The fourth mountain: Let someone in

Bridging Kootenay (photo by Martin Malina, Kootenay River BC, August 2019)

What are the stories we tell about people? Is it, that we know and believe the story about someone more than knowing who they really are? This distinction is important because the stories we tell ourselves have power over us. The stories about others often determine our opinion of them.

Jesus’ words and actions show that the stories circulating in Palestine in the first century about others were insufficient and lacking, or even false and untrue.

The woman caught in adultery.[1] The blind man.[2] The woman at the well.[3] These are stories from the Gospels we’ve heard on our Lenten journey.

The woman caught in adultery – what would you say about her? What is the story about her? She was not faithful, she had problems, she broke the marriage law and therefore deserved punishment and death.

The blind man – what would you say about him? What is the story about him? That he sinned, that there is some moral justification for his physical disability, that either he or his parents must be blamed. 

The woman at the well – what would you say about her? What is the story about her? That she kept secrets, a Samaritan, an outsider, not ‘one of us.’

Jesus’ action in all these cases reveals the problem, not with the persons themselves but with the stories about them. Jesus changes the story about them. He reverses the process: Before coming up with a story about someone, Jesus directs us first to get real with them. He first redirects our attention away from the stories in our heads, and brings us down to earth, literally. 

In the story of the blind man, Jesus bends down to the ground picks up some dirt, spits on it and puts mud on the man’s eyes. In the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus bends to the ground and writes something in the dirt not once but twice. Right from the beginning of creation and the scriptural story, the earth, the soil, is primary to its growth and healing.[4]

Creation, including you and me, needs a concrete connection to the ground, especially in life (and not only in death). In all the stories we tell about others, we need to be reminded time and time again that we all come from the same source. We are all created in the image of God. We are all made from the dust, and to dust we shall return.

Our transformation, our healing, creation’s healing, comes from the touch of Jesus as he brings our attention down to the ground upon which we live and the ground we share with everyone else.

He draws our attention away from the mental constructs we have created – the prejudices, the stories, the biases, the inflated opinions—about someone, and draws our attention instead to the person they really are as beloved by God.

These are all stories that swirl around us and others. But once we do get to know people ourselves, experience them ourselves, open our hearts to them, we find, more often than not, how untrue and unreliable these ‘stories’ actually are.

The fourth mountain on Jesus’ journey to the cross is the Mount of Transfiguration. On this mountain, you will recall from Transfiguration Sunday several weeks ago, Jesus was transfigured before his disciples. The disciples—Peter, James and John—had to experience for themselves the person of Jesus, fully human and fully divine.[5]

The Mount of Transfiguration represents for us the place in our lives where we, too, are invited to experience Jesus for ourselves. Yes, we may know all the stories about Jesus. We may recite the Gospels from memory. We may even say all the right words. Yet, the transfigured and risen Christ today invites us to experience and get to know God, personally. For God is present with us in communion with Christ Jesus. God is with us now on our journey. Let’s open our hearts to Jesus.

How does this happen? The tip for the journey on this Fifth Sunday in Lent is: Let someone in.

Last week I made two phone interviews with people involved in welcoming Ukrainian newcomers into their homes, following the Russian invasion over a year ago. One couple I talked to are hosting a family on their property in New Brunswick, near Saint John. And the other couple in their late 70s hosted a young family for several months in their basement in Kingston, Ontario.

In both scenarios, the hosts invited someone who was in crisis, complete strangers from the other side of the world, into their lives. In both scenarios, the hosts told me how good it felt to respond in concrete ways to help those in immediate need despite the social awkwardness, the cultural miscues, the disruption of personal space, the uncertainty of the future, and despite the profound language barrier.

Despite all the reasons they could come up with for not putting themselves in that position, they still did it. They let someone in. And they were and are being transformed human beings. Even if only their awareness and minds were broadened and deepened in love for themselves and others. They are creating a new story with them.

Sometimes we need help when we get stuck in fear, when we are scared to let someone in. We need someone to come alongside us in our own anxiety and stress to help us confront our fear. There’s the short video clip I watched on social media about a man standing at the foot of one of those moving escalators you see in airports.

The man stands hesitantly as swarms of people get on the escalator around him. At first you wonder why he’s just standing there, blocking the way for some others in their hustle. But then we realize he is scared. Most of the people ignore him, dismiss him as someone ‘with a mental problem’—the story about him, right?

Then, someone from the crowd—an older man—comes alongside him, stands beside him for a while. Calmly he then says to him, “Just one step forward. And another. You are on the ground. Your feet stay on the ground. Another step forward.” And he repeats this instruction while holding the man’s elbow, gently guiding him forward.

Simple, loving, concrete needs. And responses. The older man who offered help to the man locked in fear was letting someone else in, and vice a versa. The man stuck in fear experienced for himself the start of another story, a better one, about himself and the world around him. And that was made possible because someone refused to believe in the old story about another who is caught in debilitating fear. 

In healthy relationships, people let each other in. Or try. Or take the risk to let them in. And when we stumble, who comes comes alongside us? Who gives us opportunities to let them in? Who will we come alongside, and let them in?

When we let someone in—into our hearts, into our space—we begin a journey, a journey of positive change in our lives. And we are encouraged to move on until we reach the last mountain—the fifth and final—on our journey with Jesus to the end.

[1] John 8:2-11

[2] John 9:1-17

[3] John 4:5-38

[4] “…a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground—then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed life into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:6-7

[5] Matthew 17:1-8

The fourth mountain: Let someone in (Rev. Martin Malina)

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