Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Reflection for June 5, 2011



We’re all familiar with Gulliver’s sojourn among the Lilliputians, a people who stood only six inches tall. We’re not so familiar, perhaps, with the reverse experience he had when he found himself among the Brobdingnagians, who averaged seventy feet tall! There he stood in a field of wheat forty feet high, while a line of Brobdingnagian reapers approached wielding seven foot sickles. Realizing he could be squashed under foot or cut in two, Gulliver screamed as loud as he could, whereupon one of the reapers stopped short. He looked at Gulliver as we might view a mouse and then bent over, picked him up and held him within three yards of his eyes.

The Brobdingnagians treated Gulliver gently as a curiosity. Eventually he was able to converse with their king and boast about England’s empire and political institutions. He failed, however, to realize that this gigantic king could evaluate all Gulliver said from a much higher vantage point. And so, far from being impressed by Gulliver’s account of English history, the king was appalled. To him it appeared to be nothing but a petty “heap of conspiracies, rebellions, murders, massacres, banishments, the very worst effects that avarice, hypocrisy, cruelty, envy, lust and ambition could produce!” He could only conclude Gulliver’s countrymen “to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth!” Embarrassed by this assessment, Gulliver tried to impress him with the achievements of European science and technology, inventions such as gunpowder and cannonballs (and we might add hydrogen bombs). This too left the king amazed at “how so impotent an insect would entertain such inhuman ideas.” He then ordered Gulliver, “if he valued his life, never to mention these things again while in his kingdom.” Gulliver privately ridiculed the king’s reactions as shortsighted, forgetting that it was he who was short and therefore shortsighted in this land of benign giants.

Which brings us to this matter of Ascension Thursday coming up. In our creed we say of Jesus: “For us and our salvation he came down from heaven.” We believe that Jesus came into our world possessing a much higher vantage point from which he could well perceive how small we are and how small we often behave - our human pettiness and its often vicious consequences. He came to unmask these limitations, to lift us up out of all this lethal pettiness and myopia, to share with us his higher and therefore more profound vision of reality, his bigness of mind and heart.

“And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself,” he says in John’s Gospel. And St. Paul plays upon this same theme in his Letter to the Ephesians, where he prays that we may all “grasp what is the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s way of loving”, where he speaks of our attaining a maturity “measured by nothing less than the full stature of Christ.”

And have you ever noticed how often Jesus takes his disciples up to a mountain top - to pray, to deliver his Sermon on the Mount, to be transfigured before them, to be elevated on his Cross (which becomes for us our ladder to heaven), and finally to carry our gaze even higher as he ascends into the heavens themselves? All in his effort to entice us toward a taller, wider, all encompassing, compassionate view of things - to make of us a race of spiritual giants similar to those Gulliver ran into. You know, of course, where Gulliver ran into them - along the coast of northern California near a place called Cape Mendocino, which leaves all of us who live in this region today with some pretty big shoes to fill.