March 13, 2015
Friday of the 3rd week of Lent
Jesus Changes Our Perception of
Each Other’s “Truth” and "Goodness"
“We shall say no more, ‘Our god,’ to the work of our hands”
When Jesus said, “The second commandment is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself, he did not mean it the way it sounds. For Christians, “as yourself” means “as your divine self.” We must love others as divine children of the Father; as the divine body of Christ, God the Son; as sacred dwelling places of the divine Spirit of God present in each one; for that is what we are, what we have become by “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Jesus calls—and enables—us to change our way of perceiving the “truth” of each other’s being. “Truth,” or intelligibility, is the second “transcendental” that all beings have in common. And Jesus changes our perception of it in everyone we see.
We know a being as a being (this is metaphysics) when we make the judgment that God is giving it existence in order that it might do what its design, its structure, enables it to do. Switching (for clarity’s sake) to our knowledge of artifacts, we “call a spade a spade” when we make the judgment that someone shaped this thing as it is so that it could serve for digging. Without perceiving the intentionality in its design, and making the free judgment that someone actually gave it this shape for the purpose of making it a tool for digging, we simply cannot call a spade a spade. The same is true for the beings to which God gives functional form and existence. Their intelligibility, their "truth" depends on our recognition of an intentional, functional structure.
Normally, we see the “goodness” of every being in the operations its structure makes it able to perform. A spade is “good”—worth making or having—because it can penetrate and move dirt. If it doesn’t “work,” we say it is “no good.”
But Jesus has changed our perception of both the truth and the goodness of human beings. What we see humans can do does not show us the real “truth” or “goodness” of their being, of what they are; not if they have received the further gift of grace: of life that is divine as well as human. And if we don’t see this “more,” we may fall into a terrible error—the error Pope Francis identifies in The Joy of the Gospel as that of our “throwaway culture”:
53. Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.
Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “disposable” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers.”
If we just understand humans in terms of what we see they are able to do—and if we “fall short” (the scriptural word for “sin”: hamartia) of recognizing that they are able to know, love and serve God, and were in fact created for this—we can fall into the error of measuring people’s value by their usefulness. Then, when they are no longer useful to us, we “throw them away.” We “discard” the poor and helpless simply by neglecting them, by not letting them “count” in our policy decisions and voting. Those who are terminally sick or old we euthanize. When we do this we are making “idols” of success and achievement.
But if we let Jesus “change our minds” about human truth and goodness, “we shall say no more, ‘Our god,’ to the work of our hands.” And we will love our neighbors as we love our redeemed selves, knowing that all the redeemed possess equally the divine life of God. All are empowered equally to live and act on the level of God through the actions—“functions—that really count, the acts of faith, hope and love. All are equally valuable and “useful” for what humans exist for: establishing and entering into the “kingdom of God.” By faith we know the “truth” of what each one is, not by recognizing intentionality in functional structure and design, but by awareness of the Holy Spirit acting in each and all.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good… All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ (1Corinthians 12:4).
We must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Hosea says, “Let those who are wise understand these things; let those who are prudent know them.” Do I choose to do that? Do I choose to let Jesus change my way of perceiving the real “truth” and “goodness” of my fellow human beings?
Pray: “Lord, pour your grace into our hearts, that we may constantly see each other by the heavenly teaching you give us.”
Practice: Look for spiritual gifts in people instead of just at their functionality and achievements.
Discuss: Is everyone of equal value? Why?