Higher and higher

Published on 29 Aug 2019
A person climbing stairs

“We are invited to go deeper into the mystery, to try to understand more and to get closer to God,” says Peter Gallagher SJ. Read his reflection on the upwards journey of faith.

My friend, move up higher (Luke 14.10) is addressed to us. Delightfully, the host invites us to sit nearer him at his celebration. The Lord wants us to hear what he has to say, to know him better and to rejoice with him at the feast. We are honoured guests. Embarrassment (Luke 14.9) and some rearranging of the seating are possibilities but there is no doubt about our suitability as guests. My friend, move up higher. We disciples are being summoned to place ourselves not where we thought we should be but where our Lord Jesus Christ considers we should be positioned. We are invited to go deeper into the mystery, to try to understand more and to get closer to God in all the richness of his wisdom and beauty. To move up higher is to move closer to the Lord.

The journey of faith goes upwards

What holds us back from such closeness? Are we burdened by a sense of unworthiness? Is there some lack in us? We do not exactly earn the summons of the Lord to go up higher; we are simply called by him to do so. We may be content with our present position. We may not wish to go deeper. However, the normal momentum of the journey of faith is in an upwards direction. Our relationship with God cannot stand still. Our discipleship of Christ is also progressive: we are constantly summoned to further service and to stand closer to the way, the truth and the life. It is the will of God that we should approach the mystery and be drawn more deeply into his wonderful life. How does this happen? We make progress in the spiritual life by prayer and by faithful participation in the sacraments. We also move closer to the Lord by our charity. We seek to love our neighbours as Jesus loves them. Invite the poor (Luke 14.13) to your celebration, he says. Proximity to the Lord is closeness to suffering. The least of his brothers and sisters have, like us, an honoured place at the Lord’s banquet. Indeed, we may well suspect that what has prompted the kind invitation to us to move up higher is the recognition of the great need of God which is in us. This invitation is worth receiving. We are being called to a particular place in God’s company to enjoy fare which is substantial and sustaining.

Entering the banqueting hall of God

Move up higher. Our saviour changes us. All through our life, he summons us anew to conversion. Yet we are sometimes reluctant to change, even at the Lord’s behest. There is in us an instinct to stay where we are. Other parables emphasise how hard it is to enter the banqueting hall of God. Perhaps we have struggled long to enter. Perhaps we have a sense of having squeaked in. If we were among those summoned to the feast in a second or third wave of invitations we may be well aware of how easily we could still be on the highways and byways (Luke 14.23). If close scrutiny were made of wedding-garments, we might, in this elegant company, be relieved that our outfit passed muster (Matthew 22.12). For all sorts of reasons guests cling to the place they first found. Such reluctance does not arise not from laziness or false modesty. Grateful to have squeezed in through the narrow door and found somewhere to sit a humble guest is inclined to sit tight.

It might be objected that it is not for us to decide to move nearer to God. God always comes to us. It is not so much that we ascend to him, rather that he condescends to approach us. It is true that the strength and purpose with which we go higher are conferred on us by God. He moves in our direction but also draws us towards himself. We can do nothing without him.  Even our aspirations are his gifts. However, we do aspire to make progress spiritually. We are ambitious for the higher gifts (I Corinthians 12.31). Great though the power of the Lord is, he accepts the homage of the humble (Ecclesiasticus 3.21). There is courage in us because of God’s bolstering our confidence with his self-revelation.

Divine invite

Jesus surely understands our reluctance to go higher. He understands our feeling that what has already been achieved has cost enough and that there should be no further striving. It is certainly not that we have no choice. Something wonderful higher and deeper is open to us. However perhaps we need to contemplate it a little longer before appropriating it. There is momentum towards progress but also freedom in our response to the Lord’s call and summons. We are free to choose how near the throne of grace we settle. We are free to be humble rather than proud. We are free to stay where we are. However, where we are is in the kingdom of God. In that city of the living God we are caught up in divine life which pulls us onwards and upwards.

My friend, move up higher. Our genial host invites us to sit close to him. He recognises how much we long to be near God. There is in his invitation abundant warmth, encouragement and welcome. To move nearer the Lord requires grace and God’s abundant help is available to us for this ‘moving up higher’. The loving invitation is also a divine command. Move up higher is spoken with authority. We respond with gratitude and obedience. God is calling us to himself. Joyfully, humbly and freely we are on the move.

Peter Gallagher SJ