Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 17) transports me to a street vendor’s hot dog cart, where a Buddhist comes up and says, Can you make me one with everything? Cue the rim shot. Part two of the corny joke – the Buddhist gives the vendor a $20 bill, and when he asks for change, the vendor says, You of all people should know, change comes from within. Second rim shot. Every time I hear that joke, I think about Ignatius J. Reilly, the incredibly quirky, ridiculously funny, eccentric main character in John Kenedy Toole’s novel A Confederacy of Dunces. The title comes from a Jonathon Swift aphorism: When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him. Walker Percy described the genius Ignatius J. Reilly as a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one. The Buddhist joke connects me to the character because one of the two jobs Ignatius had in his life was working for Paradise Hot Dogs, pushing the cart along the streets of New Orleans. A typical day for Ignatius ended with the owner of Paradise adding up the day’s receipts, and after subtracting all the hot dogs eaten by Ignatius, giving him a take home pay of around $1.25. When he wasn’t eating hot dogs, he was ranting and raving about the sorry state of the world, which he thought desperately needed more theology and geometry. He probably would have had his own wise-crack about Siddhartha if anyone had ever come up to him and asked, make me one with everything.
Jesus, a true genius who would have been justified in thinking that a confederacy of dunces was lined up against him, had something of a Buddhist prayer in his great high priestly petition of John 17. Presuming he already had oneness with the world down pat and was a veritable Bodhisattva, Jesus’ prayer was not for himself, but for his followers. Make them one. It is an interesting prayer, not the least interesting part being the very fact of Jesus praying to God, at least when you consider it in the light of traditional monotheistic theology. Jesus, the Creative Word Made Flesh, was, as John began his gospel, not only with God in the beginning, but was God. In that sense, we can picture Jesus doing as we often do: talking with himself. As I said, interesting. And the second point of interest is what Jesus petitions here as he reveals his last will and testament: unity. Make them one. It’s interesting because, as the Creative Word that brought life into being, Jesus obviously had a love for diversity. One of the common elements in all forms of life, according to the biologists, is the evolutionary drive toward diversity. This drive is part of the created order the Word brought into being. And yet here, as he nears the end of his human existence, the Creative Word Made Flesh prays for unity. Unity among this diverse band of followers he had gathered, a band that included both a tax-collecting collaborator with Rome and a subversive saboteur out to destroy Rome, with some fishermen thrown in for good company. Maybe he was praying that they would understand and embrace what they had in common beneath all that diversity of culture and ideology, namely, that they were loved by a gracious God. That’s what the world needed to see. In the end, nothing else mattered to Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t just praying for his band of twelve disciples, he was praying for all who would follow throughout history. Sometimes it feels like we are all a confederacy of dunces, (though we seem to lack a genius we can unify against). Our infighting as people of faith is notorious. It shouldn’t surprise us, given the incredible range of diversity that exists across so many lines. We have people like the anti-social hot dog vending Ignatius J. Reilly, and we have people like the very social Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesuits, all within our family tradition. We have our version of collaborators and saboteurs, and fishermen thrown in for good company. We have idealist dreamers and doomsday prophets like Reilly who suspects that we are teetering on the edge of the abyss. We have rich and poor, red and yellow, black and white, liberal and conservative, fundamentalist and moderate, victim and offender. And Jesus wants us to be one. Maybe each of us should take some inspiration from the hungry Buddhist, and help fulfill Jesus’ last will and testament by sincerely praying: make me one with everything. And we can remember that change does come from within, from embracing the profound truth that a gracious God loves us all.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.