St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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He Dances Free and Clear of All Defintion

Some people seem larger than life. Steve Jobs, the creative genius of Apple computers, was one of them. Yet there was much hidden in his life. He had to control his life in order to accomplish the things he did.

Most people, if you scratch the surface of their lives, have other voices and other rooms that they would like to visit, perhaps do visit from time to time in order to flesh out their personalities. The engineer may be a closet poet. The actress may harbor a secret love for mathematics. Many of us want to be fluent in several languages because each one opens onto a different world.

Already in the pages of the New Testament we see this breadth of personhood projected onto the figure of Jesus. Paul, who wrote his letters before any of the Gospels were written, speaks of Jesus as the Christ, and he speaks of Christ as an all-embracing figure, encompassing not only the small world of then-Palestine, but also and eventually the whole cosmos. Jesus is a universal character from a specific locale. He offers a faith that both honors and yet escapes the bounds of his own tradition. We see him as a teacher and healer and preacher, but there is so much going on in him that language had to bend to contain what people saw in him. And still see, down to our day.

No one initially proposed a doctrine about Jesus as the Christ. Teachings about him followed after people experienced him, and they came collectively through the work of the church. The doctrines come much later than the experience, and they come only as a feeble attempt to capture this elusive yet public figure. They are an attempt to put a frame around a canvas that is so huge it is in danger of tearing up. Yet he dances free of all definition. As the old Shaker hymn put it, not only does he lead us in the steps, but he can also say, “I am the Lord of the Dance.”

Here is the tantalizing and alluring appeal of Jesus. He beckons us to enter his world and then expands not only his world but our own in the bargain.

He takes what is adversity and bends it so that we see it as advantage. “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” – not by getting rid of mourning but in and through it shall we be comforted. This is a mystery but it is tangible. We can feel it deep down even if we cannot express it fully in words.

He takes what is advantage and bends it so that we see it as adversity. When the rich young man comes to him, full of his ability to achieve an ethical life, Jesus challenges him to relinquish that barrier to his genuine experience of life, and thus of God: his wealth.

There was and is a limitlessness to the person of Jesus Christ. He is an elusive character. We try to nail him to a definition, put limits around him, but he escapes them all. He is still with us today. That’s the message of the resurrection, of his breaking free of the constraints of death. We suspect that there is a connection between our desire to be more than we appear to be on the surface and his portrait, which embraces that desire and exceeds it.

Jesus exceeds all our religious definitions or philosophical contemplation, and who eludes all churches that would confine him and all atheists who would deny him. He dances free and clear of all definition.

published 21 Oct 2011