SATURDAY OF LENT WEEK 5
Gospel Jn 11: 45-56. To gather together in unity the scattered children of God..
We love heroes and are constantly inventing new ones. On screen, in politics or in our personal lives we idealise the unfortunate victims of our heroic longings. We don’t believe ourselves to be heroes: we know ourselves too well but to make sense of life we should try to see the heroic myth that is enacted in everyone’s experience. Lent may not have made us feel like spiritual superheroes, hopefully, but to understand the Easter story that we re-enter shortly we need to understand this archetype. The crucified Jesus seems a strange choice as hero except as a kind of anti-hero conspicuous for his failure. But certainly not a Superman.
My favourite hero is Gilgamesh (2000 BCE), King of Uruk in Mesopotamia. We meet him in the oldest work of literature. Like us he is two-thirds god and one third human. Because he is an oppressive ruler the gods send a wild man, Enkidu, to correct him. They fight. Gilgamesh wins but they form a perfect friendship. They go off on heroic quests and in so doing anger the gods who take Enkidu’s life. Gilgamesh leaves on a solitary and dangerous journey to find the secret of eternal life. He fails but is taught the wisdom of mortality: "Life, which you look for, you will never find. For when the gods created man, they let death be his share, and life withheld in their own hands". He returns home, wiser, humbler and a better ruler.
Three essential elements of heroic meaning are reflected in this story of Gilgamesh: separation, initiation and return. Our Superman heroes distract us from the heroic meaning that ennobles even the most ordinary-seeming life. They express huge ego-inflation, the fantasy of power and domination. They are not teachers and revealers of our truth but dressed-up fantasies demanding worship. Like the old gods, who are continually taking new shapes in human cultures, they dominate and exploit us but they are co-dependent on the offerings we bring. Without our worship and sacrifices they fade away like old movie stars.
Gilgamesh helps us to understand the story of Easter if we see that Jesus is not a superhero or a god; but he shows what human life means more completely than any myth or work of fiction. Yet, like every human being discovering who they are, where they come from and where they are going, he separates progressively. Ultimately, he detaches from everything. With each degree of separation that we endure we also pass through an initiation. Death is the ultimate initiation. We bounce back - return – after each cycle. The ultimate return which transcends the cyclical process is the Resurrection.
Lenten Reflections 2021