LOVE SUFFERS AS MEANT TO BE

seed-heart                        It is a cold dish to be served when the rescue one depends on does not come in an hour of dire need.  One can ponder the ER patient who has been mangled and the lidocaine is delayed.  Or an unwanted divorce with the other spouse not wanting to give it a chance.  The cliche can easily be said that, “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure” but comes far short of consoling.

But the message of the cross can give a sense of meaning whether the rescue comes or not. That message is comfort in the context ofmeaning in the atonement of Christ having practical application to our lives.  We see in the cross God is not in the capricious punishing business at the cross or through all of salvation history.  He had grace planned all along.

A strange comment is made by Jesus on the cross. He is supposed to be the best example of faith in God yet he says something that is counter-intuitive to modern, faithful thought.

                                                THE FOURTH WORD

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34

But there is more to these words than meets the eye.  One may perceive that agony and sense of being detached from hope in seeing Jesus on the cross especially in light of how he spoke of the love between him and the Father.  This appearance seems to be raised a notch with the words below that counter-intuitively show the fruit of the cross is comfort to the suffering.  If we look further there is a calling inthe suffering.

Jesus is drawing from Psalm 22 and sparing enough breath barely for a shorthand reference to a broader context psalm that was well known then.  This psalm referred to on the cross hits themes of all salvation history.

The crown of this psalm points to praise and thanksgiving that reverberates in the holy congregation. The declaration of the gospel hidden in that psalm is a template for God’s long-term faithfulness, provision to the hungry, universal worship, boldness to worship, resurrection and proclaiming his salvation.  All of this would be clear to a scholar of the scriptures of that day if they listened with an open heart.  And with that heart one would see the sacrifice as a seed and suffering as the ongoing nurturing of the Church that is to cooperate in all of the above.

Those themes are centered on Israel, and show God’s discipline, holiness and covenantal faithfulness to Israel.  The line Jesus uses could sound like God is being called out of touch but the full context of the psalm is saying God initiates and has a plan.

On the responsiveness of God’s love there are highs and lows in the faith narrative of that psalm. There is cited personal brokenness yet personal consolation. In fact, there is faith with petition to God in suffering but prophetic details of the crucifixion.

Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots. (Psalms 22:16-18).

In the gospels we read that none of his bones were broken and in crucifixion his hands and feet were pierced.  The intricate tapestry of God’s fulfillment points to how our initial and ongoing conversion should be understood that suffering is to be expected.  Though we are not called to atone for our sins, there is a suffering natural to the Christian life which compliments what the atonement already gives. Appreciating his suffering is in the gospel of initial conversion, but embracing suffering is part of the ongoing conversion in taking up ones cross.  Paul illustrated this beautifully.

Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:8-11).

Finally, it should not be lost that this psalm points to the right worship that comes through suffering while pleading in the hour of ones death.  But the end of that psalm is important: that of thanksgiving.  And how that suffering is for something good as an outflow of the discipleship experience is the next part to be looked at.

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There can be a tendency to minimize faith to only being part of a faction, social era with subjective truth or both.  For the Christian to represent Christ first and foremost the temptation can be there to weaponize a favorite political or social niche in Christian veneer but really as an imposing force.  There has been departures from the message Christ intended to even be the faction and winning in the wrong way and for a campaign mixed with earthly things.

In the example of Christ we see such attempts to name him as part of a faction. The attempts were ineffective and he spoke and lived above the fray. He redirected the focus to where he came from as we see below. 

Pilate entered the praetorium again and called Jesus, and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (John 18:33-38). 

Are you the King of the Jews?– – – Pilate was trying to sort out the confusion and come to a decision.  Labeling the person in front of you is like water taking the path of least resistance; unless that person indeed resists. 

Do you say this of your own accord….?– – – To counter dysfunctional assumptions someone has of Jesus or any holy thing closely associated with him it is good to deflect for a moment by challenging the challenger.  Such a move can unveil how much they have perceived of holy things from real discernment and how much is what is only from a socially built construct. This is coming back to “What makes you say that?”

My kingship is not of this world– – – This makes so much sense when one considers the Lord’s Prayer where it says, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. 

if my kingship were of this world my servants would fight,- – – If he were president, he would have a Secret Service.  Death would be something to be avoided.  But Jesus redeems humanity by redeeming what it means to be human by demonstrating divine love.  As Fr. John Behr states, Jesus shows a divinized humanity in freedom and self-sacrifice through the cross (PJK 2018 konverents DAY4 Isa John Behr JOHANNESE EVANGEELIUM- – – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qEXq0ioPnpw). 

