It’s time to go “back to school” and I’ve met all three of my classes this semester already this week. The campus is full of new life, and with the sunny and warm weather the atmosphere seems especially energetic. There are many smiles on campus, and some apprehensive faces and awkward silences in each new class, too. Everyone has a little anxiety on the first day of classes, so I try to help us past it. The first assignment of a class to have the students introduce themselves to the person sitting right next to them, and soon the class is full of talk and lively again. I know almost no one’s name, and it takes time to learn not only the names but the concerns and hopes of each individual for the semester ahead.
In the Gospel reading for today (Luke 4:38-44), Jesus is also off to a new start. He has been in Galilee, first rejected badly in his own hometown of Nazareth, then ministering to others in Capernaum with greater success. In relatively short space, the gospel shows his ministry growing and growing. It’s as is he needs to leave home and where he has always been “known” for it truly to begin. By the time we arrive at this reading, Luke shows a Jesus whose ministry of healing is so successful that people do not want him to leave. “The crowds went looking for him, and when they came to him, they tried to prevent him from leaving them.” (Luke 4:42). I imagine people offering arguments and reasons to Jesus for why he ought to stay: he is doing so much good among them; he’s beloved there; and there are many more people still in need. But Jesus explains to them that he needs to move on, because his ministry is not for some people only, but for all. The people of Galilee, in essence, have to start thinking about not only their own good, but also the good of the people in Judaea, and the bigger mission that Jesus begins. Jesus invites the community to whom he is speaking—and with whom he clearly has a loving relationships— to understand his own need for freedom. In a way, he is also asking them to participate a little more widely in the greater mission. Eventually, Jesus will be asking some of those same community members, like Peter, to be part of the mission themselves, and they also will have to travel and to leave familiar and secure places, both at a physical and psychological/spiritual levels.
Even though we here in academia do not typically pick up and move our place of ministries, whether teaching or other kinds, we also have our new places because the community of students itself changes. In a sense, “where” I do my work and who is in the community of care is also always shifting, even though I have worked in the same location for seventeen years. There is a gift in the excitement and the newness of it all, as we start to see new possibilities. The same old place seems fresh. And the old relationships that took place on these grounds are here, too, part of the formation of what makes a space into a living “place.” The foundation stone in Gasson Hall was laid long ago, and while the building has recently been renovated and practically sparkles, the history of all the people who have studied, taught, laughed, and cried remains somehow present as well. I’m looking forward to whatever new gifts are headed this way, from just over the horizon.
*photo of view from South Bubble mountain, Acadia National Park, by Marina McCoy