Three images, three voices.
Round about the year 270 The story goes that Anthony heard this gospel and did what it said: he sold what he had and gave the money to the poor. So began a trajectory that carried him further and further away from ordinary life, deeper and deeper into the desert, down and down into the solitude of a hermit’s cell.
“Whoever sits in solitude and is quiet has escaped from three wars: hearing, speaking, and seeing. Yet against one thing he must constantly battle: his own heart.”
Take God’s word at its word and see where it gets you? Take it literally and you cannot avoid extremism.
1963 The cell isn’t always sought out. The Civil Rights Marches in Birmingham, Alabama, got Martin Luther King thrown into his cell. When a bunch of white pastors of the city condemned him for turning up and causing violence King responded with words smuggled to freedom.
“Isn’t that like condemning the robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? … The question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice—or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”
Five years later he was dead. Take God’s word at it word and see where it gets you?
2000 Sometimes someone does both: lives half a life in a cell against his will but then returns in freedom. Nelson Mandela at the stroke of the New Millennium on Robben Island kindling a candle and carrying it out of his former cell and handing it over to his nation.
“I have been fortunate to live through most of the century. In some ways we outstreaked the achievements of our ancestors, in other ways we fell short of what we hoped for and what was indeed possible. So we close the century with most people still languishing in poverty, subjected to hunger and disease. [But I know] there are good men and women around the world that will always keep this flame burning.”
What would happen if we took God’s word at its word?
Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh,
but against the rulers,
against the authorities,
against the cosmic powers of this present darkness.
“It’s all right to talk about ‘streets flowing with milk and honey,’ but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preachers must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.”
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”