For this I was born……to bear witness to the truth– – Pilate was not familiar with the scriptures so he would not appreciate the power in this phrase.  When weighed against his other comments within the last 12 hours, Jesus a person of the Trinity that took on humanity so humans could partake of his divine nature.  When he refers to the “truth” it is of the objective kind that does not move.  God of the Judeo-Christian tradition has no beginning and no end with the nature of God as truth being self-sustaining. 

What is truth?– – – Pilate does not wait for the answer because he is content with subjective truth of the circumstances.   Often when someone rejects the gospel it might be from the philosophy like circumstantial ethics. This is a common root where someone looks in the face in such things like the presentation of the gospel and says, “no”.  But Christians who walk in his grace say “yes” and keep saying it.  And the Christian is sustained in this truth to the extent that they see Jesus as Truth in the flesh with a life infused in grace.  “The Law was given through Moses and the prophets, grace and truth were realized in Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). 

He is the truth that sets us free.  Stand in Christ-centered truth and Pilate can just be Pilate. 

Going On A High Note

Happy Old ManCHAPTER SEVEN

For people of great or low stature, there tends to be a drive for their lives to matter.  Some people have moments that encapsulate that sense of meaning that their interaction with this world has meaning above themselves.  For some, they peak early.  Others have that moment much later. 

One man who had a sense of meaning later was a man named Simeon.  Here is his story and how it connects to where a God-given hope comes in.

  Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go

in peace, according to your word,

for my eyes have seen your salvation,

which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and glory for your people Israel.”

(Luke 2:25-33).

a man—- Typically when someone thinks of Bible characters they think of pomp and circumstance as kings, fighters or wise people.  The first key here is that God wants to use normal people.  “A man” like him shows that, “normal people” can have an encounter with the divine. God does not have an agenda for special ones only in humanity but all of humanity. 

righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him—- This is also loaded in meaning.  He had that low burn in keeping and seeking a relationship with God and engaging his faith into God’s restorative but mysterious agenda for Israel.  He was a patient man.  With the amount of revelation he had he was faithful to the salvation theme of the Old Testament.  The key point is that he centered on God’s agenda beyond his own interests.  Upon a heart that is disposed that way, the Holy Spirit was on him.

It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit—  this was key in the sense that such a life met with the wholeness of God to be known in a personal presence.  The Old Testament was pointing to an anointing by the Holy Spirit that would write God’s law in people’s hearts.  The Messiah to come would bring it all together relationally and this day he would be known rightly by this man. 

He came in the Spirit into the temple… he took him into his arms and blessed God— Simeon, because he is guided by the Holy Spirit, is able to recognize Jesus for who he is because he engaged in his understanding in the ways of God as matter of spirit.  Much later Jesus explained to a racially marginalized woman that the coming true worshippers would worship the Father in spirit and truth. Guided by the Holy Spirit we can lay hold of truth as the collective people of God. 

he took him into his arms and blessed God—Although it was a point of contact with what he prayed for, the beauty of Simeon’s response was a true worship of God.

Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace…light of the Gentiles— Simeon finds that his greatest treasure to attain is that favor from heaven would be realized on earth before he leaves it.  Somehow Simeon knows that this grace of God in the Messiah is for the world beyond Israel.  I can only guess that Simeon, true to the Hebrew meaning of his name, was “one who hears”.  In hearing God through a lens of sustaining grace it is made known to him that the true light has come. 

It is worth noting that Simeon does not see that the universal application of the Messiah is at the detriment of Israel.  Simeon may likely have known that the successive covenants of the Old Testament increased in the number of people they effected (Adamic- couple, Noah and Abrahamic- family, Davidic-  nation/kingdom).  Simeon saw the day of Jesus meaning salvation to the Gentiles and he embraced it.

One more thing I see in this passage is that in addition to Simeon seeing God’s grace beyond bigotry was that he turns in a moment to the next generation.  The vision God brings to his people is not for his generation but the next.  He is ready to die in peace and pass something on in joy to Joseph, Mary and the newborn Jesus.  In other words we see that Simeon was “a man” who, like a personified twilight of the Old Testament, grew old gracefully making room for the new.

As I write this I ponder that I am a 48-year old man.  I am not at the end of my life as far as I know but I pray that I can cherish Jesus in all he is and pass on the knowledge of him in any way I can to my next generation.  What is stopping you or I from being “ righteous and devout” by the merits of Christ?  It is only our own self-centeredness which we can leave anytime we want to.

