The True Gives Life
The Tenth Sunday of the Year C: June 5, 2016
Do you ever get conflicting advice from priests or teachers? How do you know whom to believe?
The Entrance Antiphon is a call to confidence in God: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; the stronghold of my life; whom should I fear?”
The Opening Prayer asks for discernment: “O God, grant that we, who call on you in our need, may at your prompting discern what is right, and by your guidance do it.”
The Prayer over the Gifts gives the key to discerning “what is right.” So that “what we offer may be acceptable,” we ask God to “lead us to grow in love.”
Finally, we join both confidence and discernment in the Prayer after Communion: “Lord, may your healing work free us from doing evil and lead us to what is right. We ask this through Christ our Lord.”
“Now indeed I know...”
1Kings 17:17-24 tells us how to recognize “a man of God,” and to discern whether “the word of the Lord comes truly from his mouth.” Those who speak the words of God show the love of God in their actions. Their actions give life, as Elijah did for the widow’s son. And as Jesus did for another widow’s son in the Gospel (Luke 7:11-17). Giving life has credibility and calls forth faith: “They glorified God, exclaiming, ‘A great prophet has arisen in our midst,’ and ‘God has visited his people.’”
In these stories Elijah and Jesus only gave human life. Authentic Christian ministry is life-giving on another level. Christian ministry gives or enhances divine life.
Usually we give life by giving light; by giving expression to the divine truth, the divine love in our hearts through physical words and actions. This is the way Jesus, the “life that was light” (John 1:4) gave to all who believed in him the “power to become children of God”: the “Word became flesh and lived among us.” In the physical words and actions of Jesus, we saw already “his glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of kindness and fidelity.” When our physical words and actions reveal God’s Spirit and God’s divine life in us, Jesus is glorified in us (John 17:10).1
If we want to know whether “the word of the Lord comes truly” from someone’s mouth, we need to ask, before all else, whether in intention and in fact, the person’s words are life-giving. Are they “full of kindness and fidelity”—a fidelity to the past that is, above all, fidelity to God’s enduring desire that all the people he has made should “have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10)? The next reading gives us guidance for that.
Law vs Love
John continues: “For the law was given through Moses; God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ.” In the light of the second reading, it is significant that John would mark this contrast between the “law,” that God gave to the Jews through Moses, and the unique blessing that the law could never give, the embodied, visible “enduring love” that came through Jesus Christ—expressed beyond all eloquence in his crucified body on the hill of Calvary.
In Galatians 1:11-19, Paul describes himself as such “a zealot for my ancestral traditions” that he “persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.” Why? Because the Christians were perceived as not conforming to the Jewish laws “given through Moses.” And we know that Paul spent the rest of his life (until the Pharisees brought about his martyrdom) arguing that we cannot be saved by law-observance, no matter how meticulous we are, but only by accepting with graced faith, “God’s unfailing love and faithfulness” offered to us “through Jesus Christ.”
Paul says those who focus on law observance are preaching death, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death… We have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law… You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace” (Romans 8:2; Galatians 2:16, 5:4 ).
In practical terms, whether we are ministering or receiving ministry, we have to be on guard against the “yeast of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:6), which is the error of looking at the law instead of at the person in front of us, and asking first what the law says instead of asking what will give life to this person in this situation.
Insight: How do we know whether words we hear are life-giving or not?
Initiative: Give God’s life: Whenever you respond to people, ask first whether your response will encourage or discourage them.
Footnotes:1 See John 1:1-18. The Hebrew words hesed and emet from Exodus 34:6—in the original Greek of John’ Gospel charis and aletheia—are translated as “grace and truth,” “kindness and fidelity”; “unfailing love and faithfulness” or, in the 1970 New American Bible, just as “enduring love.”