Thursday, March 19, 2015

Jesus Changes What We Listen To

March 19, 2015
Thursday of the 4th week of Lent (also the feast of St. Joseph)
Gospel: John 5:31-47

Jesus Changes What We Listen To
“How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and 
do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?”

Why do we believe in Jesus? In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us several good reasons to believe, but none of them is the real one.

John testified to the truth.” Yes. So did our parents, wise teachers we have had, saints and martyrs, holy men and women reaching back for centuries. Their testimony is convincing. But they are not the reason why we believe.

The works that I perform testify on my behalf.” We have seen or heard of miracles. And through Jesus working in his Church, in spite of all her sins and errors, it is still a fact that “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matthew 11:4). People blind to the faith are beginning to see; people unable to walk on the right path have begun to follow it; many whom society considers “unclean” are reforming their lives; those deaf to the Gospel are hearing and understanding it; some who have lost the divine life of God by “mortal” sin are being raised up from death to life. And, insufficient though it is, all over the world the Good News is still being brought to the poor. For those who have eyes unprejudiced enough to see, this is convincing testimony to Christianity. But this is not the reason why we believe.

The Father who sent me has testified on my behalf. But you have never heard his voice.” When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, and at his Transfiguration, the Father said, “This is my Son” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5). And perhaps he has spoken through some who have received private revelations and visions. But we ourselves have never heard him speak like this. The witness of those who have is credible. But that is not the reason why we believe.

You search the Scriptures… they testify on my behalf.” It takes ignorance or prejudice not to take the Bible seriously. Although it is not a history book, there is plenty of incontrovertible history in the Bible that cannot be explained if Christianity is not God’s doing. The Bible is a convincing book. But it is not the reason why we believe.

If you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me.” Taking this farther than Jesus intended, we can conjecture that if we really carry out to its logical conclusion anything taught by the great thinkers and authorities in almost any field—anything that deals with “the Good, the True and the Beautiful”—we will arrive at belief in God, and eventually even in Jesus. That would be an interesting thought to develop. But it is not the reason why we believe.

Jesus tells us why some reject all of these reasons for believing—and why those who do have faith should not accept any of them as their real and ultimate reason for believing. The reason is hidden in his question: “How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?” Underlying what Jesus says here is the insight that if we “accept praise from one another” we are looking outside of ourselves for an affirmation of our value that will tell us the truth about ourselves. This leads us to look outside of ourselves for the reason why we believe in Jesus and in God. Nothing outside of ourselves can be the real reason why we believe.

The real reason we believe is because of the divine light of faith that is given to us as one element or aspect of the divine life of God. We believe because we know. We know because we share in God’s own act of knowing. We share in God’s own act of knowing because we share in God’s own divine life. We share in God’s own divine life because it was given to us as a free gift in Baptism. If we were baptized as adults, or became adults after Baptism, we had to accept that gift by a free act of choice. That was the choice to accept the gift of believing in Jesus Christ. Jesus says to those who do not accept it, “You do not want to come to me to have life.” And the reason is, they are looking outside of themselves for human testimony to the divine truth of God. The testimony can be valid; it can even be the testimony of God himself embodied in human words and works. But nothing lets us know the infinite truth of God except the infinite gift of sharing in the infinite life of God. Jesus says, “You have to come to me to have life.”

Have we come full circle? Are we back at the starting point, asking again, “Why do we believe in Jesus?” What makes us “go to him” and accept from him the gift of divine life?

There may be many reasons that impel or motivate us, including any and all of the ones Jesus lists above. But the ultimate reason is not anything outside of us; it is because we are looking within ourselves, listening to our hearts. That is where we hear God’s voice.

But it doesn’t sound like God’s voice, or like the voice of any other person. It sounds like our own voice. And it is. It is God uniting himself to us and speaking to us as one with ourselves, indistinguishable from ourselves. When God speaks, we hear our own voice saying, “This is true.” If we listen, we will have heard the voice of the Father and the Spirit testifying to Jesus in our hearts.

I have a friend. She had a doctorate in psychology and did not believe in God. But she was dating a man who took her to meetings with a Christian prayer group who discussed the Bible.

One day, listening to them talk, she found herself saying to herself, “This would all be very beautiful—if only it were true.” Then with a shock she realized, “But it is true. I believe what they are saying. I believe!”

Did she make an “act of faith,” or discover that she had it? Did she choose—or did she just realize—that she believed?

My answer would be, “God gave her the gift of faith and she accepted it.” It was the gift that made her able to accept the gift, but it was also her free choice.

What motivated her to make that choice, to accept the gift that was given to her? It was the fact that she looked inside herself, at what she knew and believed, instead of looking outside at the reasons for believing. Had she looked outside, she would have wondered whether she ought to believe. By looking inside, she realized that she already did.

What Jesus says in this Gospel does not deny any truth we find outside of ourselves. It just makes clear that there is one truth—the infinite truth of God that is the truth of Jesus’ own being—that we can only find inside of ourselves. We need to look for it there.

Do I choose to let Jesus change what I look at when I ask why I believe?

Pray: “Lord, you are the fountain of life; in your light let me see light” (Psalm 36:9).

Practice: Get in touch with your heart. Learn to know what you know.

Discuss: Why do you believe in Jesus Christ?

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