Luke 14 invites us to appreciate emptiness as necessary condition for receiving the divine gift of the eternal life of the mind. Ascent to the eternal is not a choice anyone would ever make; people are compelled to rise to it by indigence, or in recognition of their limits. As long as we do not recognize our limits, we shall remain incapable of accepting the gift of participation in divine living intellection. For we would then accept the gift for ourselves, lowering the gift so that we may rise, rather than lowering ourselves to be lifted up to the gift.
All of our possessions or attributes, including our family ties, are good, but they should not be conceived as answers to our emptiness and so as filling us, our present. What completes our present, what makes it worth enduring, is a gift we must prepare ourselves to receive. Luke invites us to see how.
In the very opening of Luke 14, Jesus empties a sick man of excess fluids accumulated within—so that the man may be set loose (ἀπέλυσεν). In a similar manner, the law itself fills the lives of those abiding by it. Having nothing to say about our supra-legal end, they need to be cured, to be emptied of their retained possessions, above all their legal certainties; yet they are unwilling since they do not see their limits. The law prevents them from seeing those limits which includes their own mortality. The question of right is thus answered for them by the law prior to their even asking the question.
Jesus goes as far as inviting us to hate all of our kins, lest we forget to see them in the light of a higher, divine end, or in eternity. All possessions or attributes in our world amount to suffering; they are burdens to be carried as a cross (σταυρός) on the way to and of truth. It is truth alone that can truly fill us, or rather fulfill us. Fulfillment comes only in up-lifting out of a condition in which our possessions are our tomb; as is our very body.
Thus understood our body is our present closed to eternity. It is what we can hold onto of ourselves, or rather it is our own self-determination. Yet we never determine ourselves simply as we wish. We are vicar-caretakers, not masters of our body, stewards, not mutilators of our body. For in attending to my body I cannot determine the context that influences it. I can feign to possess or own my body, but the more I do so and the more I blind myself to the circumstances determining my body beyond my control. No sooner do I turn my attention to those circumstances than I begin realizing the vacuity of my will to possess my body, to own my present.
The present is given to me, to be sure, but how am I to respond to the gift? Am I to grasp it, to hold onto it? That exercise is of course futile. I must then convert the present that is give to me; I must invest it or reinvest it lest it go wasted. But what am I to convert the present in? What am I to do with it? This is the central question addressed in Luke 18, where we are invited to convert the gift of the present, nay our very body, into a pursuit of living truth, or of the coincidence of truth and life, namely a life that does not disappoint, being eternal: life in the heavens, or the life of the mind, life proper to mind, properly understood.
In turning to the immediate circumstances surrounding my present, I see only other bodies, or signs of what it more than a mere occasion, being a reason why, or essential source of my body. The bodies populating the intellectually opaque world in which my body is couched, if not trapped, fail to truly account for my body, to help us transcend the conflict between body and context, between the present and its source. For, as we identify the source of our present with its physical, tangible or empirical context, we are compelled to reduce our present to a present expanding beyond and away from our own, one in which we find ourselves progressively alienated from our own body.
The natural quest for truth proclaimed by Jesus in Luke, the quest of “children,” is not a quest for a truth alienating ourselves from our body, our present, but one doing justice, fulfilling or redeeming our present out of its finitude. The reduction of our present to an evolutionary universe of “outward forces” fails to meet Luke’s standards. For it fails to address our primordial problem as “fallen men” or men fallen into immanence.
What moves us to explore our environment in the first place? The commonsense answer is dissatisfaction with finitude, or fear of what is beyond our physical present, of all that could shatter our “dream” of the present at any moment, but also all that could at any unforeseen moment unexpectedly convert our dream into a nightmare.
The fear of men living in their present or in their bodies naturally converts into prudence, justifying Aristotle’s reminder that men desire knowledge or science by nature. But the science or wisdom (scientia is sapientia) we seek by nature does not involve the grasping or appropriation of forces indifferent to our present. The transcendence we naturally seek when asking about the context determining our present is irreducible to mechanisms. These fail altogether to account for our sense of presence, our present consciousness. Our bodily senses, our being-in-feeling, our sentiment, is not explained by any unconscious or dead “truths.”
Mastery over our empirical or physical environment can serve to reinforce our sense that we can master our own bodies or control ourselves and so determine our own destiny. The capacity of modern empirical science to embolden us can hardly be overstated. Yet, far from freeing us from fear, our scientifically-emboldened sense of certainty—modern man’s greatest achievement—anesthetizes us to our fear, making us evermore oblivious to it. Modern science does not neutralize our fear, but merely distracts us from it by driving us to identify our present with its own ever-expanding context; my body with its world.
Modernity’s commitment to its science is unequivocally Faustian in character, distracting us from the original sense of knowledge by identifying knowledge with self-empowerment: not, to speak precisely, a natural pursuit, but one we are historically compelled to dedicate ourselves to. What then are we dedicated to as modern men? To the consolidation of our bodily self-certainty in spite of its grounding mystery, or our primordial object of fear. Our power, our relative “securing” our present, is supposed to free us from our original fear by drawing our attention to a vast multiplicity of derivative fears, or by seemingly “exploding” our primal fear into a tempest of “manageable” fears kept at bay by our modern techniques of control. Thereby, our present remains encapsulated in a laboratory-like setting, enclosed within the confines of mechanical monitorization. We are now deemed free only and strictly where we are monitored, or in a controlled environment, or where we are masters of our own confinement; so that freedom comes to resemble self-inflicted slavery, as if we could be truly free only in the act of remaining enslaved by our own shackles.
The freedom man seeks by nature is incompatible with freedom conceived in modern terms as the private conquest of an “individual” submitting unqualifiedly to the authority of Faustian science. That science provides us with a setting in which we can linger pretending to be free so that we may spare ourselves the burden of being free and so of elevating, even restoring the present into a setting sympathetic to the conscious plights of our bodily present.
Theologically speaking, the distinction here is between a godless life and a God-filled one. In the former case, freedom is a license granted ex machina, whereas in the latter case freedom is an inalienable right disclosed ex nihilo, or directly out of—and back to—its own perfection.
These, our two fundamental alternatives: a present as self-imposed cage for the pursuit of fetishes reflecting our own opacity to truth, or the present as place for the disclosure of the divine perfection of our freedom. In the former case, God remains silent beneath a smokescreen of vain or dissatisfactory satisfactions in a stream of compulsions alienating us from our own being; in the latter case, God speaks and in speaking restores our present to the light of pure intelligibility—to truth as life itself, immortal.
*This article stands as sequel to an essay on Luke 18 published by VoegelinView on Dec. 23, 2022 (at https://voegelinview.com/can-the-rich-go-to-heaven-a-lesson-from-luke-18/).
The post Meditations on Luke 14: The Essence of Freedom Revisited appeared first on VoegelinView.
Originally appeared on VoegelinView Read More