The Last Temptation of Tony

Before I begin, or maybe more accurately before you begin, I think it’s important to state up front that I do not have a messiah complex. I am not a savior and I don’t think I’m Jesus Christ. I am now living and working with people and in places that have been making old stories more real and the example of Jesus is striking me deeply as a both a guide and a place to turn for understanding my own experience.

It’s been a long time since I have been so at home in what I doing with my life every day. I am making virtually no money – we dipped into our meager savings to pay bills last month – but I am not needing or wanting to be doing anything else. I am constantly searching for ways to make extra income so I can continue to work where I am called.

And yet…

And yet there are days I just want to get in my car and drive until I am tired of driving and make a new home and start over. I want to leave behind religion, family, work and just — stop. In my fantasy there is somehow a source of income from somewhere that pays the rent and all the other bills, there is a lover, there is music and poetry and writing and reading. There is a big garden or a farm. I’m not mad. I get it that a place doesn’t exist and the grass and home grown organic vegetables are always greener.

Having a heart is just plain exhausting sometimes. I’ve been reminded lately of a job I had years ago running a summer youth employment program. During our hiring process for placement counselors, I remember telling someone “It get difficult to do this job, especially if you have a big heart, but if you don’t have a big heart I don’t want you doing this job.”
I have been taking a lot of my own advice lately because just driving off into America is appealing right now. I think I might be cook in a diner or a pump jockey or a laborer on an organic farm somewhere. I’d get a job as a clerk in an independent book store or as a cook in a diner or as a taxi driver. I’d spend any time I have off from work reading and writing, sitting in pubs and coffee shops nursing beers and espresso. I’d have no family or other responsibilities. Like I said, it’s fantasy.

And still the pull of faith, of calling, of what I am meant to do tugs and nags and I wonder if I am up to the challenge. I realize that I am needed where I am. Granted, it is not so much me, but someone willing to live and work like I am, someone with my general skill set and calling needs to be where I am doing what I do or many, many people will have less hope and fewer advocates and partners. It doesn’t have to be me, specifically, but why not me? I am already here.

Futility is one of my demons. The overwhelming need of my brothers and sisters living in poverty, on the edge of existence, deep in the heart of Fort Worth is too much. I don’t have enough money, enough resources, enough answers and sometimes just being present is too much. I keep thinking of Jesus among the lepers in Jesus Christ Superstar. Everyone wants healing and hope and there’s only one of him and he eventually screams at the mob:

There’s too many of you – don’t push me
There’s too little of me – don’t crowd me
Heal yourselves!

Nikos Cazantzakis’ Last The Last Temptation of Christ has also been in my meditations lately. I understood the story and like the book and the movie, but I am experiencing my work and life in such a way as to be able to place myself in the situation of being tempted away from my mission.

My calling is to abandoned places of empire. Everything I have done in my life that both gave me life and energy and was appreciated by others happened in abandoned places. Now the call is leading me to relocate and return to living in an abandoned place. The temptations to trade it all in or just head in the opposite direction were few at first, but not as I approach getting on my cross for real to give up my life again, the temptations are greater.

Near the beginning of The Last Tempation, Kazantzakis writes:

 

“Christ passed through all the stages which the man who struggles passes through. That is why his suffering is so familiar to us; that is why we share it,and why his final victory seems to us so much our own future victory.”

 

Perhaps that victory is not as substitional sacrifice. I am not big on a God that is only okay with me if someone else gets tortured to death. Yet, the reality of a difficult mission leading to a difficult end looms for me as it does for everyone who takes on a mission of meaning and substance. What if, in the end, I could do something else? What if I could turn my back on my calling for an easier life?

The last temptation of Christ in Kazantzakis’ novel occurs when Jesus is dying in agony on the cross. In his pain he is hullucinating (or is he?) and his vision includes a guarding angel who offers him life and healing. Jesus comes down off of the cross and marries Mary Magdelene. He has children and grows old. At one point he sees Saint Paul preaching in the town square, telling people of his message and his death and resurrection. Jesus tells him, “but that’s not how it happened.” Paul replies, it doesn’t matter if it really happened as long as people believe it did. Jesus wrestled with God, he claimed his message to be love and inclusion, yet he was cast as a revolutionary and revolutionaries scare the status quo to their core. He had to be eliminated.The guardian angel, of course is Satan, the Enemy, the forces that stand in opposition to what our truth demands of us.

Kazantzakis’ story examines what happens when anyone is faced with a noble calling. It is never easy and it always require the sacrifice of something, even if that something is another way of life. Kazantzakis tell us that the final victory of Jesus was following through and getting up on the cross and staying there. He doesn’t achieve anything by choosing to be like any other householder and family man. He only becomes the Christ by dying for his message.

Any mission worth having will require much sacrifice. I am telling myself lately that “Having it all” is a fantasy of those who don’t reach for much. There is always a sacrifice, sometimes we see, know and understand the sacrifice, and other times we don’t know what our calling will require. It is always a leap of faith that what you got is going to be good enough.

Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance. – Bruce Barton

Maybe that’s the core of my recent contemplations – I am worried that I won’t be up to the task and it would be easier to quit or to walk away. But I can’t. For all those walking by faith, my hand is outstretched. Should I fall behind or stumble, grab ahold and I will do the same in return.

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One thought on “The Last Temptation of Tony

  1. Jesus was only one man. That is why he called others to join him in ministry. As ministers, we cannot and should not do it all. Burnout is the result. We have to enlist the service of others. Not everyone will answer the call. There are those that will be “too busy” or not interested. But there will be some who do answer the call. The ministry will continue and more will be blessed. It’s not about going it alone.

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