Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Jesus of Nazareth – The Christ - The Alpha and Omega

I was listening to music and could not stop thinking of him. He was present as ever. I am speaking about Jesus of Nazareth who went around doing good and did nothing wrong. This Jesus - Oh - he accepted everything and hardly complained. How many times he healed people - even the enemies and the wrongdoers - bringing to life Jairus’ daughter and giving eternal water to the Samaritan! How many times he was misunderstood even by his own disciples yet he chose to love them further and be patient. He even called Judas, who betrayed him, a “friend”! and knelt and kissed the feet of his apostles who fled when he was arrested! How much did he take on when nobody stood by him in his last agony but one disciple and his tearful mother, who, appropriately,Vatican II teaches she is the Archetype of the Church. Yet his words on the cross still ring in our ears till the end: “Forgive them Father for they do not know what they do”...

This Jesus of wonders, how can we ignore can we escape him? He transformed people from sinners to saints. He transformed the wild Moses of Egypt to Moses the meek and Mary the prostitute to Mary the repentant. He transformed Saul to Paul and Simon to Peter the rock! He transformed Constantine the pagan emperor to Constantine the Christian emperor and with him the Roman world. And what do we say of the multitudes of others, the millions whom he won over the centuries. Jesus never defeated any enemy on this earth - he always won his enemies! How could Jesus win his enemies? This is the question.

 Maybe Jesus’ greatest miracle is his own resurrection. But I think his greatest miracle is his death. Not how he died outwardly but how he died inwardly. For in spite of his great suffering and humiliation, he still trusted in his Father. As he felt death was close, he started to be disheartened and even his sweat became blood. We can imagine Jesus the man in his agony in the garden after all the good things he did for his people. Is this how ungrateful men can be to the man who healed them? Why would a young man die? What wrong did he do? Is this the price of speaking the truth? And suppose that men willed his death: where is God to protect his only begotten Son? We read in the Gospel that an angel came to strengthen him in his passion. Is not this a sign that Jesus was afraid and insecure? Yes - He is alone in prayer and all his friends are already asleep! Preachers usually gloss over this agony and psychological suffering. But here, in the depth of his loneliness and suffering, after a long struggle in his human soul, he utters the word “not my will, but your will.”

O Jesus! What is this acceptance of death? Why do you say this? Why do you trust so much in your Father? You are dying. Where will you live again? So many questions can come to one’s mind. I fail to understand. But I sense another dimension, a higher dimension, a dimension that surpasses our logic and transcends matter: Jesus loves his Father so much and trusts his Father so much that even his life he is willing to abandon if that will fulfil the will of the Father. He is so much in love with his Father that even his existence he can forsake for God’s beloved creation. He knows that the Father loves him and that the Father - in spite of the appearance that he had abandoned him - is with him in the depth of suffering. He is one with him - so united with him that he is free even of the fear of ultimate death (In depth: see Joseph Ratzinger's introduction here). He is not afraid of death because he loves beyond himself to the point that he forgets completely himself. He is free of himself and free towards the “other.” Even when he was brought so much suffering by his people - a suffering of the worst kind on a cross, his still loved them and asked his Father to forgive them!

 Jesus, that sweet name, did not win people because he defeated them but because he loved them. He did not win man by forcing man to obey him but by letting man eat him. This is the Eucharist! Jesus does not overpower the other but serves the other to the point of total abandonment of himself. He is not a threat to man but a cure from man’s own insecurity and man’s own death. Jesus is the God of man who knelt in front of man! Jesus is the Christ who restores man to his original Adam. He saves man from his own sins, sickness and loneliness.

Jesus the God of man does not love man because this glorifies him. God does not need man for his glory! Jesus the God of man loves man for his own sake. Jesus knows that man has no ultimate life unless he sticks to him. This is why Jesus does not despair until he wins as many as he can, always leaving for man the freedom to say yes which he said to his Father. There is no limit to Jesus’ love. And when his love takes over, he leads man to the ultimate yes, a yes of abandonment to God even to death.

Jesus acceptance of death in trust of his Father is the one characteristic thing about him that puts him humanly speaking at a totally different and profound level from any other historical figure. It is incomprehensible for the flesh to accept death willingly. We hear Jesus to the last moment, even in his agony and anguish on the cross, calling upon his Father and talking to his Father with complete trust. In the end, he says “In your hands, I lay down my soul.” But death did not begin at the last moment of Jesus life. He endured a lot of death throughout his life and accepted it. He was rejected by people; his miracle that cured the lepers was not acknowledged; his listeners - amazed at his wisdom - still questioned his authority; his disciples whom he chose were more interested in their seats in the kingdom rather than in his mission, and one of them betrayed him. His healing of people was not always welcome as when they wanted to throw him off the cliff. He suffered humiliation by Pilate, and was considered a criminal by the Jewish authorities who conspired against him to put him to death. He was even mocked by the Roman soldiers and tempted by the Devil. At the end even his supporters fled away.

