On Restoring a Truer Vision of the Biblical Jesus

When I was a teenager in the 1970s Jesus was presented in less than flattering terms, at least from my standpoint as a young man at that time. The paintings and statues of that day presented Jesus as a rather thin, willow-wisp of a man, a sort of friendly hippie who went about blessing poor people and healing the sick. It is true he did that but usually left out of the portraits was the Jesus who summoned people to obedience and an uncompromising discipleship, the Jesus who powerfully rebuked his foes.

1970s Jesus was “nice,” and I should be nice too. In my 1970s Church we had no crucifix. Rather there was a cross and a rather slender and starry eyed Jesus sort of floated there in front of the Cross. The cross, it would seem, was all too much for a kinder gentler Jesus. The cross was, how shall we say…., so “unpleasant.”

Somehow, even as a teenager, I craved a stronger, manly Jesus. My heroes then were Clint Eastwood and I loved John Wayne movies which my father called to my attention. Now those were men. (I know these movies were often about revenge, but I’d learn about that later).

The “Jesus” I was presented with seemed soft and unimpressive compared to them and, teenager that I was, I was unmoved. Who will follow an uncertain trumpet? The basic message of Jesus 1970 was “be nice” but 1970s Catholicism (which Bishop Robert Barron calls “beige Catholicism”) stripped away the clarion call of repentance and trumpet-like command that we take up our cross, that we lose our life in order to save it.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when I actually began to study the real Jesus, the one in Scriptures. He was nothing like the thin little williow-wisp of a man I had been taught. He was a vigorous leader, a man among men. Someone who was formidable and commanding of respect. Someone I could look up to.

What follows is a portrait of Jesus Christ that I culled from a few sources and adapted. I wish I could remember the sources to credit them here, but it was over twenty years ago in seminary that, from some dusty old books written long before the 1970s, I culled this portrait on the human stature of Christ. Note that the focus here is on the humanity of Christ. It presupposes his divine nature but focuses on the human nature and, as you will see draws most of its material straight from the Scriptures. As You can see the description is longish. In case you would rather print and read it later I have put it in PDF here: On the Human Stature of Christ

The exterior appearance of Jesus seems to have been a handsome one. A woman in the crowd broke out into praise of him with the words, Blessed in the womb that bore Thee and the breasts that nursed Thee. His response to her Rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep itseems to suggest that she had bodily excellencies in mind as well as spiritual. The powerful impression which Jesus made on ordinary people certainly owed something to his attractive exterior which by its charm drew everyone to him and held them.

Even if this was due primarily to his spiritual and religious power, still, his eyes, with their burning, waking, reproving looks must have been especially striking. For example see how Mark remarks of the eyes of the Lord in the following passages: 3:5,34; 5:32; 8:33; 10:21; 23:27.

We also may cull from Scripture an impression of health, power, energy and well being in Jesus. Jesus seems to have been a thoroughly healthy man, not prone to fatigue and with a great capacity for work. We never hear that Jesus was visited by any sickness. A proof of his physical endurance is born out in Scripture. He was in the habit of rising very early (Mark 1:35). The hills and the lake were especially dear to him and after a long day he loved to climb some lonely height, or late in the evening get himself taken out on to the shimmering water of Lake Gennesareth and stayed out far into the night (cf Mk 4:35; 6:35). We also know that his public life was one of wandering through the mountain valleys of his homeland, from Galilee to Samaria and Judaea and even as far as to the district of Tyre and Sidon (Matt 15:21). Despite these arduous journeys he counseled that one should travel light, bringing nothing for the journey, neither staff, money, nor bread, neither have two coats (Luke 9:3). Hunger and thirst must therefore have frequently accompanied him.

His last journey from Jericho up to Jerusalem was an astounding feat. Under a burning sun through a desolate, rocky waste he climbed some 3500 feet in a six hour climb. Despite this, he seems not tired, since that night he takes part in a feast at the house of Lazarus and his sisters (John 12:2). By far, the greater part of Jesus’ public ministry was spent out in the open, exposed to rigors of climate, in a life filled with labor and toil, with often little time eat (Mk 3:20; Mk 6:31). He owned no home and “had nowhere to lay his head” (Matt 8:20) Hence he likely spent more than a few nights sleeping out in the elements. Only a sound body of physical stamina could have endured such as this.

And now to his mental stature itself. He faced many malevolent enemies among the Pharisees and Sadducees and dealt with them effectively, reducing them to silence (so much so that they began to plot his death). In addition there were tiring explanations to be offered to disciples who were often slow to learn. His self assurance is manifest. In the midst of a raging storm he went on peacefully sleeping till his disciples woke him. He immediately grasps the situation and rebukes the storm.

There was tremendous clarity in his thought. He had an absolute grasp of His goal which gave him an inflexibility and finality (in the good sense) of his will. Jesus knows what he wills and determinedly pursues it. This is evident even at twelve years of age in the temple.

The three temptations in the desert are turned back forcefully by the Lord. He is never deterred by opposition. There is opposition among the kindred of his own town, among his followers (cf esp. John 6:57) and even among the Apostles (cf esp. Matt 16:22). Here we have a man of clear will. He demands the same determination and certainty from his followers. No man, putting his hand to the plough and turning back is fit for the reign of God.” (Luke 9:62)

He bore so clearly the marks of the true, the upright, and the strong, that even his enemies had to declare when they came to him, Master, we know that thou art a true speaker and care not for the opinion of any man. (Mk 12:14) He shows forth a unity and purity and transcendence that reflect his interior life of union with the Father. His loyalty to the will of his Father is unwavering and clear even though it leads directly to the Cross. Jesus in every way is a heroic and epic figure in the purest sense of that word staking his life for a known truth and demanding the same of his followers.

