Monday, March 5, 2012

Monday of the Second Week in Lent

Daniel 9:15-19 / John 8:21-29

And they understood not that He called God His Father.

A not uncommon critique launched by those who disbelieve against the Christian confession that Jesus Christ is God, the Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages is what they take to be the manifest absence of a clear admission on Jesus' part of this core part of our creed. A typical example is found in John's Gospel. They therefore said to Him: Who are Thou? Jesus said to them: I am the beginning, Who also speak unto you. Now, unbelievers in a generous mood might admit that a believer could, after some unpacking of this claim, and already inclined to see in Jesus Christ, regard this as an admission of his full divinity. Even so, they wonder whether any neutral reader would be remotely inclined to hear his claim this way. Furthermore, since the cost of failing to believe is, by Christ's own admission, quite high — Therefore I said to you that you shall die in your sins: for if you believe not that I am He, you shall die in your sin. — those not of the faith complain that Jesus really ought to have been more direct in his answers, that at least the guilty could not, with some justice, assert that they did not realize that this was what he was saying.

Even so, it is far from clear what kind of admission the unbeliever wants. In the face of the Christian confession of Christ's Sonship, Islam of old and of today quite often retorts that Jesus cannot be a son unless God had a wife, and the idea of God producing offspring sexually is ridiculous. Latter-Day Saints, of course, make just the reverse claim, and take Jesus' admission to be God's Son to mean just that, namely that he is the natural offspring by God the Father from a heavenly Mother. Presented with the claim that he was from all eternity, his own contemporaries quipped that he was not even fifty years old. The pagan world, and the Medieval Jewish world, sneered at the notion that the infinite and holy One should be implicated in the finite and carnal life of the world. It is hard to believe, then, that the problem is a lack of clarity on Jesus' part.

Yet, on this score, we who enjoy the gift of faith cannot afford to be proud. We, who know and believe that Jesus in the Son of God, the beginning, have no excuse not to live as he has told us. However hard his commands may seem to us, however difficult to receive what he says of God his Father or of the life to come and how we can be made fit for the kingdom here and now, we are bound by our own creed to attend to his every word. Many things I have to speak to you and to judge of you ... and the things I have heard from Him, these same I speak in the world. It is all to easy to dodge around our difficulties in living out the Christian life by claiming a faulty transmission: by the evangelists themselves, by the Church, by our catechists, and the like. Either we accept that Jesus is the Son of the Father, and that he rightly and effectively spoke his words not just in a remote way as the beginning, but right here in the world, and that the truth of these words was affirmed in his being lifted up on the Cross, or like the rest in unbelief, we are of this world and will die in our sins.

This is, all the same, Good News. If we are alive in Christ, then we are conformed to him, and if conformed to him, then it is in our suffering for the sake of the Gospel our being lifted up, that we will see that truth he came to reveal about his Father. It also means that, being made like to him, we are also not left alone, and that in the presence of God himself, we too may be confident to do always the things that please Him. In the light of this comfort, we may also say with the Psalmist: Be tHou my Helper and my Deliverer: O Lord, make no delay. Let mine enemies be confounded and ashamed, that seek my soul.

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