Losing Ourselves, We find Ourselves
The way of relinquishment is the lifelong process of removing the obstacles to loving and just relationships with our neighbors on this earth and of moving toward more genuine community among all of God’s children, the kind of brotherhood and sisterhood envisioned by Francis. As we help to remove the obstacles to the liberation of others, we are simultaneously removing obstacles to our own liberation.
If we are ever to discover our true God-given identity, we must respond to this struggle for a just society and true community. We are called to a wholeness as human beings that is much greater than our identity as individuals. This wholeness cannot be fully discovered outside of justice in our society. What we are beginning to learn as non-poor people is that we, no less than the poor and marginalized, are dehumanized by the systems of oppression. The image of God in us—the image of our true humanity—is scarred because we have learned to coexist with the violence of injustice. Neither we nor the poor can be whole persons as long as injustice goes unchallenged. God’s love for the poor is expressed in liberating and healing acts which show the people that God accompanies them. God’s love for the non-poor is no less real. This love invites the non-poor to join God on the margins among the poor in order to find our true identity in relationship, in community, in the common struggle to transform the world.
Relinquishment and the Abundant Life
The call to relinquishment is grounded in the promise of abundant life and in the language of salvation. It is the essential gospel dialectic of losing one’s life in order to find it. What we are asked to believe is a foolish proposition: the gospel promise that we will receive in return far more than what we give up.
Peter began to say to [Jesus], “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.” (Mark 10:28-31).
Jesus responds to Peter’s need for some assurance that the decision to follow Jesus will not only entail the negative reality of “giving up.” He promises that whatever has been relinquished for the gospel will be given back a hundred times more. He promises a harvest “in this present age,” so bountiful as to boggle the mind of the peasant farmer.
Who among us can attempt the “negative” work of relinquishment without some positive vision that makes it worthwhile and even possible? How do we let go of many of the things in which we have come to find security, identity, and status, unless we nurture a hopeful, morally compelling vision of what is possible? Without this ability to imagine our society as a true community, or ourselves as transformed human beings, we will not be able to relax our grip on socio-economic status quo.
Wendel Berry has said, “We are much more easily motivated by what we desire than by what we deplore.” The essence of that prophetic task is to articulate a vision of the common good that has the power to capture the imagination of the people as a goal worthy of struggle and sacrifice. How can we begin to create a vision of our society which makes us willing to move out from behind the walls of our defenses into the unknown but hoped-for future and to stake our lives on such a foolish proposition as the Reign of God? For both Jesus and Francis, the vision of the Reign of God was that source of transforming power which animated and informed their sense of mission and community.