Jesus was a born leader. When he calls his apostles, they immediately arise to follow after him. (cf esp Mk 1:16; 1:20) Again and again the Apostles note how they wondered among themselves about the marvels of his actions and even how these struck terror into them (cf esp. Mk 9:5; 6:51; 4:40; 10:24,26). At times they did not dare question him any further (Mk 9:3). The same wonderment affected the crowds.(cf Mk 5:15,33,42; 9:14). He spoke with towering authority and the people sought the loftiest images to in wondering who he could be. Is he John the Baptist? Elijah? Jeremiah or one prophets? (Matt 16:14) His spiritual power and authority discharged themselves in stern language and bold action when the powers of evil arrayed themselves against him. Demons trembled against his awesome power (Matt 4:10.) He also rebukes strongly the evil that is in men and warns them that they will not be worthy of him if they do not repent (Matt 13:41sq; 13:49sq; 25:1sq; 14sq; 33sq; 18:34; 22:7; 22:11sq.).

He is absolutely clear and unflinching in dealing with the scribes and Pharisees (Matt 23:14,24,25). As shown above, he knows himself to be the Messiah and is anything but a fair-weather Messiah but follows the model of the prophets rebuking all enemies of the truth He proclaims. He speaks of hypocrites, serpents and generations of vipers and liars (cf Matt 23:33). He calls Herod a fox (Lk 13:32). Although he was never one to tread lightly, he never forgets himself or loses control. His anger is always the expression of supreme moral freedom declaring, for this I came into the World, that I should give testimony to the truth (John 18:37). Because He was so consistently true to His Father’s will his life was only “Yes and No” and he reacted with great severity against anything that was ungodly or hateful to God. He was ready to stake his own life for the truth and die for it.

To describe Jesus psychologically would be to describe his as a man of purposeful virility, absolute genuineness, austere uprightness, and heroic in performance. He knows the truth, knows himself and, with exact clarity, executes his mission.

I realize that people are pretty particular in how they envisage Jesus. I also think men and women have a very different starting point too. Please remember that I am not pontificating here, I am starting a conversation. So have at it!

In Times of Harsh Political Discourse, What Do the Scriptures Say?

We are in times of strident political protest that includes a lot of harsh language, personal attacks, name calling, and even debased and profane terms. There are tweets, and angry monologues, harsh commentary on news networks, and interruptive press conferences and news interviews that sound more like a brawl than a debate. To put it all more pleasantly, these are times of “colorful” discourse.

What is the overall teaching of Scripture when it comes to this sort of colorful language? Are there some limits and ground rules? Let’s take a look.

The word “civility”dates back to the mid-16th century and has an older meaning that referred to one who possessed the quality of having been schooled in the humanities. In academic settings, debate (at least historically) was governed by a tendency to be nuanced, careful, cautious, formal, and trained in rhetoric. Its rules often included referring to one’s opponents with honorary titles (Doctor, Professor, etc.) and euphemisms such as “my worthy opponent.” Hence as the word entered common usage, it has come to mean speech or behavior that is polite, courteous, gentle, and measured.

As one might guess, there are a lot of cultural variancesin what is civil. And this insight is very important when we look at the biblical data on what constituted civil discourse. Frankly, the biblical world was far less dainty about discourse than we have become in 21st-century America. The Scriptures, including the New Testament, are filled with vigorous discourse. Jesus, for example, really mixes it up with His opponents—even calling them names. We shall see more of this in a moment. But the Scriptures also counsel charity and warn of unnecessarily angry speech. In the end, a balance of the scriptural witness to civility must be sought along with an appreciation of the cultural variables at work.

Let’s examine a few of the texts that counsel charityas well as a modern and American notion of civility:

  1. Anyone who says to his brother, “Raqa” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell(Matt 5:22).
  2. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen(Eph 4:29).
  3. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged(Col 3:21).
  4. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be (James 3:9-10).
  5. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry(James 1:19).
  6. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt(Col 4:6).
  7. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up(1 Thess 5:11).
  8. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips(Col 3:8).
  9. Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but a fool is consumed by his own lips(Eccl 10:12).
  10. The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools(Eccles 9:17).
  11. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification(Rom 14:19).
  12. Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother(Gal 6:1).
  13. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort [the repentant sinner], so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow(2 Cor 2:7).

All these texts counsel a measured, charitable, and edifying discourse. Name-calling and hateful or unnecessary expressions of anger are out of place. And this is a strong biblical tradition, especially in the New Testament.

But there are also strong contrasts to this instruction evident in the Bible. And a lot of it comes from an unlikely source: Jesus. Paul too, who wrote many of the counsels above, often engages in strident denunciations of his opponents and even members of the early Church. Consider some of the passages below, first by Jesus, then by Paul and other Apostles:

  1. Jesus said, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good?”(Matthew 12:34)
  2. And Jesus turned on them and said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. “Woe to you, blind guides! … You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. … You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. … And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”(Matt 23 varia)
  3. Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. … You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. … He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God” (John 8:42-47).
  4. Jesus said, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”(Mark 7:6).
  5. And Jesus answered them, O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long must I tolerate you?(Mark 9:19)
  6. Jesus said to the disciples, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:11)
  7. Jesus said to the crowd, “I do not acceptpraise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts”(Jn 5:41-42).
  8. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables(John 2:15).
  9. Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!”(John 6:70)
  10. Paul: O senseless Galatians, who hath bewitched you that you should not obey the truth … As for those circumcisers, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!(Galatians 3, 5)
  11. Paul against the false apostles:And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve (2 Cor 11:11-14).
  12. Paul on the Cretans:Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith(Titus 1:12-13).
  13. Peter against dissenters:Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings…these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish. … They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. … They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! … Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud”(2 Peter 2, varia).
  14. Jude against dissenters:These dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings….these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them. Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; … These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. … These men are grumblers and fault finders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage(Jude 1:varia).

