Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year C)(8 may 2022)
Psalm response: We are His people, the sheep of His flock.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus says that he gives eternal life to those who follow Him, for example, and that no one will snatch His followers out of His hand – yet since John was writing at least 50 years after Christ died we can assume that Christ’s followers did in fact die, generation after generation.
How can we resolve this problem? Simply by pointing out that there are two kinds of death. On the one hand there is that death that the world sees, an ending to life in the body. This death seems to be a cutting off of everything we need and use to live, all our contact with the world, and while it might be an end to pain and suffering, to diminishment and struggling and all the changes that growth entails, it is nonetheless a clear loss of all that seems to matter on the material plane. It must be obvious that this is not what Christ is talking of here.
As for the second meaning of death, that takes more than a little clarification, and I would begin by saying that is in the following of Christ that those who hear him do find life. This is not automatic but a choice, in a way a consecration to Christ in hope, a gift of self to a life of trust and formation in the life and ways of this Shepherd. These followers who are true Christians, who reach out for that identity as more than just a denomination, will follow Christ into eternity by living their lives as He directs and as He models it for them: it involves poverty, love, generous sharing, meeting all people as worthy of respect – in short living as much other-centered as we can be.
That other person that we center on is at best Christ (and His Father and His Spirit), and it is in seeking that orientation that we see that the other is also all of our brothers and sisters equally, rich or poor, likeable or not. Such a life will lead us to bruises and wounds, ridicule and rejection, and even persecution and in some cases death – but there is that word again, “death,” and here it looks like that first sort of death I have described but is something radically different.
This is actually birth into eternity. A child comes to life in a mother’s womb without worries of any kind, almost even on a level of complete sensory deprivation, and then experiences what must seem to it like death; everything changes, and that placenta that was a mainstay of the child’s life disappears. When we die in this world, the one that the newborn is just entering, it is much the same, with a major difference – and really the only important one – that we have a choice not about whether we will pass through death but about who we choose to be when we die, what kind of a person we wish to be at our birth into the next world. This choice is not something we make at the end of our lives, it takes all of our lives and every bit of our living.
Then we will see clearly the life that Christ calls us to as we leave our bodies behind, just as little necessary to us in our new lives as our placentas are in this life. This is a death that is not a death but a birth, and our Lord, our Shepherd, will give us that life with him forever.
Sunday of the 12th Week in Ordinary Time (Year C)(June 19, 2022)
Psalm response: My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
Today’s gospel reading has Jesus trying to move His disciples to understand who He is. He first asks them who the crowds think He might be, and the disciples list some of the opinions they have heard: John the Baptizer, Elijah, or one of the prophets from Israel’s history reborn. Once they have enumerated the ideas of the people, Jesus presses them a little harder in asking for their own ideas. Peter, rather more daring, proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah of God. And while Luke goes on from there to develop what that will mean for Jesus, we might stop and consider two other questions that are on the table.
Luke is aware that there is one other person present to this scene, and that is the reader or, to put it simply, me: Jesus is quietly putting the same question to each of us who read this passage. Who do I myself say that Jesus is? I can repeat all the obvious responses that I have learned from my parents and from all those who have given me the faith and tried to form me in it, yet that is not really what Jesus is after. How do we look at Him personally? Is He Lord, Master, the Son, a teacher, the healer of souls, the Crucified One, the Risen One, the Savior, the Redeemer... or what? And we can supply those answers almost without thinking, without any personal relationship to Jesus in whatever guise we experience Him in.
If He is asking just what difference He makes in my life, what impact He has and what response He draws from my most intimate self, that is a wholly different question. It is on a completely different level, going beyond what rote words allow – but that really is the question that He is asking His disciples and us. Just who is Jesus in my personal life and, more to the point, how has He changed me?
The other question comes if we turn the probing around: who does Jesus say that I am? Again, we can hear His answer in the words of other people about us, in what other believers, good people, have to say from their own experience, but that is like hearing our brothers and sisters describe what our mother or father has to say about them or how they experience our mother or father. I am not my brother or my sister, I am an individual with my own history with Jesus. I maybe never think about that or about exactly how to express how I felt Him open my eyes to grasp His loving formation of my soul, my most central identity, that intimate me that is an enigma and a mystery even to me myself. That slow revelation of who Christ is and the resulting revelation to me of who I am in His sight is ongoing, endlessly new, from one end of my life to the other.
Frankly speaking, we will only hear Jesus – and His Father and His Spirit – telling us that in incredible detail when we reach eternity. Only then will we grasp how He was loving us at every moment of our lives, the times when we thought Him absent included. We will only then learn that He was drawing us into a mature life by forcing us to make the hard choices and to undergo the sacrifices that come with maturity.