March 15, 2015
Fourth Sunday of Lent
Jesus Changes The Root Of All Relationships
“So must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
Cyrus was an enlightened king. When he said, “All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord, the God of heaven, has given to me,” he recognized a responsibility that came from his relationship with God and with those God had let him conquer. If he asked loyalty from the Jews because of their relationship with him as king, he had to allow them to be loyal to God by living out the special relationship they had with Yaweh by covenant. So he decreed: “Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up [to rebuild Jerusalem], and may his God be with him!”
Paul writes that God, Creator and Ruler of all humanity, is “rich in mercy.” To have “mercy” means “to come to the aid of another out of a sense of relationship.” God has chosen to enter into relationship with us, not just as Creator, but as Father. It was because of this relationship, “because of the great love he had for us” as Father, that “even when we were dead in our transgressions, he brought us to life with Christ.” Paul says, “You have been saved by grace”; that is by the favor of sharing in the divine life of God through incorporation into Christ as members of his body, living by his Life. Jesus is the key to our relationship with God as Father. “In Christ,” we are “sons and daughters in the Son.”
In John’s Gospel Jesus draws the conclusion: “So must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Jesus must be the center and focus of our religion, because he is the keystone of our relationship with God—and with everyone and everything else. Not only “in him” do we have “redemption, the forgiveness of sins,” but “in him all things in heaven and on earth were created… all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:14).
Francis of Buenos Aires and Rome says this must define our relationship with all other human beings:
The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!
“But Father, the atheists too?” Even the atheists. Everyone! His Blood makes us all first class children of God! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all!
“But I don’t believe, Father. I am an atheist!” Nevertheless, you are doing what is good, and that is where we meet.
And we all have a duty to do good. This commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will create the “culture of encounter.” We must meet one another doing good.
This has shocked a lot of people who don’t take for granted, as Francis does, the Catholic belief in “Baptism of desire.” Francis is not saying we can be saved just by doing good human “works” without faith. Paul clarified that in his letter to the Romans. Francis is saying what today’s Gospel says, that “whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”
We believe that God gives everyone the grace to be saved. But some cannot believe in Jesus, or even in God, under their proper names. Christians have made it hard for many to accept Christ. The bishops at the Second Vatican Council acknowledged that believers have had “more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral or social life, they conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and of religion” (“The Church in the Modern World,” no. 19).
If some can’t accept Jesus, he comes to them under a different name: “Love,” perhaps, or “Beauty.” Or “Unity and peace with all.” God is supremely “the Good, the True and the Beautiful.” Whoever accepts one of these without reserves is accepting God.
So we don’t judge people by their words: “I am a Christian,” or “I am an atheist.” For us, all who “live the truth,” however they explain it, in such a way that “their works may be clearly seen as done in God,” are people we presume to have received “Baptism of desire” (or to be “anonymous Christians”) and accept as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Do I choose to let Jesus change the root of all my relationships with others by making him the key to them all?
Pray: “Lord, make us one, as you are with the Father, and we are in you, so that the world may believe” (John 17:21).
Practice: Look deeper than appearances. Try to see everyone as Jesus does.
Discuss: What does it take to be “saved”?