Now most of the passages above would violate modern norms about civil discourse.Are they sinful? They are God’s word! And yet they seem rather shocking to modern ears. Imagine getting into your time machine and going to hear Jesus denounce the crowds and calling them children of the devil. It really blows a 21st-century mind!

I want to suggest to you that these sorts of quotes go a long way toward illustrating the cultural dimension of what it means to be civil.The bottom line is that there is a great deal of variability in what people consider civil discourse. In some cultures there is a greater tolerance for anger. In New York and Boston, edgy comments and passionate interruptive debate are common. But in the upper-Midwest and parts of the Deep South, conversation is more gentle and reserved.

At the time of Jesus, angry discourse was apparently more “normal,”for as we see, Jesus Himself engages in a lot of it, even calling people names like “hypocrites,” “brood of vipers,” “liars,” and “wicked.” Yet the same Scriptures that record these facts about Jesus also teach that He never sinned. Hence at that time, the utterance of such terms was not considered sinful.

Careful, now—be careful here. This does not mean it is simply OK for us to talk like this because Jesus did. We do not live then; we live now; and in our culture such dialogue is seldom acceptable and often backfires. There ARE cultural norms we have to respect to remain in the realm of Charity. Exactly how to define civility in every instance is not always clear. An old answer to these hard-to-define things is “I know it when I see it.” So perhaps it is more art than science to define civility. But clearly we tend to prefer gentler discourse in this day and age.

On the other hand, we also tend to be a little thin-skinnedand hyper-sensitive. And the paradoxical result of insisting on greater civility is that we are too easily “outraged” (one of the more overused words in English today). We take offense where none is intended and we presume that the mere act of disagreeing is somehow arrogant, intentionally hurtful, or even hateful. We seem so easily provoked and so quick to be offended. All of this escalates anger further, and charges of hate and intolerance are launched back and forth when there is merely sincere disagreement.

Balance– The Scriptures give us two balanced reminders. First, that we should speak the truth in love, and with compassion and understanding. But it also portrays to us a time when people had thicker skin and were less sensitive and anxious in the presence of disagreement. We can learn from both biblical traditions. The biblical formula seems to be “clarity” with “charity,” the truth with a balance of toughness and tenderness. An old saying comes to mind: “Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.”

Here is a video that depicts the zeal of Jesus and a bit of his anger.

I Did Not Know Him. A Meditation on a Saying By St. John the Baptist

In Sunday’s Gospel (John 1:29ff), John the Baptist speaks of Jesus, calling Him superior, pre-existent, and anointed by the Holy Spirit. What also stands out is that John twice says, “I did not know Him.” This seems odd given that they were cousins. While it is possible that the text merely means they were not well acquainted, there is likely a deeper explanation. It is as if John is saying, “I knew him, but I never reallyknew Him. I never reallysaw until now the full depths of Him. I did not fully realize His glory until God showed me.”

That John missed seeing these deeper realities is understandable, as the Lord hid these qualities to some extent.In Philippians we read,

[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to cling to; rather, he emptied himself by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he thus humbled himself becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father(Phil 2:6-11).

Jesus, though eternally God, cloaked His glory;He allowed Himself to be seen by most as a mere man. Such is the humility of our Lord!

John is now permitted to see more,and he beholds something of the glory of Jesus as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. This is why he cries out, “I did not know him.” We must make a similar journey to the Lord, allowing our faith and understanding of Him to deepen. Is this merely Jesus, the ethical teacher from Nazareth? No, He is far more; He is the Lord! This is our journey with and to the Lord.

Even with one another, there may come a day when we feel compelled to say of someone we have known, “I did not know him.”There are times we see into the depths of a person we thought we knew well only to discover something more (whether good or bad), something surprising.

Sometimes we are surprised in a negative way, such as when someone we thought we knew well does something shocking and sinful. I choose not to dwell on that here. Most of us have had such times when were surprised, were shocked, or even felt betrayed, wondering if we ever really knew the person at all.

In a more positive sense,we ought to presume that there are depths to a person that we do not see or understand. Each of us has some unique glory, some particular gift or role in God’s kingdom, and too often we fail to remember this.

I had such a moment when my sister Mary Anne died.She had been mentally ill all her life, tortured by paranoid schizophrenia and dark voices in her head. Frankly, she frightened me; at other times she annoyed me. When she was taking her medications, she was nearly normal, even if a bit exotic in her thoughts. She loved God; she prayed and dreamed of a normal life with marriage and children. But I never really knew how to interact with her, so I often avoided her.

In 1991 Mary Anne died in a fire,and because her skin had been singed the funeral directors could not adjust her face. Hence, they recommended only a private viewing, with a closed casket for the remainder of the time. At the private viewing I could tell that she had died weeping. I saw her pain as I had never seen it before. It pierced me through, and I wept. I wondered if I had ever really known her, if I had ever really understood her pain and her dignity. I was sad that it took her death for me to understand the depths of her struggle and to recognize her dignity and future glory. The Lord says that many who are last will be first (Mat 19:30).

Many of us never really know the pains and sorrows others have endured. There’s an old spiritual with these lyrics: “Nobody knows the trouble I seen. Nobody knows but Jesus.”

Yes, some of the troubled and “troublesome” people we encounter have sorrows and difficulties that are hidden from us.Most are troubled for a reason. Remembering this may not excuse bad behavior,but it surely helps us be more compassionate and patient.

Most of us fail to appreciate the glory of others.Each person we encounter has a mystery and glory that is caught up into the very love of God. God knew each one of us before we were born (Jer 1:5). He knit us together in our mother’s womb. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, and every one of our days was written in God’s book before one of them ever came to be (see Psalm 139). This is true even of our enemies.

Often, we fail to recognize the deep mystery of every human person and to reverence it.St. John the Baptist’s declaration “I did not know Him” reminds us all to be careful toward one another and reverential toward the hidden mystery of all God’s children.