 But what is the value of dying? Why would man want to die? There can be many reasons for people to want to die. Man may want to die because this life does not give him satisfaction - he has had all the pleasures and satisfactions and still cannot find his fulfillment, so he ends his life. Or that life is causing him a lot of suffering and distress. This happens with people who commit suicide or euthanasia. Buddhism and other Eastern religions suggest that there is no way out of suffering unless we die every day to this world’s pleasures and desires because these are illusions and so I can be saved only when I am totally detached from the world. Christianity is totally different. It does not prescribe dying and accepting death as the solution to save man. Christianity proposes love as the solution to save man. The ultimate fulfillment in man is not self-preservation but the other. Man finds himself not in himself but in the other - in other words, love! But, in this contaminated world, love carries the risk of death and Christians following Christ accept dying and death if that is the only way to grow love. Christianity does not prescribe suffering as a good in itself, but as a result of sin, suffering seems to be inevitable to grow in love. Christianity advocates life and not only life but life full of joy - in Christ’s own words “I came so that they have life and have it abundantly.” However, the life that Christ calls people to, is a profound life not mere existence. It is a life of inner joy and trust in spite of the difficulties. Man shares with animals and other living matter much of the characteristics of life in the flesh and the needs of flesh to preserve itself - nutrition, eproduction..etc.

But man transcends other living matter by the fact that he cannot live alone individually. Man is a relational being- he relates to others. Man is the only animal who can ask himself about himself. He has the capacity to think of himself and of others - he has the capacity to love himself and others and so transcends himself. With the capacity to love, and the capacity to transcend himself, man can direct his choices in life - he has freedom, albeit limited, and a will to choose what to do with himself. Man was created in God’s image, tells us Scriptures, i.e. he can transcend himself and love. The fact that man can choose allows him to choose to love and trust or not to love and be selfish. If he chooses to love, he opens himself by God’s grace to God’s love and he becomes more fulfilled. If he chooses not to love i.e. to be closed only on himself, he hurts himself because his fulfillment as the image of God can be realized only in opening himself to God and resting in God.

In all of man’s history and man’s civilizations, the same story repeats itself - man chooses himself to be his own king and pursues his own interests or allows God’s love in the world so that God becomes his king. The more God’s love spreads in the world the more the world finds itself. The more man’s selfish love of himself grows in the world, the more the world loses itself. From a materialistic view, the whole cosmos suffers in the process of the survival of the fittest. All creatures suffer and die in their attempt to survive one another. Existence is absurd! From a more profound Christian view, God who loves his creatures is more powerful in his love than evil and sin. Even when evil appears to have the upper hand, God’s love is actively penetrating humanity to save it. His love culminated in the incarnation, life and death of Christ.

Christ’s death on the cross was a turning point not only in the history of humanity but in the history of the cosmos. So why death in Christianity? Because in order that love be fulfilled it has to give more space to the other, which means more sacrifice and more dying and more acceptance of the other. In this universe, this is the way of the cross of Christ. Not in vain but in trust and confidence that the ultimate victory is the victory of God who in his love will not only bring himself to man but will also raise man soul and body in God’s glory. Death is just the passage of man to glory. It is the only passage to as much as possible experience the love of God. I wish I had space to talk about the new scientific findings that show the imprint of the Christian God, the Trinity, in the material cosmos, or about the advances in anthropology and psychology unearthed by giants like René Girard that show how violence in the human species – which we see in radical Islam today- can be cured only through the love of Christ, or Teilhard de Chardin about the evolution of creation that our loving creator uses to unfold his love despite evil and suffering. While we speak about suffering, it is important to relate Jesus to our own personal suffering, whether psychological, spiritual, or bodily.

From my own experience of suffering, I know-I experience that he loved me before I could love him. Jesus is the only Christ, not only because he taught us how to love our enemies, not only because he alone showed how to call God Father, not only because he died so that many could live, and not only because he liberated man from death, but also because he liberated man from his selfishness and self-centredness. Jesus is the only Christ, our God with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in one essence that is relatedness. Truly, He is "the Alpha and Omega" (Revelation 1:8).

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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