Seeing The Epiphany
The lectionary readings hold us for a time within the Epiphany this year, that season when we pay a more focused attention to God showing up at our front door, making house calls. Paul, in his letter to the church at Corinth, invites us to notice God's presence and work within the believers there. As their parent in the faith, and now their pastoral and spiritual companion, he desires that they too become aware of the epiphany within and among them: You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts
to be known and read by all; and you show that you
are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with
ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets
of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
2 Cor 3:2-3
The persons to whom we minister do not bring a blank page within their soul on which we write. Rather, their page (along with our own) is full of all kinds of writings. As one of the desert fathers commented as he was in conversation with John Cassian in the 3rd century, we need to pay close attention to all those who have left their mark in some way on our heart.
Our task here is twofold: first to pay attention to who has written what on the ground of our soul. Our belief and behavior systems are the printouts, a kind of hard copy of what is written there. A continual listening to Christ, in person as we pray, in scripture as we read and meditate, in our experience, in creation, and in the tradition and story of the church and the world can help us here. Who do we listen to? Who do we follow? To whom do we give our allegiance? This continual turning to Christ in all areas of our life and listening informs the second of our tasks: paying attention to what has been written on the ground of the persons to whom we minister in the name of Jesus. Here we, like Paul, are called to invite their attention to Christ, for they too are a letter "written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God."
What we may be pushing for in a person's life may not be where the Spirit of God is paying attention. Our task is to notice how God is showing up in this particular person's life, in this peculiar situation, and then to pay attention to what God is doing. Only then can we discern God's invitation to us who are called to co-labor with God in this work as we come alongside and notice how persons are "being transformed into the same image (of God) from one degree of glory to another." As we become aware, as we see, we sometimes stand in awe, "for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:18). We may be getting the letter ready (preparing the letter), but the Holy Spirit is the one who is doing the writing. This is not our work.
This develops a certain humility within us, and helps us to be on the alert for what God is up to, and how. This is often a surprise—as Jesus pointed out in the gospel passage for this week's lectionary texts. The writing on the heart of the scribes forbade any showing up at the door of tax collectors or sinners, let alone sitting down to eat with them. But Jesus offers a startling and loving rewrite of their inner text: an epiphany happens as he demonstrates that God has come to call sinners—in what he does and how he responds verbally. This is where God is—making house calls at the doors and within the homes of sinners and the sick. The Good News is that Jesus has come to heal. God is healer and friend, come to bless (Ps 103). These are the discerning clues we need in order to recognize God's knocking, God's presence, God's work, and the letter which we and others become, to be read by all.
Wendy J. Miller
Eastern Mennonite Seminary