In Heaven there is something called the “communion of saints.”Experiencing this will not merely be like being in a crowd of strangers. Rather, we shall see one another more deeply than we can now imagine. We will see each other in the light of God, knowing one another and ourselves more the way He does. There will be understanding, appreciation, and mutual respect that we can’t even fathom now.

God gave St. John the Baptist insight into the glory of Christ, a glory that was preeminent and divine such that he could say, “I did not know Him.”May God grant us insight into the lesser—though still wonderful—glory in one another. We will never fully know one another here in this world, but may our “I did not know him” be replaced by reverence before the mystery of the human person.

 

The Divinity of Jesus Christ

The biblical evidence of Jesus’ divinity is remarkably rich and consistent throughout the New Testament. Although I present many Scripture passages below, I cannot include most of them because doing so would dwarf the rest of the post. Perhaps at some point in the future I will publish a version containing all of the detailed citations. For now, though, let these examples suffice to demonstrate scriptural affirmation of the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

To begin, recall that the divinity of Christ is a dogma of the Faith (de Fide). The divinity and divine Sonship of Jesus are expressed in all of the creeds. It is perhaps most clearly stated in the Athanasian Creed (Quicumque):

 … we believe and confess that Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is God and man. He is God begotten of the substance of the Father before all ages and man born in time of the substance of His Mother. He is Perfect God and perfect man.

Many passages in the Old Testament express the qualities of the coming Messiah:

    • a prophet (see Dt 18:15,18)
    • a priest (see Psalm 109:4)
    • a shepherd (see Ez 34:23ff)
    • King and Lord (see Ps 2, Ps 44, Ps 109, Zach 9:9)
    • a suffering servant (see Is 53)
    • the Son of God (see Ps 2:7, 109:3)
    • Emmanuel (God with us) (see Is 7:14, Is 8:8)
    • Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Father of the World to Come, Prince of Peace (see Is 9:6)
    • Eternal King (see Dan 7:14)

Many passages in the New Testament ascribe divine qualities to Jesus:

    • omnipotence, manifest in the creation and the conservation of the world (see Col 1:15-17, 1 Cor 8:6, Heb 1:2ff)
    • omniscience – In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3).
    • eternity – He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col 1:17).
    • immutability (see Heb 1:12, 13:8)
    • adorability (see Phil 2:10, Heb 1:6)

In the New Testament, the Father attests to the divine Sonship of Jesus:

See Mt 3:17, 17:5, Mk 9:7, Lk 3:22, 9:35, Jn 1:34, and 2 Pet 1:17.

In the Gospels, the Lord Jesus gives testimony to His own divinity and self-knowledge. He is of noble stature. He is aware of His dignity and power and expresses it frequently.

Jesus indicates that He transcends the prophets and Kings of the Old Covenant.

    • Jonah and Solomon (see Mt 12:41ff, Lk 11:31ff)
    • Moses and Elijah (see Matt 17:3, Mk 9:4, Lk 9:30)
    • King David – See Mt 22:43ff Mk 12:36, Lk 20:42ff
    • He says that the least born into His Kingdom will be greater than John the Baptist who, until that time, was considered the greatest man born of woman (see Mt 11:11, Lk 7:28).

Jesus teaches that He is superior to the angels.

    • The angels are His servants and minister to Him (see Mt 4:11, Mk 1:13, Lk 4:13).
    • The angels are His army (see Mt 26:53).
    • The angels will accompany Him at His second coming and do His will (see Mt 16:27, 25:31, Mk 8:38, Lk 9:26).

Jesus appropriates divine actions unto Himself and thus sets forth an assimilation unto the Lord God.

    • He declares that it was He who sent the prophets and doctors of the Law (see Mt 23:34, Lk 11:49).
    • He gives the promise of His assistance and grace (see Lk 21:15).
    • He forgives sins, which power belongs to God alone (e.g., Mt 9:2).
    • He, by His own authority, completes and changes some precepts of the Law (See Mt 5:21ff).
    • He declares Himself to be Lord of the Sabbath (see Mt 12:8, Mk 2:28, Lk 6:5, Jn 5:17).
    • Like the Heavenly Father, He makes a covenant with His followers (see Mt 26:28, Mk 14:24, Lk 22:20).

Jesus makes divine demands upon his followers.

    • He rebukes some for lack of faith in Him (see Mt 8:10-12, 15:28).
    • He rewards faith in Him (see Mt 8:13, 9:2, 22:29, 15:28, Mk 10:52, Lk 7:50, 17:19).
    • He demands faith in His own person (see Jn 14:1, 5:24, 6:40,47, 8:51, 11:25ff).
    • He teaches that rejection of Him and His teachings will be the standard of final judgement (see Lk 9:26, Mt 11:6).
    • Jesus demands supreme love for Him, which surpasses all earthly loves (see Mt 10:37,39; Lk 17:33).
    • He accepts religious veneration by allowing people to fall at His feet, an honor due to God alone (See Mt 15:25, 8:2, 9:18, 14:33, 28:9,17).

Jesus is well aware of His own power (see Mt 28:18).

    • He works many miracles in His own name.
    • He transfers this power to His disciples.

Jesus knows and teaches that His own death will be an adequate atonement for the forgiveness of the sins of the whole human race (see Mt 20:28, 26:28).

Jesus appropriates to Himself the office of Judge of the World, which according to the Old Testament (e.g., Ps 49:1-6) God would exercise (e.g., Mt 16:27). His judgment extends to every idle word (see Mt 12:36) and will be final and executed immediately (see Mt 25:46).

Jesus knows that He is the Son of God.

