Monday, January 18, 2021

The one without a name in the gospel story isn’t just anonymous. What is missing could well be our own name.

The Gospels in the Bible are the heart and source of the Good News for us Christians, and there are many ways that the Gospels can be used to help us to grow and develop in our spiritual lives. As well, there are some codes or signals that are often found in the gospels, which can be little and seemingly insignificant to even take into prayer but when tapped on and used in prayer, can contribute to the opening up of the narrative that we are praying with to allow God’s word to surprisingly relevant to our lives in a way that we have never allowed it to before.  One of these ‘codes’ is right there whenever a person or individual is mentioned without his or her name stated.


We only need to have a cursory glance at the Gospel narratives from a general perspective to realise that there are quite many pericopes (extracts from the text) where we see this.  Many lepers who came up to Jesus were unnamed, and so was the healed servant of the Centurion, the rich young man (and the one who isn’t ‘rich’ but just young), blind men, the woman at the well, the man with the withered hand, the prodigal father’s two unnamed sons, the unnamed other disciple who walked with Cleopas our of Jerusalem toward Emmaus, and the young man who fled the scene after Jesus’ betrayal to the authorities, leaving his loin cloth behind (a symbol of baptism).  


We can obtain a wealth of contemplation and lectio divina possibilities when we come across such passages featuring these unnamed personalities and simply proceed to place our name in their place, and with that, put our whole selves into that pericope. We can picture ourselves in the scene encountering Jesus and presenting him with what weighs most heavily on our hearts, and listen to him speaking to us in the words that he utters to those unnamed persons in the text. When we do this, we open up our lives to the Holy Spirit to allow God’s Word to be both affective and effective to us. I cannot count the number of times where I have gotten much insight into the Scriptures with this simple prayer technique, and how it helped me to see the world from the perspective of scripture. 


Of course, two things are required to do this, and they are an active imagination and a humble spirit. I don’t think the former is much of a problem for many, because many people do have imagination, maybe even too much of an imagination.  But it is the latter which I think can be more of a stumbling block.  I can see that it could be challenging for some to imagine themselves as covered with leprosy, or having withered hands, or being a person whom Jesus is asking to sell everything he owns, or truly being an ungrateful person who has been healed of leprosy without going up to Jesus to show profound gratitude in an effusive and extravagant way.  But when we are able to overcome the difficulty of becoming humble and really put ourselves into their shoes, we become vessels, empty for God to use us for his purposes as well.


Try this method of praying with the gospel narratives the next time you find yourself struggling to pray with scripture.  It may just open a whole new world for you.

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