In the first of the readings for today we see the Israelites again finding the trek through the wilderness overwhelmingly tedious. They crave for variety and novel stimulation, just as they longed earlier to return to familiar food even at the cost of resuming the condition of slavery. If you know your addictions, you will easily recognise this recurrent tendency in the will.
In recompense for their inability to remain bored and so transcend their will, they got fiery serpents to bite them. It is a powerful symbol of what it is like being controlled by your desires. And again it is something we can all recognise, at gross or subtle levels. Woe to anyone who thinks they have complete mastery over themselves.
The second reading continues to expound the painful cry of Jesus in the wilderness of his relationships with those who contested and could not recognise him. These people personify the short-sightedness and bloody-mindedness of the resistance to the desert. It shows the conflict between their ignorance and his failure to communicate to them what he longed, with the eternal longing of the enlightened part of ourselves , to share completely. ‘I have shared with you everything I have learned from my Father,’ he tells his disciples on the eve of his death.
When his detractors ask him ‘who are you?’ they are stopping the flow in order to label the experience. To receive what he tries to share they would have to let go of the illusion of control, the modelling of reality, that is our worst addiction. It is one degree of poverty too far for them, as it is for us in life most of the time and in meditation much of the time. He cannot answer their question in their terms and remain truthful. He would have to lie to put it in a way that would satisfy them and feed their self-justification. So he keeps in the flow and responds by invoking the ‘one who sent him’, who is truthful and who has taught him everything that he wants to ‘declare to the world’
In this breakdown of communication and the beginning of hostilities that will lead to his death, he reveals a vast tenderness. Whether his Father has a long white beard and sits on a throne, or not, he is an ocean of truthful tenderness. It is accompanied by the ever-vulnerable gentleness of self-recognition that happens when we are absorbed in the truth, in beauty or in love. In God.
He is not trying to paste one label over another in a war of ideas. He is not trying to win, to control, to establish theological mastery. Confronted with the worst of religion (that hatefully denies God in God’s name), he abandons religion and all we can see is the burning luminosity of his spirit, his relationship to his source.