The Intimacy of The Divine Life

2_Sunlit_Couple_1000x575w

In engaging ones self into a spiritual life, there is a longing in the human person for a sense of connection with the divine that is above the life and death factors as we know it.  To do this effectively in Christianity may not happen every day if one is going by feelings.  An enduring habit is to be at a place of listening in the quiet moments where the physical reality is dulled down and not grabbing our attention. 

I remember an interview with Mother Theresa where she was asked how she starts her day.  She said she starts it in prayer listening to God.  When asked what God says she said he is listening too.  How to do this?  How does it work? She said only it is something to be experienced and not explained.  I am left with the impression in part of the resurrection of Jesus that is central to that understanding.  Death and silence were all around in that tomb three days after Jesus was crucified.  But while it was still dark, something outside of the life-death cycle that man defaults to happened.  Jesus happened.  And for Christian faith to develop properly and apply God’s grace going on 2,000 years it is a matter of hope from the resurrection in the dark and in the light, in the quiet and in the noise.  Because of the resurrection, which leads to Jesus ascending to heaven, we are given the Holy Spirit with several graces to live out a resurrected, grace filled life.  As individuals, we can know the Jesus in the power of the resurrection and in a personal way that outshines the allure of anything else as Paul writes below. 

Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Phillipians 3:8-11). 

To connect the resurrection to intimacy is connected to the new covenant in Christ which is marital and familial as we look through the Bible. We are to worship the Father in spirit and truth (John 4:23) and be called to the wedding supper of the Lamb as is said frequently in Revelation. Marital intimacy may in a sense more greatly implied by Paul’s comment. 

The Greek word translated know is ginōskō (ghin-oce’-ko). This word carries the normal meanings of the word know as we typically use it in English. In the Greek, however, it also carries the idea of knowledge grounded in personal experience. It is to know and to experience, and that means to understand. In the Jewish religious sense of the day, it was used to describe sexual relations between a man and a woman, as in Adam knew Eve. Ginōskō, therefore, is an intimate knowledge of a person or thing (The More Sure Word, http://www.themoresureword.com/2011/04/19/experiencing-truth/)

Knowing Christ in the power of his resurrection begins in grace. 

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). 

Notice, it is Paul cooperating with God’s grace but it is Jesus who made and makes the leading move.  The work of grace is God being the primary mover working through faith so we can do good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).  The Greek word for work here is erg  which is a primary but obsolete word; to work; toil (as an effort or occupation); by implication an act: – deed, doing, labour. 

But if we are to know Christ in the power of his resurrection together, how is it lived out in our works of participation?  And what would be the greatest of those works?  Would we still avoid  a striving of our own effort and, if not, how?  For that we look to the words of Jesus, the apostles and early church fathers. 

A Most Kingly Goverment

Son of DavidTo understand the gospel in a macro perspective best there is an important launching point in the word  “Christ”.  The Greek word for it is christos.  This was a Greek word used in the pagan world for one anointed with favor shown in oil to rule or command.  This Greek word makes its way into the New Testament from early Christians who used that in the Greek translation of the Old Testament.  But when they called Jesus the Christ, they meant also like how Jews turned Christians had the Hebrew term meshiach (Messiah). This was also seen through the lens of kingdom; but not just any kingdom but the kingdom, but of David. 

This was shown in the Gospel of Mathew which says, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham (Mathew 1:1).  In fact, there is much scholarship that suggests that the Gospel of Mathew was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic or Syriac (the latter two being close derivatives of Hebrew) and then translated into Greek.

A good view of the kingdom of God in Christ is that the “Old is revealed in the New and the New is concealed in the Old” (St. Augustine).  The gospel of Jesus Christ is articulated in covenantal language not embedded by shadows of covenantal promises like the law of Moses.  Instead it is a matter of covenantal love with Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law of Moses. With this accomplished Jesus has a magnified expression of David’s line of succession and true worship.  The following is a gospel proclamation of Jesus as the Anointed One. Notice that David is pointed to due to God’s covenantal faithfulness and an agenda that unfolds over the centuries. 

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:11-14). 

A king is not really a king without a kingdom.  But does the David reference extend to Christianity?  And if so, what would it look like? 

The writer of Hebrews touches on this with the reference of Mount Zion which is where King David was anointed king after all question of rivals was put aside.  Writing to Christians it is described as transcendent stating, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly (Hebrews 12:22). 

            The kingdom of God in Christ glorifies Christ, transcends earth, is universal for application and holistic to the person.  Paul, a fulfilled Jew in Jesus as the Messiah, connected the gospel of Jesus to David.

the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:2-4). 