    • Jesus clearly distinguishes His claim in this regard from His disciples’ relationship to the Father. When He speaks of His own relationship with God He says, “My Father.” However, when He addresses the disciples, He calls God “Your Father.” He never unites Himself with them in the formula “Our Father,” thus maintaining a distinction (see Jn 20:17).
    • Jesus first reveals Himself to be the Son of God in the temple, when He remarks to Mary and Joseph that He must be about His Father’s business (see Lk 2:49).
    • Jesus claims to be both Messiah and Son of God in the presence of the Sanhedrin (see Mk 14:62). The Sanhedrin deem this to be blasphemous.
    • Jesus tells a story of Himself in the Parable of the Evil Husbandmen, thus confessing himself to be the only Son of God.
    • Jesus is aware of being one with the Father (The Father and I are one (Jn 10:30,38)). The Jews respond by accusing Him of blasphemy.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus indicates that

    • He is eternal (Before Abraham was, I am (Jn 8:58)),
    • He has full knowledge of the Father (see Jn 7:29, 8:55, 10:14ff),
    • He has equal power and efficacy with the Father (see Jn 5:17),
    • He can forgive sins (Jn 8:11 et sicut supra),
    • He is Judge of the World (Jn 5:22,27 et sicut supra),
    • He is rightly to be adored (see Jn 5:23),
    • He is the light of the world (see Jn 8:12),
    • He is the way, the truth, and the light (see Jn 14:6),
    • His disciples may and ought to pray to the Father in His name (see Jn 14:13ff, 16:23ff),
    • His disciples may pray to Him (see Jn 14:13ff, 16:23ff),
    • the solemn confession of the Apostle Thomas, “My Lord and my God,” is acceptable and in fact an act of faith (see Jn 20:28).

Here are a few other New Testament passages on Christ’s divinity:

    • And we know that the Son of God is Come and has given us Understanding that we may know the true God and may be in His True Son, this is the True God and Life Eternal (1 John 5:20).
    • In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God (Jn 1:1-14).
    • Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped … and every tongue must confess to the Glory of God the Father that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:5-11).
    • … to them [the Israelites] belong the patriarchs and of their race, according to the flesh is the Christ, who is God over all blessed forever (Rom 9:5).
    • Looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).
    • But to the Son [God says]: Your Throne, O God is for ever and ever (Heb 1:8).

Well, I hope you get the point. Those who state that Jesus didn’t know He was God or that He never made divine claims haven’t read enough Scripture. Jesus is Lord; He is God. All things came to be through Him, and He holds all creation together in Himself. Those who deny His divinity will one day fall to prostrate before His glory (see Rev. 1:17).

Here is a powerful clip from the movie The Gospel of John. The words you will hear are taken directly from Scripture.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Divinity of Jesus Christ

Jesus’ Qualities as Preacher and Teacher

As a priest I am called to preach and teach, and I must look to Jesus Christ as my model. In this I refer to the real Jesus, the Jesus of Scripture. He clearly loved God’s people, and because of that he could not abide a limited notion of salvation for them. Jesus zealously insisted that they receive the whole counsel of God. He insisted on a dignity for them that was nothing less than the perfection of God Himself (cf. Matthew 5:41).

As a teacher, Jesus often operated in the mode of the prophets. Prophets have a way of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Yet despite Jesus’ often fiery and provocative stances, the Scriptures speak of the eagerness with which many flocked to hear Him.

      • And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes (Mat 7:28).
      • Sent to arrest Jesus, the temple guard returned empty-handed saying, No one ever spoke like that man (Jn 7:46).
      • And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words, which proceeded out of his mouth (Luke 4:22).
      • And the common people heard him gladly (Mark 12:37).

Jesus was a complex preacher and teacher. Let’s consider some of His qualities and ponder the sort of balance that He manifests.

I. His authority – The Scriptures often speak of the “authority” with which Jesus taught. The Greek word translated as “authority” is exousia, which means teaching out of (one’s own) substance, speaking to the substance of what is taught. Jesus would often say, “You have heard that is was said … But I say to you …” (cf Mat 5 inter al). Jesus spoke from His experience of knowing His Father and of knowing and cherishing the Law and its truth in His own life. He brought a personal weight to what He said. He knew of what He spoke; He did not merely know about it.

This personal authority was compelling; even today, those with this gift stand apart from those who merely preach and teach the “safe” maxims of others without adding their own experience. Jesus personally bore witness in His own life to the truth He proclaimed—and people noticed the difference.

How about you? You and I are called to speak out of the experience of the Lord in our own life and to be able to say with authority, “Everything that the Lord and His Body, the Church, have declared is true because, in the laboratory of my own life, I have tested it and come to experience it as true and transformative.”

II. His witness – A witness recounts what he has seen and heard with his own eyes and ears, what he himself knows and has experienced. Jesus could say to the Jews of his time, If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him, and I keep his word (Jn 8:55). He attests to what He personally knows; He is not just repeating what others have said.

While we cannot witness immediately to all that Jesus could, for He had lived with the Father from all eternity, as we make our walk we can speak to what the Lord has done in our own life and how we have come to know Him in conformity with His revealed Word.

III. His respect for others – The Latin root of the word “respect” gives it the meaning “look again” (re (again) + spectare (to look)). Frequently in Scripture, especially in Mark’s Gospel, there appears the phrase, “Jesus looked at them and said …”

In other words, Jesus was not merely issuing dictates to an unknown, faceless crowd. He looked at them, and He looks at us. It is a personal look, a look that seeks to engage us in a very personal way. He is speaking to us. His teaching is not merely for an ancient crowd; it is for us. He looks to us, and He looks again. Are we looking? Are we listening?

Do you look with respect to those whom you are called to teach or to the children you are called to raise? Do you engage them by your look of respect and love?

IV. His love and patience for sinners – Jesus could be very tough, even exhibiting impatience, but He is willing to stay with us in a long conversation. One text says, When Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them at great length (Mk 6:34). Yes, He teaches us at great length; He stays in long conversations with us. He knows that we are dull of mind and hard of heart, so He persistently and consistently teaches.

