Reflections by Jerry Webber

Friday, May 13, 2011

Giving Away

The Gospel passage given for prayer and reflection today is John 6:52 - 57.

This is Jesus, giving himself away as food and drink, spiritual sustenance for others. This "giving away" is consistent with the life of God in him. It is the nature of love to give itself away.

This, too, is the life to which we are invited.

John 3:16 is a cornerstone passage for many Christians. For some it is the first verse of scripture they ever memorized. You may be able to quote it easily:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

I've most often heard this verse quoted with reference to the death of Jesus, that God gave Jesus to die as a substitute for us ("substitutionary atonement" is the 2-bit word for the doctrine that arose in the Western Church). John 3:16 has been used so frequently for the death of Jesus that we might have difficulty pulling it out of that understanding and setting it into another context.

Rather than reading "death" into this statement, hear it simply as an expression of the nature of God. Hear these Jesus-words as a statement, a proclamation of the generosity and love of God. This is God's nature, Jesus seemed to say, to be loving and to express that love in generosity. God is a Self-spender, so to speak, generously giving Self away.

And Jesus participated in that God-spending. As God gave away God's Self to the world, so Jesus gave himself away.

So my question may be: "What self do I have to give away?"

My first thought is that the self I most often give away is my false self, my ego-self, my illusory self that is constructed of all the images and appearances that I want to project to the world. I give away my self which originates in the musts and oughts and shoulds that govern my life.

If this is the only self I have to give away -- or at least the only self I know about -- then I am giving something to the world that is toxic, unhealthy and illusion.

The gift of Jesus, the great gift he shared with all people, was that he freely gave away not what was false and illusory, but his own fullness, truth and authenticity. He gave away what it meant to be God. He was fully himself, fully human, fully who God created him to be, yet he did not cling to that and milk it for all it was worth. (Read Paul's words in Phil 2:1 - 11 for a commentary on the self-giving of Jesus.)

Typically this isn't my way of doing life. If I find something good or if I come into something that enhances my well-being, I want to hold onto it and keep it close. I want to hoard it for myself.

There is something about the human person becoming whole and complete, though, that demands to be given away, to be shared with others in generosity. It is not the generosity that has to be prompted or provoked or persuaded. It is the generosity that flows from our most authentic selves. It is loving and giving for the sake of generosity and mercy.

Because there is something within us -- I'll call it soul -- which intuits that the more we spend and give away, the more we will be replenished. The giving away of true self means that we always have more true self to give away.

To live this way simply witnesses to the life of Christ within us.

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