Earlier today I came upon a quote from Matthew 25 which sums up the Jesus message.
“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
The Jesus message which is often overlooked is about relationships. Too often the emphasis is on his death on the cross. Many if not most Christians believe in the doctrine of ‘original sin.’ Jesus never talked about original sin in any of the Gospels nor is it mentioned per se in the New Testament. So much emphasis has been placed on original sin that the relationship message of Jesus is given short shrift. I recently participated in a class where the emphasis for many was on ‘the fall.’ You know the story I’m sure about how Eve gave Adam the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge and then it was all down hill from there.
The idea that people are damned because Eve gave Adam an apple in a metaphorical allusion in a mythological explanation of the creation story was always something I questioned. Why would a supreme being create a cosmos that was flawed in such a manner to exclude that same creation from fulfillment. It doesn’t make any sense. Nearly twenty years ago I heard about the theology of John Duns Scotus and later St. Bonaventure both of whom were inspired by their seraphic father St. Francis that posited an alternative. In short the reason for the incarnation was to demonstrate the creator’s love for creation. Jesus never excludes anyone from the banquet. In fact the more sinful you are the more welcome you are at the banquet. He welcomed prostitutes, tax collectors and other sinners. It was the church people who crucified him. His preaching was too scandalous for them. He upset the status quo with this radical message of relationship.
In Matthew 25 he articulates clearly that what you do for the least of your fellows is what earns you the reward of eternal life. Getting baptized, saying that you accept Jesus as your Lord and savior and then turning a blind eye to the injustices that surround us is not going to get you into the kingdom according to what is written in Matthew 25:31-46. That’s always been my favorite verse in the New Testament. The golden rule is the recipe for happiness in this life and the next.
Those are some of last words of Jesus as he was dying on the cross. Rather than condemn his torturers and murderers he forgave them. Gandhi also forgave the man who killed him. There are other stories like Maximilian Kolbe, Oscar Romero and others who spoke truth to power and willing gave their lives in the service of love. On this Sunday morning when normally I’d be on my way to Mass I thought of forgiveness.
I forgive those who have labeled this pandemic a hoax, I forgive those who have used the pandemic to fleece their customers. I forgive those whom I saw playing five on five basketball in the park after we were requested to keep our distance. I forgive those politicians who put party above the welfare of the world. I forgive those who have brutalized our mother earth that unleashed this pandemic. I forgive myself for judging others. I forgive myself for a lack of faith that there will be a positive outcome. I forgive our generation who has left this world a mess for our children and grandchildren.
Today a friend called to tell that another friend had died and suddenly at that. The fellow who died was a very good friend and I’ll miss him a lot. He was a good friend. We’d spent quite a bit of time together this winter. We’re both fathers and Navy veterans and both drove PT Cruisers. I hadn’t seen Pat in about a month and only the other day I thought of sending him a text message. Earlier this winter while we were having a lengthy discussion I told him that I loved him and I did. I’m glad I was able to say that because I’ve often found it difficult to come right out and say that to another who is not in my own family. Today, though I was filled with sadness over Pat’s passing I was glad that those words had passed between us. Life is short, shorter than we imagine sometimes.
All of this got me to thinking about the Gospel of Jesus. I read a couple of different places that Christian churches are in decline and that we’re in a post-Christian era. I’m not always sure what these writers mean when they write words like that, but for me there is a huge difference for what passes as Christianity most places and what was written in the Gospels. Many Christian churches have become so wrapped up in politics that they are no longer prophetic, but pathetic instead. I believe the Gospels were mainly about radical mercy and forgiveness. I don’t even think Jesus came to found a church, he came in fulfillment of the scriptures. To me all of that is secondary to the message and that message is about forgiveness that knows no bounds and mercy beyond compare. I came across an article written by Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM that summarizes much of what I think.
You don’t know mercy until you’ve really needed it. As Thomas Merton once said—and I’ve quoted it often—“Mercy within mercy, within mercy.” It’s as if we collapse into deeper nets of acceptance, deeper nets of being enclosed and finally find we’re in a net we can’t fall out of. We are captured by grace. Only after much mistrust and testing do we accept that we are accepted.
–Richard Rohr, OFM
This morning I got a preview of an epic televised special which will be airing on PBS next month. It is a topic near to my heart, not because I am a Native American, but because my life is so closely woven with those who are. One of the people I have been privileged to call a friend in my life was a Seneca. He and his wife drove my wife and I away from the church on our wedding day. My father worked with the Seminole and Micosukee natives of South Florida and the Yurok and Karoks of Northern California too. Nearly everywhere I look and all of the land I own was once theirs. In fact it all really belongs to the Creator as they call him.
Thanks to Public Broadcasting System for bringing us this special television event. We who have been quick to condemn others in the world for ethnic cleansing have our own past for which to atone. Lent is a time of rebirth and renewal. I hope this special can awaken one for us too.
The Archbishop of St. Louis has stooped to a new low in threatening Rudy Giuliani with “no communion,” because of his stance on abortion. That really doesn’t strike me as something Jesus would do. Communion for most Christians even nominal ones is a sacramental rite and it was never meant as a reward and or punishment. I guess this just goes to show that even bishops can do dumb things. I’m not a supporter of Mr. Giuliani either but I think it shows some real shortsighted thinking on the part of the church and the archbishop. If communion really is the body of Christ and I believe it is, doesn’t that hold some hope as a change agent in Mr. Giuliani’s life? I think it does. In the first Eucharist even Judas receives communion and I think that’s the standard that Jesus set.