Do we do that? Or do we quickly write people off? Jesus had a long conversation with a Samaritan woman who, frankly, was quite rude to Him at first (John 4). He had a long conversation with Nicodemus, who was also at times resistant and argumentative (Jn 3). He had a long conversation with His Apostles, who were often slow and inept.

V. His capacity to both afflict and console – Jesus said, “Blessed are you,” but just as often said “Woe to you.” Jesus comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. All of us fall into both categories. We need comfort but are often too comfortable in our sins. A true prophet fears no man and speaks to the truth of God.

A true prophet has no permanent allies to please and no permanent enemies to oppose. The determination of every moment is based on conformity or lack of conformity to the truth of God. Jesus said to Peter, Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah. (Mat 16:17), and He gave him the keys to the Kingdom and the power to bind and loose. But in the very next passage, Jesus says to Peter, Get behind me, Satan! (Mat 16:23)

VI. His parables – Stories are an important way to teach. A story that registers with us will rarely be forgotten. It is said that Jesus used more than 45 parables; some are full stories while others are just brief images. He used parables to link His sometimes-complex teaching to everyday life and to plant a seed of truth for our further reflection.

Parables are also like riddles. They admit of various interpretations. A good parable leaves its listener wanting more, seeking a definitive interpretation.

Parables are powerful for variety of reasons. Learn stories and learn to share them!

VII. His questions – Jesus asked well over a hundred questions in the gospel. Here are just a few: “What did you go out to the desert to see? “Why do you trouble the woman?” “How many loaves do you have?” “Do you say this of me on your own or have others told you of me?”

Good teachers ask questions and do not rush to answer every question. A question is pregnant with meaning; it invites a search. The Socratic method uses questions to get to the truth, especially on a personal level: “Why do you ask that? “What do you mean by this?” “Do you think there are any distinctions needed in your claim?”

Here is a list of one hundred questions that Jesus asked: 100 Questions Jesus Asked  Read them; they will make you think—a lot, I hope!

VIII. His use of “focal instances” – Jesus does not propose to cover every moral situation or every doctrinal truth in one afternoon. He uses “focal instances,” through which He illustrates principles.

A good example of can be found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), where, to illustrate the principle that we are to fulfill the law and not merely keep its minimal requirements, Jesus uses several examples or focal instances; He speaks to anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, love of enemies, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In Mathew 25:31ff, the Lord uses the corporal works of mercy to illustrate the whole of the Law.

These are not an exhaustive treatment of the moral life. Through the use of illustrations, the Lord asks us to learn the principle of fulfillment and then apply it to other situations.

Good teachers teach principles because they cannot possibly envision or address every scenario. Having instructed their students in first principles, they can trust that their students will make solid decisions when faced with a new situation.

IX. His use of hyperbole – Jesus uses hyperbole frequently: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven (Mk 10:25). If your eye scandalizes you, gouge it out (Mat 5:29). There was a man who owed ten thousand talents (over a hundred thousand years’ wages) (Mat 18:24). It would be better for you to be cast into the sea with a great millstone about your neck than to scandalize one of my little ones (Mat 18:6).

It’s hard to forget effective hyperbole. Who of us can forget Jesus’ parable about the man with a 2×4 coming out of his eye who rebukes his neighbor for the splinter in his? I often tell my congregation, “Go to Mass, or go to Hell,” which is my way of saying that missing Mass is a mortal sin.

Good teachers use hyperbole at the right moments.

X. His use of servile fear – Jesus often used fear-based arguments. He warned of Hell, of unquenchable fire, and of the worm that does not die. His parables feature of a lot of summary judgments at which people are found unprepared, are excluded from Heaven, or are cast into darkness. Jesus warns of the wailing and grinding of teeth. He also warns of a permanent abyss between Heaven and Hell that no one will be able to cross.

Many today are dismissive of fear-based arguments, but Jesus used them; He used them a lot. I guess Jesus never got the memo that this is a poor way to teach! For the spiritually mature, love can and does replace the need for fear-based arguments, but, frankly, many are not that mature, and a healthy dose of fear and the threat of unending regret is often necessary.

To teach as Jesus did is to include warning of judgment and of Hell.

XI. His anger and zeal – Jesus does not hesitate to express His anger and grief at the hardness and stubbornness of many. One day He said, You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? (Matt 17:17) And in Mark’s Gospel we read, And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was furious and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them” (Mk 10: 13-14).

Yes, Jesus memorably cleansed the temple and drove out iniquity there. He engaged in heated debates with the Jewish leaders and with unbelievers. He did not hesitate to call them hypocrites, vipers, liars, and the sons of those who murdered the prophets.

A parent who never reacts with anger risks misleading his child into making light of or not being serious enough about wrongdoing, disrespect, or stubborn unrepentance.

We must be careful of our anger, however. We do not have the kind of control over it that Jesus did; neither are we as able to see into people’s hearts as He was. There is a place for anger and Jesus uses it—a lot, actually. Anger signals an important teaching and rebukes a lighthearted response.

XII. His refusal to compromise – There was in Jesus very little compromise about the serious teachings of doctrine or issues related to our salvation. He said that either we would believe in Him or we would die in our sins (Jn 8). Jesus also said that He was the only way to the Father and that no one would come to the Father except through Him. He declared that no one who set his hand to the plow and looked back was fit for the reign of God. Jesus said that no one who would not deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Him was worthy of Him. We are told to count the cost and decide now, and we are warned that delay might be deadly.

Much of this is countercultural in today’s world. Many insist on a softer Christianity, in which we can love the world and also love God. Sorry, no can do. A friend of the world is an enemy to God.

