Posted by: frroberts | October 8, 2017

Who is Jesus?

One of the great temptations we face as human beings, especially today, is falling into moralizing.  If we watch the 24-hour news stations with any frequency we encounter this tendency run riot.  There is something inside of us that likes catching someone else red-handed and finding all of the different ways that his is guilty for his wrongdoing.  Just look at the whole situation with Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o.  Doubtlessly this young man made serious mistakes, some of which were blameworthy, but who of us can say that we haven’t done something stupid in our lives but just have been lucky enough to get away with it?  The phrase, “but for the grace of God go I,” comes to mind.

Very often our standards for the behavior of others are more exacting than the standards by which we hope to be judged for our own behavior.  For example, we cannot believe that so and so, whom we wronged years ago, has acted vengefully toward us after all this time.  Hasn’t he moved on yet?  We don’t think twice, however, about talking down the reputation of an old associate, rationalizing our behavior by convincing ourselves that we are not motivated by a grudge, but really just want to make sure that others know the truth.  Mine is a different and unique case, you know…

It is easy for us to look at others and see how they need to change.  Yet, it takes an exceptionally humble person to look in the mirror and see how she herself needs to change.  It is easy for parishioners to look that their priest and see the ways that he needs to change, but not nearly as easy as it is for a priest to look at his parishioners and see how they need to change.   All the same, the fact is that moralizing, while being an easy thing for us to do, usually isn’t as helpful as we expect it to be when it comes to changing behavior.  We like hearing denunciations of the sins of others but we get very defensive when we are called to accountability for our own. In fact, we usually pretend not to hear.

Saint Luke recounts the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry.  If there is anything that can really change us, meeting Jesus is it! So let’s spend some time getting to know Him.

How does Jesus introduce Himself?

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.

 

The anointing to which Jesus refers is the anointing of a King, of the Messiah.  First century Jews did not have a real king of their own but were subjects of the Roman Empire, an occupying power.  The Romans were not just foreigners; they were foreigners who worshiped strange gods.  They believed that these gods had given them the right to dominate the people in the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.

Imagine a Muslim country conquering the United States, taking the vote away from non-Muslims and forcing Christians to pay substantially higher taxes and you get an idea of what the Jews felt like in the 1st century.  They were living in slavery and looking for a new Moses to set them free.  They were waiting for the Messiah.

But Jesus’ vocation as Messiah was not to overthrow the power of the Romans.  He came to defeat the power of the real enemy occupying force, Satan, the prince of this world, and his fallen angels.  He came to set us free from slavery to sin and death.  We are the poor that He has come to save from oppressors who are trying to pull us down to Hell forever.

Let’s listen as Jesus continues to introduce Himself,

[The Lord] has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…”

Christ comes to save the poor.  How much we need to hear this fact in a materially wealthy community like ours!   When we admit that our sins hold us captive, when we recognize our own blindness to goodness, when we cry out for freedom from the oppression of our sins, when we confess our own spiritual poverty, at this moment Jesus comes to save us.  He looks at us at our worst and still loves us, not because there is anything lovable in us, but because He is Love Himself.  And when we fall into darkness and filth, He dives in to rescue us.  In the final analysis, this Divine love is the only thing that makes any of us truly lovable.

But if we say, “I am a good person” in the sense that we do not think that we are in desperate need of forgiveness and healing, we have just put a sign on the door of our souls saying, “Go away, Jesus.  I really don’t need a savior.”

If we are strangers to the confessional, this is likely a sign that we have put up this sign on the door to our soul.  Jesus will respect our wishes.  He sheds tears over our lack of repentance, but He loves us too much to force Himself on us.

From Jesus’ tears we learn that God loves each one of us with a human heart.  The life of Christ reveals that God loves each one of us with a personal, unique and unrepeatable love.  And when we say no to this love, that human heart breaks.  Our Creator loves us so much that He lets us, His creation, break His heart when we sin.  In Jesus’ human nature God has chosen to make Himself vulnerable.

Some say that Jesus hangs on the Cross with His arms open to embrace us, but this pious platitude is not true.  Jesus hangs on the Cross defenseless with both of His arms nailed to the crossbeam, His heart wounded by our sins.  He is unable to embrace us.  All that He can do is show us His wounded, broken Body.  And by His wounds we are healed.

The message of the Gospel is more than moralizing.  While there is definitely a moral element to the Christian life, we do not encounter the heart of the message of Christ here.  The center of the Good News that the Church proclaims is that Jesus loves us sinners, died to save us from the effects of our sins and desires to have a personal relationship with each one of us.  This love relationship starts when we allow grace to move us to confess our spiritual poverty, our need for a savior.

What are we waiting for?


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