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Ever Ancient, Ever New

Monday, December 31, 2018

Jesus: Modeling an Evolving Faith

Ever Ancient, Ever New
Monday, December 31, 2018

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace. —Augustine of Hippo (354-430) [1]

Within each of us is a deep desire for union and intimacy with God, with our truest self, and with all of Creation. Because life is hard, and we’re wired for survival, we develop coping mechanisms that separate us from each other and God. Thankfully, God is patient and has many ways to reach us. Jesus is one of the clearest, most visible images of God’s love. His teaching and example model for us what it means to be both human and divine—at the same time. He dismantles our preconceived ideas about who and where God is and is not.

Jesus—and others who followed after him like Paul and Francis and Clare of Assisi—made room for the new by letting go of the old. Jesus had the courage and clarity to sort out what was perennial wisdom from what was unreal, passing, merely cultural, or even destructive. John the Baptist described Jesus as a “winnowing fan” that separates the grain from the chaff (see Matthew 3:12). If we don’t winnow, we spend a lot of time protecting “chaff” or non-essentials.

Jesus did not let the old get in the way of the new but revealed what the old was saying all along. Contemporary poet Christian Wiman writes beautifully, “Faith itself sometimes needs to be stripped of its social and historical encrustations and returned to its first, churchless incarnation in the human heart.” [2]

Precisely because Jesus was a “conservative,” in the true sense of the term, he conserved what was worth conserving and did not let accidentals get in the way, which are the very things false conservatives usually idolize. As a result, he looked quite “progressive,” radical, and even dangerous.

It might surprise you that Jesus could be considered subversive. Christians often think of him as the founder of a new religion. But that was probably the furthest thing from Jesus’ mind. He was a Jew, through and through. While honoring and emphasizing the essential and core elements of his tradition, he just ignored and even undercut most non-essential religious norms and mandates. This is rarer than you might think and is invariably the character of any true reformer. They know they are merely following the constant thread of Spirit.

[1] Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, 10.27. This translation is taken from the Office of Readings on St. Augustine’s feast day (August 28). See

[2] Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: 2013), 92.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2016), xix-xx; and

Richard Rohr with Huston Smith and Allan Dwight Callahan, Portrait of a Radical: The Jesus Movement (Four Seasons Productions: 2000), DVD.

Image credit: Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (detail), Nicolas Poussin, 1653, Louvre Museum, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The way Jesus tried to change people was by loving and healing them, accusing only their accusers. Why did we not notice that? His harshest words of judgment were reserved for those who perpetuated systems of inequality and oppression and who, through religion itself, thought they were sinless and untouchable. Jesus did not so much love people once they changed, but he loved people so that they could change. —Richard Rohr
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