Jesus teaches His fundamental truths in an uncompromising way. This is because they are truths for our salvation. Following these truths vaguely or inconsistently will not win the day. Some disciplines need to be followed precisely. To teach as Jesus did involves insisting that the fundamental doctrines of our faith be accepted fully and wholeheartedly.

XIII. His forgiveness – Forgiveness may not at first seem to be an obvious way of teaching, but consider that teachers often have to accept that students don’t get everything right the first time. Teaching requires a patient persistence as students first acquire skills and then master them.

While setting high standards, Jesus offers forgiveness, not as a way of denying perfection but as a way to facilitate our advancement by grace and trust.

XIV. His equipping and authorizing of others – Good teachers train new ones.

Jesus trained the Twelve and, by extension, other disciples as well. He led and inspired them. He also prepared them for the day when He would hand on the role of teacher to them. We who would teach need to train our successors and inspire new and greater insights.

Teach me, Lord, by your example, to teach as you taught and to preach as you would have me preach.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Jesus’ Qualities as Preacher and Teacher

There’s a Yoke to Be Carried in Following Jesus – Make Sure It’s Jesus’ Yoke, Not Yours

The Gospel from Thursday’s daily Mass contains memorable but often misunderstood lines:

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest … Take my yoke upon you … For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.

The most important word in this sentence is the word “my.” Jesus says, my yoke is easy; my burden is light.

What is a yoke? It’s a wooden truss that makes it easier to carry a heavy load by distributing the weight across a wider part of the body or by allowing the weight to be shared by two or more people or animals. In the picture above, the woman is able to carry the heavy water more easily with the weight distributed across her shoulders rather than in her hands. The load is eased by involving more parts of the body. Yokes are also used to join two animals and help them work together in pulling a load.

What is Jesus saying? First, He is saying that He has a yoke for us. That is, He has a cross for us. Notice that Jesus is not saying that there is no yoke or cross in following Him. There is a cross that He allows, and He allows it for a reason and for a season.

Easy? Jesus says that the cross he has for us is “easy.” The Greek word χρηστὸς (chrestos) is better translated as “well fitting,” “suitable,” or even “useful.” In effect, the Lord is saying that the yoke he has for us is suited to us; it fits us well and has been carefully chosen so as to be useful for us. God knows that we need some crosses in order to grow. He knows what those crosses are. He knows what we can bear and what we are ready for. Yes, His yoke for us fits us well.

But notice again that little word: “my.” The cross or yoke that Jesus has for us is well suited and useful for us. The problem comes when we start adding to that weight with things of our own doing. We put wood on our shoulders that God never put there and never intended for us. We make decisions without asking God. We undertake projects, launch careers, accept promotions, and even enter marriages without ever discerning if God wants this for us. And sure enough, before long our life is complicated and burdensome; we feel pulled in many different directions. But this is not the yoke of Jesus; this is largely the yoke of our own making. Of course it is not easy nor does it fit well, because Jesus didn’t make it.

Don’t blame God; simplify. Be very careful before accepting commitments and making big decisions. Ask God. It may be good, but not for you. It may help others, but destroy you. Seek the Lord’s will. If necessary, seek advice from a spiritually mature person. Consider your state in life; consider the tradeoffs. Balance the call to be generous with the call to proper stewardship of your time, talent, and treasure. Have proper priorities. It is amazing how many people put their career before their vocation. They accept promotions, take on special assignments, and think more about money and advancement than their spouse and children. The burdens increase and the load gets heavy when we don’t ask God or even consider how a proposed course of action might affect the most precious and important things in our lives.

Jesus’ final advice, then, is this: Take my yoke and only my yoke. Forsake all others. Simplify.

So stop “yoking around.” Take only His yoke. If you do, your burdens will be lighter. Jesus says, “Come and learn from me. I will not put heavy burdens on you. I will set your heart on fire with love. And then, whatever I do have for you, will be a pleasure for you to do. Because, what makes the difference is love.” Love lightens every load.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: There’s a Yoke to Be Carried in Following Jesus – Make Sure It’s Jesus’ Yoke, Not Yours

What Does the Ascension Accomplish for Us? A Homily for the Feast of the Ascension

This marvelous feast is not merely about something that took place two thousand years ago, for although Christ our Head has ascended, we the members of His body are ascending with Him. Because He ascended, we too have ascended. In my own life as a Christian, I am brought higher every year by the Lord, who is drawing me up with Him. This is not some mere slogan; it is something I am actually experiencing. An old Baptist hymn says, “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore. Very deeply stained with sin, sinking to rise no more. But the master of the sea, heard my despairing cry. And from the waters lifted me. Now safe am I. Love lifted me, when nothing else could help. Love lifted me.”

Yes, if we are faithful, the feast of the Lord’s Ascension is our feast, too. Let’s look at it from three perspectives.

I. The Fact of the Ascension – The readings today describe a wondrous event that the apostles witnessed. The Lord, by His own power, is taken to Heaven. In so doing He opens a path for us, too. The gates of paradise swing open again: Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in (Psalm 24:7). In Christ, man returns to God. Consider three things about the Ascension:

The Reality – Imagine the glory of this moment. Scripture says, As they were looking on, he was lifted up and cloud took him from their sight … they were looking intently in the sky as he was going (Acts 1:9). So impressive was the sight that the angels had to beckon them to get along to Jerusalem as the Lord had said, “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Yes, it was glorious. As a summons to faith, Jesus had once said, What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? (John 6:62) He had also encouraged them by saying, Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man (John 1:51). So here is a glorious reality and a fulfillment of what Jesus had said.

