Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

On the go

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the May 16, 2013 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky Just look at the sense of joy and accomplishment on the faces of many a teenager when they receive their driver’s license! In our culture this is a memorable rite of passage. The reception of that little piece of plastic from the government is a day of great jubilation. Freedom at last to take the wheels out of the garage and go! This precious moment is a type of public recognition of maturity, of having come-of-age. Gone is the awkwardness of having to be a passenger in life (literally). A driver is in charge and can go wherever he or she may wish. The journey is now on their terms.

Even our phrase “back seat driver” reflects this new-found freedom. Which of us who has graduated to the status of driver enjoys a passenger, especially one out of reach in the back seat, who seems to know how to drive better than we do? The barrage of commentary is maddening: “Watch out for that red car! Aren’t you going a little too fast? Now, quit tailgating that truck. Don’t forget to use your turn signal. You’d better turn on your lights.” Help!

We who drive thoroughly enjoy being in that front left-seat position. It gives us a sense of freedom and mobility. Even the higher gas prices won’t keep us back on the ranch. We want to be on the road, going places, doing things.

Driving is but one example in our culture which displays our desire to be on top of things – to be in control, to set the agenda. This matter of needing to be in the driver’s seat offers a point of departure for reflecting on the significance of the Good News of Jesus’ Resurrection as we move liturgically from the Easter season and edge our way back into “ordinary time.” Not the news itself so much as our way of relating to it. While hearing the Resurrection stories narrated in the Gospels these past 50 days of Easter season it is spiritually enriching to take note to see who is in the driver’s seat. And to spot who wants to be a back seat driver.

The saving God of Israel is driving this car! Jesus, the Word incarnate, dies with a total handing over of his spirit. He trusts with every fiber of his being that the significance and fruitfulness of his life is totally in the hands of the One whom he has come to call “Abba, Father.” It is not his will that is important but the will of the One who sent him.

In his Resurrection Jesus did not just pop out of the grave like a divine magician who wants to display his trickery even over the clutches of death. It would be theologically correct to say that the saving God of Israel raises Jesus to life. God does not just return Jesus to life (as Jesus did for his friend, Lazarus) but takes him from the dead and gives him a lordship and life unknown in human history. The Resurrection is God’s answer to the selfishness and sin of those who choose alienation and separation from God – that is, all of us.

The profound happiness of Easter is not born of spring sunshine, dancing flowers or the shallow glee gained from hunting colored eggs. Rather, our happiness is born of a stunning recognition of what God has done for us in raising Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. What has happened to Jesus is now a possibility for believers – for those who follow in his way. And he promises to remain with us!

And there’s the catch: our union with Jesus the Christ through the gift of his Holy Spirit. He has given us license to announce his Gospel and to act in his name. Even centuries after this stupendous event in human history, we struggle to get the point. Jesus, the Risen Lord, would like nothing more than for us to respond to his command to go, to get on the road. Living in union with him, however, entails more than hold a certificate that attests to our Baptism. It entails more than attending Church on Sundays or following a code of so-called Christian ethics. It entails more than tagging along with a community of church-goers without making any type of personal commitment. Union with Jesus entails a personal relationship with a real person – one who is not dead, but alive in us through the power and authority of his Holy Spirit.

The backseat driver in us wants to tell God how that relationship should happen and when and where. Treating the Christian journey like a family field trip, we can plan our own path and schedule our own points of interest. Like a Doubting Thomas, we often want to encounter Jesus, the Risen Lord, on our own terms. We want to be in charge, going where we want to go.

Jesus is not encountered by force or coercion but by a freely chosen act of self-emptying which sets aside the self in order to let God’s Spirit act. That’s what lies at the essence of being a believer. A believer is not someone who drives though life doing as much as they think is possible and then at some last minute hands the wheel over to God. Rather, the believer is one who acknowledges that the life itself is (and always has been) in the hands of a loving and saving God. Ironically, believers are those who give their hearts to God and let God be God – who let God do the driving.

If our hearts pine to meet the Risen Lord Jesus and to live by his Spirit in new and fresh ways, we will have to do less of the driving and take a back seat. The revelation of Jesus as Lord and Savior is a received grace. It is not a reality we conjure up or force into our hearts by cosmic humming, incantations or any other spiritual machination. The Risen Lord is God’s amazing gift to humankind. The believer gives his or her heart to God – their very self, just as Jesus did – and humbly asks the God of Israel to reveal Jesus to them as Lord and Messiah.

(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Moderator of the Curia and pastor of the parishes in Oakesdale, Rosalia, St. John, and Tekoa.)

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