Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Lent

Ezechiel 36:23-28 / Isaiah 1:16-19 / John 9:1-38

For whose benefit have we received saving faith in Jesus? Whose good is brought about by our being delivered from our sins and brought to a new and glorious life in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit?

On the face of it, the answer would seem obvious. It is surely for our sake that God has done this things in and for us. We, after all, are the principal recipients of the transforming power of the grace of Jesus Christ as prophesied by Ezechiel: our being cleansed from the uncleanness of idolatry and wickedness, the replacing of our stony hearts with hearts of flesh, the very presence of God's Spirit in our midst, our walking in his commandments and keeping his judgments, our dwelling in the heavenly land of promise, and above all being able to claim God as our own, even as he claims us as his very own people. The goods, likewise, foretold by Isaiah are ours. It is we who are called upon to cease our evil and learn to do well, for which conversion even our crimson sins shall be white as wool and we shall eat the good things of the land.

Yet, in another sense, God tells us that it is not our good, but that of those who witness the transformation in our lives which is God's motive. For Ezechiel, all of the restoration of the people of Israel is to happen not as a private affair, but precisely in such a way that it might be seen by the Gentiles, that they might know that God is Lord. What seems at first a restoration of Israel to its own land, a private affair between God and his people, is according to the Lord God at least as much for the sake of those nations among whom the Jewish people have been scattered as for the people of Israel themselves. As we see this prophecy fulfilled in Jesus Christ and his Church, should we imagine this in any different in our case?

But, it does not end there. As God reveals through Ezechiel, and as he speaks clearly in the words of the Incarnate Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, it is in the end neither our good, nor the good of those who witness God's work in us, but rather the good of God's holy name which is at stake, that God might be praised. In the words spoken by the Lord through Ezechiel: I will sanctify My great name, which was profaned among the Gentiles, which you have profaned in the midst of them: that the Gentiles may know that I am the Lord, when I shall by sanctified in you before their eyes. What Jesus says to his disciples is not fundamentally any different: Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be manifest in him.

What does this mean? Does it suggest that God does not care for our private good, that he subordinates our good to the good of the world as a whole, and instrumentalizes both for the sake of glorifying his own name? Better to see this differently. What Ezechiel and Isaiah through prophecy and shadow, and Jesus Christ in grace and truth reveal in that God wills to be glorified precisely in our being made whole. What the Scriptures tell us is that my neighbor really and truly benefits from my being brought to new life in Jesus, and that my new life in Jesus is of no avail to him or to me if I do not seek to live out the life of charity and justice which God has poured out upon us through his Spirit. We learn from this that God seeks his glory not apart from our good, but rather by means of it, and he seeks to bring everyone to him, not independently of one another, but that in drawing near to him, we are drawn more closely to one another.

In the mystery of Jesus Christ, my good is yours, and in our coming to faith and wholeness of life, God has chosen to reveal and proclaim his glory to the world, the glory of the only-begotten Son.

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