February 2019 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion
Luke 5:27-32— Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him. Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were at table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”
Jesus saw something in Levi—that he was both a tax collector and open to an invitation to follow him. Levi worked with the oppressive Roman Empire, likely judged as greedy and affluent at the expense of others, but Jesus saw his potential.
So often we see people or situations as either/or, not both/and. We see the tax collector, or a politician, or social media as either good or bad, quickly making blanket statements or judgments to categorize into one or the other. But Jesus does not see Levi as one or the other, he sees Levi, and us, as both/and—as who we are and who we might become.
Conversion in Latin means: con—with; verter/versus—turning around. In spiritual terms, conversion means turning away from one’s former way of life and being open to growth and transformation. There is “a change of direction and new beginning; reconciliation with God, with others; or just making peace with the conditions of one’s life.” (Beil)
Conversion is initiated by God. To have a conversion, one must be called, but one must have the willingness and awareness to be open to that call as well. Levi, who eventually became the apostle, Matthew, is described as “sitting”, having “got up”, “leaving everything behind”, having followed Jesus, and then giving a “great banquet.” Levi’s actions are in response to Jesus’ invitation to “follow me.” Levi was willing to change directions, to take action. But note that Levi invited his fellow tax collectors to the banquet—he did not reject or disassociate with them. The call to follow Jesus may not be a literal leaving of present circumstances (but it could be.) One may continue to work in the same situations, with the same people (or not.) Perhaps Levi’s continued relationship with his tax collector friends is an invitation for them to also follow Jesus. Jesus left the invitation as both/and, as a possibility.
Consider that by inviting fellow tax collectors, Levi was giving others the opportunity to experience the possibility of conversion. Do we give others that same chance? How do we treat others after they make mistakes? Do we shun the criminal, the traitor, today’s “tax collector”? Do we immediately cut someone out of our life because of their behavior? Are we too easy to rush to judgment on social media?
Do we make blanket statements, categorizing as either/or instead of leaving the possibility of both/and?
Jesus’ invitation to follow him is not just to Christianity, but to a way of life, a change of heart that cuts across all traditions and religions. It is an invitation to experience the kingdom of God within the chaos of the world. To follow Jesus means to let go of everything.
Perhaps a question for Lenten journey might be—what is it that we need to leave behind? Could we let go of an attachment? to social media? to chaos? to anger? The Pharisees do not think they need conversion. Are we open to the idea that we need to be converted? Have we considered that we may need to change our direction, that we need peace?
Conversion is not once and for all—either one is converted or one is not; rather, conversion is a both/and, an ongoing journey. We are in constant need of redirection. It is the vows of the monk, or the promises of the oblate, that encourages this perpetual transformation—stability, obedience, and conversion of life. These three promises of the Benedictine way of life have been compared to the Trinity. God, the Father, represents stability, constant faithfulness, never abandoning; Jesus represents obedience, listening to and following God the Father’s call in life and to the cross. The Holy Spirit allows for conversatio morum, or conversion of life, with our promise to be open to its work within us. Our image of God is in need of constant conversion too—“a better and wider understanding of who God is.”
Conversion is transformation. It is a commitment to the daily struggle of looking at our own vices, to ongoing growth. Fidelity is an openness to the prompting of God within us—fidelity to the hum-drum of life, that we try again and again, we fall down, we get up, and so on. The result is transformation. Our commitment to growth, our openness to transformation will bring us freedom and convert us into the image and likeness of Christ. It is the action of the Holy Spirit who shows where we have gone wrong and when we need to change directions.
Consider how the Holy Spirit has worked in your life to change the direction you were going.
In our oblate group, we discussed the varying degrees that conversion can happen. Abandoning the need to be hateful to someone who has hurt you can lead to a transformation. The Holy Spirit can help us be free from feelings or behaviors—a conversion takes place to NOT respond in anger or hatefulness back. Learning you have cancer, or even a minor illness, can be a conversion moment. Recently I asked a friend to pray for me. This turned into a transformative experience because I was open for a new way of seeing—it was a freedom I hadn’t known possible.
We are always becoming. We are never complete. Our false self and true self co-exist—it’s not one or the other, but both/and. Just when we think our false self has been cast out, the face of defensiveness or jealousy rears its ugly head. We want to have freedom from our faults and what causes suffering—and it is our intention perhaps, but it is not so easy to do. We do not become who we desire to be instantaneously. As Paul aptly said, I do not do what it is I want to do.
A conversion experience often defies explanation. Having a conversion means we no longer need to try to understand the not-understandable. We accept the grace, the holy invitation. But, still, conversion happens in our actual life—there are real differences in a way that we see, think, behave, or are impacted.
Transformation is about conversion. It is turning away from attachments and being truly free. Conversion takes us from who we are to who we might become.
Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 72
New American Bible, 1 Corinthians 12:12-30
Study Guide for the Rule of St. Benedict with Reflections for Oblates and All Who Seek God, Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB, pages 9-12