Thursday, May 28, 2009

Quo Vadis?

This morning as I was on my way to work, I was thinking about what Christianity means to me and what I need for my faith to thrive. I'm a bit dissatisfied with my religious life right now, and I was trying to figure out what to do about it.

I'm focussing on the gospels right now. I'm trying to understand what was at the heart of Jesus' teaching. In short, I'm trying to be a disciple.

I'm not convinced any of the traditional interpretations really capture the essence of Jesus' teaching. At least, none of the traditional interpretations seem to be telling me what I need to hear from Jesus. Obviously, it is very deeply rooted in the Judaism of the time, and yet it has to be somehow radically different.

So I'm applying the traditional core Bible study questions to the gospels in the broadest scope: What does it say? What does it mean? What does it mean for me?

As I thought about that, I was asking myself a series of questions.

Q. What does the Lord require of me?

"He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)

That's been the heart of my faith, and I think it's the core of what Christianity has received from Judaism. But if that were all Jesus came to teach us, he wouldn't have found much opposition in Israel. I think perhaps it's only a first step, a starting point.

Q. What does the Lord ask of me?

I don't know the answer to this question. Another way to phrase it is "What is the Lord calling me to?" This is what I'm trying to discover.

Q. What does the Lord want for me?

This is a type of question that's quite popular in Christianity these days. There's a movement that says what God wants for me is better than what I can imagine and want for myself. I don't doubt that there's truth in that. I'm certain that following the Lord's calling leads to a fulfilling life. Yet there's a temptation in this way of thinking. It's driven (or at least can be driven) by self-seeking. And so my answer is, "Get behind me, Satan!" And I return to the previous question, "What does the Lord ask of me?" I find that this drifts into:

Q. Where am I going?

This, at last, gets to the point of what drove me to update my blog today. As I pondered this question, I recalled the ancient story of Peter fleeing the persecution in Rome. As he is fleeing, he meets Jesus on the road, and Jesus asks him, "Where are you going?" (In Latin, "Quo vadis?")

That's what was going through my mind. But then I realized what the reader who knows this story has perhaps already realized. I had the story wrong. It's not Jesus who asks Peter, "Quo vadis"? It's Peter who asks Jesus.

Peter, fleeing the persecution of Christians in Rome, sees the Lord on the road and asks him, "Lord, where are you going?" And Jesus answers, "I am going to Rome to be crucified in your place again." Peter realizes his mistake and returns to Rome, where he is crucified.

I'm not fleeing persecution anywhere, and I don't think that's in my calling. What I got out of this is that I'm pointing my questions in the wrong direction. I was prayerfully seeking God's help in finding the answers to the questions, but they were the wrong questions. So from this morning, I got a new question, "Lord, where are you going?"

There's an old Buddhist teaching that says, "if you see the Buddha on the road, kill him." The Buddha is not to be idolized, nor may he be allowed to interfere with one's own practice of the dharma. Christianity is different. If you see Christ on the road, follow him.

So now I'm looking for him. Where is he? Where is he going?