January 19, 2015
Monday of week 2 in Ordinary Time
Click here for the complete text of today’s readings
Jesus Came Down
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered;
and when he was made perfect,
he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
When Jesus says, “new wine is poured into fresh wineskins,” I think of the Holy Spirit poured out into our hearts with the gift of divine life. But the first “new wine” was not a change in us; it was a change in God’s way of dealing with us.
When God the Son “came down” to earth by taking flesh as a human being in Jesus, he came down more completely, in a way more all-embracing, than anyone could have imagined. And he is still doing it, in a way that should be a constant source of wonder to us.
Remember who we are talking about. The Psalm says of Jesus:
Yours is princely power in the day of your birth, in holy splendor;
before the daystar, like the dew, I have begotten you.
The one who came to earth was God himself. And he wanted us to recognize him, if not immediately as God, at least as the most important person God ever worked through, the most important person ever to walk on the face of the earth.
Wouldn’t you think he would have made that obvious?
When important people go anywhere in our world, everyone who sees them coming knows they are important. They come with an entourage. They arrive in private jets and limousines, and stay in the presidential suites of the most exclusive hotels. Their clothes say they are important. Their titles say they are important. All interaction with them is ruled by a protocol that says they are way above ordinary people. We recognize them for what they are.
With Jesus, God broke all the rules. He set aside the language. Nothing said Jesus was important.
Yes, angels called the shepherds to him. But when they got there, what did they find? Nothing. A very ordinary young couple in “nothing” clothes, taking refuge in a stable, with no entourage at all, and nobody around who paid any attention to them. The mother didn’t even have baby clothes; she wrapped her newborn in pieces of cloth, “swaddling clothes.” If God was presenting his Son to the world, he certainly wasn’t putting on a show.
And it was like that all during Jesus’ time on earth. He was an itinerant preacher walking around with a bunch of half-washed fishermen who had no social standing at all. Talk about “coming down”!
Skip to the present day. We come to Mass. It’s God’s weekly party. We are invited to dine with someone who makes royalty look like nobodies. We are celebrating the redemption of the world with Jesus who, having “humbled himself and become obedient to the point of death,” has now risen glorified, so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10). Wouldn’t we expect God to offer us something impressive?
And what do we find? In most churches, a very simple table with nothing on it but ordinary bread and some cheap wine. God is still doing it. He is downplaying his “majesty” to a point that makes it almost unrecognizable. So much so that people are barely conscious of it in church. They don’t fall into awed silence or genuflect when they come in. The teenagers are texting each other on their cell phones or looking around bored. There is just nothing to tell them—or anybody—that a high class event is taking place, much less that they are having dinner with God himself.
Nothing we see in church is going to impress us very much unless we transform it with faith. That’s the secret: take what you get and add faith. That’s the way God made it to work.
Extend that to all the ministry of the Church. Who does God use? Most of those teaching the divine truth of God, including the bishops, wouldn’t be accredited by any reputable university (any more than Jesus himself would be). The majority of those proclaiming the Good News aren’t interesting enough get a spot on a television talk show, much less a news channel. The average diocesan priest or bishop has a spiritual formation only slightly above the level of highschool piety. God’s “special forces” they are not. Jesus has entrusted the most important work on the planet to very mediocre men and women: “as it was in the beginning, is now, and probably ever shall be.”
How is that for “coming down”?
There is a very important reality we have to be aware of here. It is God’s way of dealing with us as humans. He chose—and is still choosing—to do it as one of us. As an ordinary one of us. To get in sync with God, we have to “let that mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus.” Jesus, from the beginning, now, and until he comes in glory at the end of the world, though he is God himself, “does not regard equality with God as something to be exploited” (Philippians 2:5). Jesus chose to save the human race by “emptying himself.” He made himself a “slave” to physical laws and limitations. He made his ministry itself subject to transient distortion and defeat by the human ignorance and sinfulness of the ordinary human beings in whom he chooses to continue it. Just as “for our sake God made him who knew no sin to be sin” on the cross, “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” so now Jesus allows himself, who has overcome sin, to be overcome by sin, partially and temporarily, in those he has chosen to be his body and continue his ministry on earth. In them, Jesus can make his own the words of Saint Paul: “I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (2Corinthians 5:21, Romans 7:23).
When Paul says Jesus was “born in human likeness, and found in human form,” he means it more radically than we can imagine. If we can’t accept that—and accept the human, inadequate, sinful Church that is his present body on earth—we can’t accept Jesus. “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus [in the flesh he has today] is not from God” (1Johh 4:2).
But we still have to marvel at it.
So what is my response? Do I choose to meet Jesus on ground level and add faith to let him lift me to the stars?
Pray: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
Practice: In every Church ministry, contrast what you see with what you believe.
Discuss: Why doesn’t God reveal himself to us in ways that are more impressive?