KINGDOM OF LIGHT: TENSION IN THE CHOICE

It is common to speak of a means to an end, but is there an end to the ends?  That is to say, a time when there is no time.  Like the cosmic dance of what we call reality coming to an end giving way to a greater reality. 

Traditional Christianity refers to judgment. In the post-modern age where feelings beget facts and morality is relative, an objective end to life as we know it with a judgment does not fit the common pallet.  In having a religious argument, responsibly and amicably, the lines of contention fall on language and ironically the judgment of man on God.  After all, what each human decides on God is a fork in the road of if one is personally responsible or not in an eternal judgment.  Within discerning the God-directed part of that fork are the faculties of faith and reason.  Both are gifts from God we incorporate or we do not.  First, “without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

But on the way to this judgment, reason is not by nature opposed to faith nor faith to reason. The pattern of traditional and biblical Christianity expresses the two in a harmonious context. 

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, September 14, 1998).

Inherently such faculties are there in each of us, but Christianity is not supposed to promote those just to bow the knee to a system but to one divine essence and three persons in the Holy Trinity. The gospel says that Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), died for us and lives always. The gospel presents him as God and Savior.  This declaration is strong, deservedly so, for ultimate truth. It is truth about God and ourselves which is missed when one waters down the historical Christian faith away from how in the early 4th Century it was said God would “come in glory to judge the living and the end.  And his kingdom will have no end” (Nicene Creed, 325).  When the judgment of God is watered down in the name of grace, what stands is neither judgement nor grace.  But both meet in the cross of Christ which humanity can be indifferent to if it is not careful. 

  The tragedy is that the ultimate good- God Incarnate- appeared, and we responded not with exultation but with murderous violence.  This makes plain the full perversity of the freedom of indifference, this terrible capacity to say no, even when presented with that which would bring us greatest life.  One of the essential features of evangelical proclamation is an honest naming of sin.  When we are tempted to say ‘I’m okay and you’re okay,’ whenever the culture is drawn toward self-complacency, Christian evangelists need to hold up the cross of Jesus.  The crucifixion of the Author of Life is God’s judgment on the world and the fullest expression of the divine anger at sin.  We should not, by the way, shy away from this thoroughly biblical language, for it is simply another way of speaking of the divine love, God’s passionate desire to set things right (Fr. Robert Barron, Exploring Catholic Theology, 2015).

There is tension in these truths: a proposition that God loves us and, like MLK said, we will be judged.  God the Father gave Jesus so that anyone who would believe would not perish (John 3:16).  The proclaiming of the gospel shines a light on man’s need for God first in how, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). 

The proposition has a universal timeline centered in part on the context of  the death that touches us all. 

And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (Hebrews 9:27-28).

So with the human experience having a 100% mortality rate, there is a directive on the side of worthwhile immortality.  On the first day that Christianity was born and went public, this was an exchange which in different languages has been played out for 2,000  years.  The exchange is one being convicted in their heart of their sin in light of the gospel and a willingness to submit to Jesus in his fullness. 

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ (Acts 2:37-39). 

Is it fair for it to be so clear cut?  The tensions in some when they hear of submitting uniquely to Jesus would say emotionally that it is not.  But I will next make a case that it is. 

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O Sweet Rejection

REJECTION

In an agency or company that is large enough, it is common to have a public affairs director.  Even more precise on messaging might be a campaign manager who pays attention to polls and focus groups.  With the right info the advisor tells the boss how to word the message, stay on message and preserve the message with the solid votes. 

One leader that stands out in casting aside such conventions was Jesus of Nazareth.  Early in his ministry he goes to Nazareth and shares a message of the kingdom of God coming with holistic application to the individual and massive effects of the cycles of life as Jews of that time would know it.  He struck a nerve that could lend to popularity, then ride a wave of popularity and make Nazareth great again (I wonder where I got that line).  But Jesus shows us below that he does not work that way.  He does not favor one side over another and does not want to build a kingdom full of entitlement.  It will be of love.  Going forward 2,000 years the intention of Jesus for the sharing of his message is to be about love, articulated in love and for a humanity that was created in love.    

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”[And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.  Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away (Luke 4:21-30). 

and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him- – In a plain reading of this, they are looking at Jesus who just zigged where they were expecting him to zag.  To read this in light of the development of Christianity one can see that the Christian gospel properly expressed will get undivided attention of the world (e.g. a few times in Acts the Apostle Paul was likewise met with silence). 

Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing– -What may be implied here, especially with those that negatively react, is that accepting and living with this truth is accessible and expected that day and it is a matter of salvation.  Ignorance is bliss but knowledge has consequences to act.  Moses spoke of this as a foundational truth saying “No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it “(Deuteronomy 30:14).  Here is an inconvenient truth that does not win popularity contests and a campaign management mentality would roll eyes at.

Isn’t this the son of Joseph?- – Whether it is Jesus or anyone who proclaims him, we can look very normal with two eyes, two ears etc.  The flesh naturally should be seen but not regarded in the sense of being an amplified criteria on the whole person even in some ways their biography.  Paul addressed this saying, “from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16).

Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum- – A classic issue through history is to put Jesus and his Church under the judgement of experience and even good ones.  Jesus was a miracle worker but he was not a performer. Jesus was and is Lord and Teacher and not called to move with the whims of the world.

there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah……but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon- – The Church in expressing through all of the word of God to move the world and not be moved by it.  And so Jesus with a gospel of inclusion for all stood strong and still does. 

When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury.– – Translation:”When people in their comfort zone heard…”  Jesus had a message of love for the world but it was also implied how faith and obedience must be present for the fulfillment to happen. They were not entitled to a pass on that. Jesus was calling them out of a favor of God for a few and into the favor of God to the whole.  This was addressed much in the early Church with kata holos to describe the Church of Jesus’ founding.   

drove him out of the town- – In hindsight through Christian history, a fully informed acceptance is possible but so is rejection.  Many times through the gospel he tells his followers that rejection and even martyrdom could happen since the same parts of the world that hated Jesus would hate his Church too. 

But he passed through the midst of them and went away– – Jesus came and left with authority still intact that day.  Where hate and man-made agendas may oppose Jesus and his Church, there is always going to be an ongoing life that carries the deposit of faith. 

An example is how Apostle John had those who were in turn discipled by him and vested with authority to carry on the gospel of the kingdom in the fullness of truth.  Thus in in 107 AD Ignatius of Antioch wrote- –

See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is administered either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic [kata holos] Church. —Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ch 8