Beyond What Is Human
The Twelfth Sunday of The Year: June 19, 2016 (Year C)
What is the essence of Christianity? What does it mean to be “saved”? And if we are truly Christians, truly “saved,” to what does this commit us?
Is ministering to others an essential element of being Christian? What do we mean by “ministry”?
The Entrance Antiphon identifies “safety” with being “in God,” and being “saved” with sharing in your [Christ’s divine] life. The essence of Christianity is to be united to God by the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” which means the favor of sharing in the divine life of God by being incorporated into the body of Christ, dying “in him” and rising with him. It is only “in Christ” that we are children of the Father, temples of the Holy Spirit, freed from sin, “heirs of heaven,” and endowed with the eternal life and happiness of God himself.
In the (alternative) Opening Prayer we acknowledge these blessings. We “rejoice to call you Father.” In the midst of “this world’s uncertainty” we find our peace and our security in the covenant we have with God. The New Covenant was sealed in the blood of Christ — which means our union with God is not just contractual, but a union of identification in one shared life. Because we were incorporated into Christ’s body on the cross at Baptism, “died” in him and rose with him, we have “become Christ.” And so we ask God to keep us “one” — with him and with each other — “secure in your love.” And we ask this “through Christ our Lord,” because it is “in Christ” that we live, act, speak and pray as God’s children.1
The Readings all speak of this union we have with Christ through dying and rising in him. The Responsorial Psalm affirms that this is what we live and long for: “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God” (Psalm 63).
The pierced one
Zechariah 12: 10-11 says God will “pour out a spirit of kindness and prayer on the house of David… so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as for an only son… as for a firstborn child.”
John’s Gospel applies this to Jesus, the “only Son of the Father” and the “firstborn” of those who are a “new creation” by sharing in his risen life. When the soldier pierced Christ’s side with a spear John saw this as foretold by Zechariah: “Scripture says, ‘They will look on the one whom they have pierced.’”2
The message is that our “mourning” for Jesus is a longing for union with him. Not for just any union, but for the union of one shared life, which we can have with Christ because he was “pierced” for us so that we might “die” in him and be reborn by rising in him who is the “firstborn of the dead.”
To live “in Christ” is to let Jesus live, act, and express himself to others in and through everything we do as his body on earth. This is the ministry to which we are committed by the “grace: of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the gift of sharing in the divine life of God. It is the inseparable consequence of being anointed “priests in the Priest” by Baptism, consecrated to sacrifice ourselves persistently for the life of the world through total surrender to Jesus in ministry.
Life through dying
In Luke 9: 18-24 Jesus identifies himself clearly as a Messiah who gives infinitely more than anyone expected. All that the Jews of his time expected the Messiah to do was establish peace and prosperity in Israel, using human power—with some special help from God—as an earthly king supported by God. When Jesus revealed that he was going to conquer by defeat, and accomplish his mission by dying, he made it obvious that the kingdom he came to establish is not just “of this world.”3
What Jesus came to give could not be anything that depended on human power, because he died without ever using any.
This is another example of a basic principle found in the Gospels: “The absence of the human is a revelation of the divine.” The absence of any human means of conception in the virgin Mary was the revelation that the fruit of her womb was divine. The absence of human resources in those Jesus sent to preach was the revelation that for the fruit of their ministry they depended on the divine power of God. And the absence of any human success in the mission of Jesus is the revelation that his mission was to give the world something divine by the divine power of God—which we know as the divine gift of grace, the favor of sharing in the divine life of God.4
The shocking revelation Jesus made to his disciples in this Gospel is that he was going to save the world by dying. The mystery of salvation is that we only enter into the divine life Jesus promises by dying to life as we know it, life on the human terms that are taken for granted in every human society.
The followers of Jesus are not “of this world,” because they do not live for what this world can give them or even for what they can contribute to the human development of the world and the well-being of those who live in it. Whatever Christians do to enhance human life on earth (and they must be dedicated to this), they do in order to express and reveal the love of God so that people will find it easier to accept the divine life that is their only complete or lasting good. Jesus came that we might “have life, and have it to the full”—which is only found in sharing the infinite Life of God. Christian ministry aims at nothing less.5
It is clear that only Jesus can give “life to the full” on both levels: human and divine. So to carry on the mission of Jesus as his ministers, we must let Jesus himself live, act and minister in us. Every Christian says with St. Paul:
It is my eager expectation and hope that …Christ will be exalted now as always in my body…. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.
To “take up the cross every day and follow Jesus” means to shoulder his mission. It is not suffering as such that Christians embrace, but simply being Christ and living to carry out the mission of Christ, with whatever suffering may or may not be attendant on that.
If we want to “save our lives” as we received them at birth, and to live according to the survival standards of this world, seeking the fulfillment that can be found in the life and activities of human society in this world, Jesus says we will lose the basic meaning and value of life itself. If “success” in this world is our goal, the more success we achieve, the greater failures we will be. The wiser we appear to be by human standards, the greater fools we are.6
“Clothed in Christ”
In Galatians 3: 26-29 Paul proclaims again what it is to be Christ. We are what Christ is: “sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (which, as we have said, presupposes sharing in his divine life). We have “clothed ourselves in Christ,” taking on his identity. We have lost the identity we had as “Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female,” and our identity now is the common identity we all share as the body of Christ on earth. But we have not really lost our human identity, because in us Christ becomes what we are: Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. Like the “mystery” of the mingling of the water and wine at Mass, through Baptism Jesus is “poured out” to be lost and found in our humanity, just as we are “poured out” to be lost and found in his divinity.7
The message of all of these readings is that Christianity is essentially a new and divine way of life. To be Christian we have to be Christ and accept that as our only authentic, if mystical, identity. To be Christ is to be what we became by the triple anointing of Baptism: to be prophets, be priests, and be stewards of the kingship of Christ. This is our identity and our “job description” as Christians. We are truly Christian when day and night we long to be united with Christ in fulfilling this mission more than “sentinels long for the dawn.”8
Being Christ is our way of life when in everything we do we find ourselves saying, “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.”
What do I see now as the essence of Christianity? How does ministry fit into this?
Initiative: Give God’s life:
Ask Jesus constantly to act with you, in you and through you. Surrender to him.
1 St. Augustine, speaking to the baptized, said: “We have become not only Christians, but Christ. Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ!” (quoted by John Paul II in The Splendor of Truth, no. 21). See last Sunday’s reading from Galatians 2: 19-20. “I have been crucified with Christ; and I live now, not with my own life, but with the life of Christ who lives in me. The life I live in this body I live in faith….” Remember that “faith” is a sharing in God‘s own act of knowing, which we can only have by sharing in the life of God by grace. The key role of Christ’s “blood” is affirmed in 1Corinthians 10:16; Ephesians 2:13; 1Peter 1:14 to 2:9; Hebrews 9:11 to 10:10; and Revelation 7:14.
2John 19:37. John calls Jesus five times God’s “only Son”: John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18, and 1John 4:9. The only other New Testament passage that does this is Hebrews 11:17.
Romans 8:29 calls Jesus the “firstborn among many brothers and sisters”; Colossians 1:15 the “firstborn of all creation”; and Colossians 1:18 the “firstborn from the dead.” See also Hebrews 1:6; 11:28; 12:23 and Revelation 1:5. The point is that by Baptism we are reborn into the life of Jesus the “firstborn” of the human family of God.
4See Matthew 1:18-23; 10: 5-10; Luke 1: 26-37.
5John 15:19; 10:10.
6See 1Corinthians 1:18 to 2:11.
7See the prayer that accompanies the pouring of water and wine at Mass.8See Psalm 130.