This past week, we celebrated the feast day of St. Benedict, a great father of Western monasticism. What follows is a reflection on the text of the day, John 15:12-17, and the words of Jesus, "You did not choose me, I chose you."
You did not choose me, I chose you.
Putting aside the debates of the Reformation on predestination and double-predestination (and any other kind of predestination!), these words of our Lord give us pause to consider the purpose of all our pious striving. Ah, how often we forget that it is not our longing for God that has brought us to this place, but God’s longing for us! You did not choose me, I chose you. And yes, while any relationship requires a mingling of the “yeses” of delight in one another, may we never forget that God’s “yes” is the affirmation in which all our hope is grounded. Every “yes” that builds up the commonwealth of God’s gracious rule, and points forward to the perfect day in which all things are gathered together in God, is a “yes” that finds its animation and liveliness in the “yes” God exudes for the whole of his creation and for his people.
On St. Benedict’s Day, a day in which consider the gift of that great father of monasticism, we might very well be drawn to exhort ourselves to deeper fulfillment of the two pillars of his thought, obedience and prayer. Without a doubt, the ordering of our spiritual landscape through a devoted pattern of daily prayer is a joy without peer. Oh, the labour of it all when we have yet to take it up! And oh, the labour of it all when we have let our obedience to the discipline slip! But oh, the joy when we, having failed in prayer, again offer the rhythm of our lives once again to our creator, when we sit in the presence of the one who calls us by name, and when we sing the praise of Christ our God. Oh, the times I have failed in prayer, but oh, the times I have found my home again in God. So, on this day we may choose to exhort ourselves to a recommitment to the vows we have made to be obedient unto a life ordered prayer, but perhaps, just perhaps, there is another more profound recommitment we can make.
You did not choose me, I chose you.
With these words of Jesus ever resting on our hearts, let us hear again to the depths of being the passionate “yes” that God has uttered to us, both as his people and as his individual and well-beloved children. No relationship can be sustained alone on promises made long ago -- our vows begin a life in community; they do not complete it. Frail creatures that we are, again and again we need to hear the words, “I love you,” and again and again, we need to offer from the depths of our own being the words, “and I love you.” And of course, through the changes and chances of this fleeting life, through good times and bad, we bear one another, as St. Paul says, in that same love. On this day, let us recommit ourselves to listening once again to that word of love, “You did not choose me, I chose you!”
The discipline of love may seem difficult and wearying through certain valleys and roads of our common life. Yet, it is always to be remembered that the perfect love of God draws us along in the moments we take to be our greatest failures in love. So, too, it is with the rhythm of obedience we call prayer. Thus, we can be thankful for the words of Jesus, “you did not choose me, I chose you.” These words set me free from my failure to love and my failure to pray. More profoundly, though, I am more than freed, I am loved; and that love enlivens me to love and to pray. Thus, my greatest failure is my greatest hope because God in Christ is faithful in love, choosing me again and again, choosing you again and again, and in that never-failing love, there is hope for us all.
c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves