dialogues with the terrain he or she is passing through.
The only building that can symbolize the traveller God is a pilgrim community which constantly needs to contextualize itself. It cannot have static dogmas, rituals, rules, organizational setup, and so on.
God travelled as the Son to a stable to make us travellers with God and by not being born in a palace built of stones, this God by travelling the length and breadth of Galilee showed that God likes to travel with his people on foot or in a boat and he cares very little for a stony establishment.
For the same reason dead matter—bread and wine—cannot mediate the presence of the Living Lord, but only persons who live because they love as he loved by becoming the bread broken for the hungry (Mt 25:31-40). He reveals himself as his disciples travel together sharing each other’s pain (Lk 24:13-31), and as they come together in his name, in his love (Mt 18:20).
We can be loyal to the traveller God, and to his Son who had no place to lay his head (Mt 8:20), if we remain travellers. Then all our dogmas, rituals, rules and organizational setup become provisional, in need of constant revision. Only our openness to renewal can make the year to come truly NEW.
(Fr. Dr. Subhash Anand is a former professor of Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune and a visiting professor to several seminaries in India.)
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