          In a way, one could say exactly where the “Mt. Zion” is for Christianity: the tomb of the Resurrection.  The preaching of this is the whole gospel of the kingdom, for the whole person for the whole world.  As of the term “appointed” this makes sense in light of the Isaiah prophecy that the “government shall be upon his shoulders” (Isaiah 9:6)). 

Jesus as the son of David rules a kingdom now with the logical consequences of being who he is in a Davidic pattern of kingdom.  On the fourth day of Jesus’ ministry Apostle Nathanael called him the King of Israel. Like King David, Jesus chose someone to have the keys over the household of faith as the chief steward. The chief steward also served the kings descended from David who were like a vice president or a chief of staff. The first for Christianity was born Simon son of John but was renamed Peter on the fifth day of his ministry.  Peter could bind and loose like a household manager and chief teacher and there has been someone in that same chair for 2,000 years.  The kingdom of Jesus has a Queen Mother named Mary instead of Bathseeba mother of Solomon.  People came to the Queen Mother in each generation of David’s descendants for their intercession.  Likewise, Mary interceded for his first miracle (John 2:1-11) on the seventh day of Jesus’s ministry. The Bible says that all generations will call her blessed.  All of this is also what comes with the fulness o the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Yes, King David is one more part of the tapestry in salvation history that inspired me to become Catholic. 

Magnifying Above and Beyond

Mary MagnifyTruth has consequences.  We do not always have things figured out on how to live a truth that is introduced to us if it is moral or spiritual.  In fact, “dry truth” may be easier because there is always a quantifiable road on how to apply it.  Math has physics.  Biology has medicine.  But in a scene of the miraculous or that speaking of God in our hearts, rare is the time that we “got it together”.  When we understand God’s agenda it is because we are filled with grace and the Holy Spirit in context of relationship with him.

So we see with this young woman two thousand years ago named Mary of Nazareth.  She gives her cooperation to God’s will not having much at all figured out but obeys one step at a time.  When she arrives at the house of her relative Elizabeth what we see is an openness to life, applied obedience, filling of the Holy Spirit and an absolute hope of bringing order to the chaos that evil creates.  Herein is the launching pad for Mary and what Matt Maher calls “the first Christian song”.

“And Mary said:

‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;

behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is from age to age

to those who fear him.

He has shown might with his arm,

dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones

but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things;

the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped Israel his servant,

remembering his mercy,

according to his promise to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever’ “ (Luke 1:46-55).

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord— Some Bible versions say that her soul magnifies the Lord.  One of my surprises as I made my journey to the Catholic Church from Protestantism was how good Mariology magnifies ones Christology (doctrine about the nature and work of Christ).  I know that I am only drawn closer to Jesus when I pray a rosary. Involving her is both involving the Queen Mother and one who reminds me that God was made flesh and dwelt with us (John 1:14) with her being the Theotokos (God-bearer of the Council of Ephesus 431). 

in God my savior—  “Aha! That shows she is a sinner.”  Not really.  If you pull me out of a pit then you are my savior.  If you yank me back when I am about to walk into a pit then you are just as much my savior. All of Mary’s family tree that leads to her was on a collision course for her to be born as a sinner— except God had other plans in how he filled her with grace. Several of the Protestant Reformers do not dispute this like Luther and Calvin. 

behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed—– And that is true.  One could go to ancient writings and even a fresco that was made early in church history that illuminates her role in an honoring way. The important term from the early church has been hyperdulia.  It is an exalted honor that was always distinct from latria which is worship to actual Deity.  A small sect broke that line in the 4th century but they did not last and either fizzled or were shut down. The honor towards Mary has been so embedded into Christianity that even when Henry VIII of England was persecuting Catholicism and shutting down parishes he made sure that guards were posted at a parish that had a Marian name to make sure it was not vandalized.  Such was the recognition of Mary and her “yes” to God.   

His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him…He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy — Mary is seeing that God is a Father who keeps his promises and it is based on covenantal faithfulness and not due to the intrinsic holiness of any person.

He has shown might with his arm… the lines here are about God manifesting His presence in such a way through the ages, and ongoing, so that social justice takes place out of divine origin.  People will reap what they sow whether it was good or bad but it is God who is the catalyst in informing the consciences rightly in people. But it should be noted that God or the Church informing consciences is not the same as replacing them. 

The hungry he has filled with good things—this is the part where God distributes grace in the kingdom to those that have room for it.  For the rich who are stuck unto themselves there is not room for such good things. For the proud they are to high and comfortable to “demean” themselves. 

according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever—-this is powerful because we know Abraham is our father too but through faith (Luke 16:24, Romans 4).  In that line of faith in the Old Testament we see God’s promises, obedience and then blessing.  The promise of God is always bigger than ourselves and longer than ones lifetime. 

For all who believe in Jesus and open up to him as Lord there is a continuation of salvation history  up to and through ones conversion.  This is the kingdom that will have no end and Mary stands as one who stands at the point of salvation history where one path points to a law without grace and another to Jesus as the “way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

If you are on the outside of Christianity looking in, I say choose Jesus.  If you are in the inside, keep choosing Jesus.  To magnify his name with your words and deeds is our calling. And that magnifying will be beyond your life and above your agenda.  Yet you will be the better for it. 

Unscrambling the Bad Dialogue

Miscommunication-Cartoon“Lost in translation” is a sometimes nightmare in the art of diplomacy.  Either a message is incomplete or, even worse, fear or hostility emerges from the recipient. In dialogue across the religious spectrum there is the matter of wide gaps on some concepts in the languages as well as cultural nuances. 

One case of this can be found in the last 500 years between Catholics and Protestants.  As I have written before, Catholics are misunderstood on when they are speaking in definitive theological intent on wording and those times that are metaphorically spoken.  An example is when the metaphorical wording is implying how Mary has a distinct holiness but means it as extrinsically obtained. 

Ironically, the modern Protestants may even misunderstand the original Reformer fathers.  For instance, when I was evangelizing recently in a Catholic ministry a fiery Protestant emphasized sola gratia (grace alone).   That does tie back to Martin Luther.  However, he maintained a work of grace to be baptismal regeneration which the modern, zealous Reformed Christian would not ascribe to. 

More specifically on the translation is the Latin to English post-Reformation divide with an example like “holy”.  When a Protestant hears of a pope being referred to as “his Holiness”,they may perceive that Catholics see the pope as internally based in his holiness.  This is not true as one can see with an example of when Pope Francis was asked, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergolio?”   He answered that he is a sinner. 

To see this linguistically one can see the Latin root word santus.  It morphed into cognates that sound similar in the more blatant Latin based languages like Spanish and Portuguese for both holy as in Holy Spirit as well as saints.  While the former, holiness is intrinsic but for the latter, it is because they know they are sinners at the same time and wanted sanctification. 

Next is how “prayer” is used as an operative term in casual or fully theological conversation.   When Shakespeare writes, “Make haste, I pray then” we give him the benefit of the doubt that one mortal is not worshiping another mortal.  In modern language in a petition to a court undergirded by English common law the petitioner says they “pray this court…..” would do such and such.  Again, the judge is not being worshipped. 

So to with how Catholics or Eastern Orthodox pray to the saints.  They ask their intercession and the context is Christ centered.  The dilemma is that Catholics and Protestants in English have their wording quirks and in at least one direction there is a lack of benefit of the doubt in examining the written or spoken word.  When one is biased towards a person or group in examining their characteristics, the traits that confirm what is expected will be seen and the traits that counter what is expected are dismissed.  This is called confirmation bias. 

Another word that blurs the communication is “merit”.  Protestants often have taught that Catholics believe they get merit for salvation through their works.  The confusion is fueled in part about the Catholic Church due to the etymology of the word. 

In the second century, the Latin word meritum (“merit”) was introduced as a translation for the Greek word for “reward”, and so entered the theological vocabulary.  The doctrine of merit [Catholics] and the doctrine of reward [Protestants] are two ways of expressing the same concept (The Fathers Know Best, Jimmy Akin). 

In the 5th and 6th centuries the Catholic Church condemned Plagiarism and Semi-Plagianism which was a heresy that taught one could earn salvation with works absent of grace.  Later the Catholic Church stated “none of those things which precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification; for if it is by grace, it is not now by works; otherwise, as the apostle says, grace is no more grace” (Decree on Justification 8, Council of Trent). 

But sometimes, a good translation happens.   In 1999 there was the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification which included Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later known as Pope Benedict VI).  They collaborated, looked through the history with cooler heads than some of the hotheads of both sides 500 years ago and said ,“By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part,” its key passage said, “we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to good works.” We are called to a life where faith is working through love (Galatians 6:5). 

For Jesus’ prayer of unity in the Body of Christ (John 17:21) to be realized, we owe it to our Lord to listen better and pray more.  As brothers and sisters redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, we owe it to each other too.

At the time I write this, I went to an event in the John 17 movement last night.  It is a touchstone for good dialogue and prayer for each other.  That is not all of the work, but honoring what unites us is a start.