The Rescue – In the Ascension it does not seem that the Lord entered Heaven alone. In His mystical body we also ascend with Him. Consider this remarkable text, which affirms that: Therefore, it is said, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things (Eph 4:8ff). Yes, the Lord had earlier, just after His death, descended to Sheol, awakened the dead, and preached the gospel to them (cf 1 Peter 4:6). Now, for those He had justified, came the moment to ascend with Jesus as a “host,” as an army of former captives now set free. Behold the great procession that enters behind Christ through the now-opened gates of Heaven: Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Judith, Deborah, David, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Malachi, John the Baptist, … and one day, you! Yes, this is a great rescue. Adam and his descendants have not simply been restored to some paradisiacal garden; they have entered Heaven.

The Rejoicing – Consider how this once captive train sings exultantly as they follow Christ upward to Heaven. The liturgy today presents a song they likely sang: God mounts his throne to shouts of Joy! The Lord amid trumpet blasts. All you peoples clap your hands, shout to God with cries of gladness, for the Lord, the most high, the awesome, is the great king over all the earth. God reigns over the nations, God sits upon his holy throne (Psalm 47:6-7). I also have it on the best of authority that they were singing this old gospel song: “I’m so glad, Jesus lifted me!” They were even singing this old Motown song: “Your love is lifting me higher, than I’ve ever been lifted before!”

II. The Fellowship of the Ascension – When Christ ascends, we ascend. Why and how? Scripture says, Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it (1 Cor 12:27). It also says, All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. By baptism we were buried together with him so that Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father, we too might live a new and glorious life. For if we have been united with him by likeness to his death we shall be united with him by likeness to his resurrection (Rom 6:3ff). So, when Christ died, we died. When Christ rose, we rose. When Christ ascends, we ascend.

But, you may say, He is in glory while I am still here. How is it that I am ascended or ascending? Consider the following humorous example about our physical bodies. When I get on an elevator and push the button for the top floor, although the top of my head gets there before the soles of my feet, my whole body will get there (unless some strange loss of integrity or tragic dismemberment takes place). So it is also with Jesus’ mystical body. In Christ, our head, we are already in glory. Some members of His body have already gotten there. We will get there too, provided we remain members of His Body. Yes, we are already ascended in Christ, our head. If we hold fast and remain members of His Body, we are already enthroned in glory with Him. This is the fellowship of the Ascension.

III. The Fruitfulness of the Ascension – Jesus does not return to Heaven in order to abandon us. In fact, He is more present to us than we are to ourselves. He is with us always to the end of the age (cf Matt 28:20). In ascending (without abandoning us) He goes to procure some very important things. Consider four of them:

Holy Ghost power – Jesus teaches very clearly that He is ascending in order to send us the Holy Spirit: Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you (Jn 16:7ff). He also says, These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (Jn 14:25ff). Later He says, I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come (Jn 16:13-14). So, the Lord goes so that He might, with the Father, send the Holy Spirit to live within us as in a temple. In this way, and through the Eucharist, He will dwell with us even more intimately than when He walked this earth.

Harvest – Jesus says, And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me (John 12:32). While the immediate context of this verse is the crucifixion, the wonder of John’s Gospel is that there are often intentional double meanings. Clearly Christ’s glorification is His crucifixion, but it also includes his resurrection and ascension. So, from His place in glory, Christ is drawing all people to Himself. He is also bestowing grace on us, from His Father’s right hand, to be His co-workers in the harvest: But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). Yes, from His place in glory, Christ is bringing in a great harvest. As He said in Scripture, Do you not say, “Four months more and then the harvest”? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus, the saying “One sows and another reaps” is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor (Jn 4:35-38). Harvest! And it is the Lord’s work from Heaven in which we participate.

Help – At the Father’s right hand, Jesus intercedes for us. Scripture says, Consequently he is able, for all time, to save those who draw near to God through him, since he lives always to make intercession for them (Heb 7:25). The Lord links His ascension to an unleashing of special power: Amen, amen, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son (Jn 14:12). We must not understand that asking in the name of Jesus is some incantation. To ask in His name means to ask in accordance with His will. Yet we must come to experience the power of Jesus to draw us up to great and wondrous things in His sight. Despite the mystery of iniquity all about us, we trust that Christ is conquering, even in the apparent and puzzling victories of this world’s rebellion. In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Though, at present we do not see everything subject to him, yet we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor….so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Heb 2:8-9; 14-15). Thus, from Heaven, we have the help of the Lord’s grace, which, if we will accept it, is an ever-present help unto our salvation.

Habitation – Simply put, Jesus indicates that in going to Heaven He is preparing a place for us: In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also (Jn 14:2ff). Yes indeed, He has the blueprints out and a hard hat on. He is overseeing the construction of a mansion for each of us so that we may dwell with Him, the Father, and the Spirit forever.

Here, then, are the ways that Christ, by His love, is lifting us higher (than we’ve ever been lifted before). Yes, love lifted me, when nothing else could help; love lifted me.

https://www.youtu.be/mHQQ7PomyIE

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: What Does the Ascension Accomplish for Us? A Homily for the Feast of the Ascension

Why Did Christ’s Glorified Body Still Have Wounds?

Several of the Resurrection accounts stress that Jesus showed the disciples His wounds. On one level we can understand that He was trying to make clear to them that the same Christ who was crucified stood before them; He was not a ghost or an apparition or simply someone who looked like Jesus.

When Christ rose, He took up His same, true body, but it now manifested a perfected glory. When we rise on the last day, the same will be true of our bodies. Why, then, were Christ’s wounds visible in His glorified body? Are not wounds and scars inconsistent with a glorified body?

St. Thomas Aquinas provides five reasons that Christ’s wounds are fitting in His glorified body. His reflections, from the Summa Theologiae III, Q. 54, Art. 4, are beautiful and poignant. St. Thomas’ words are presented below in bold, black italics, while my remarks appear in plain red text.

It was fitting for Christ’s soul at His Resurrection to resume the body with its scars. In the first place, for Christ’s own glory. For Bede says on Luke 24:40 that He kept His scars not from inability to heal them, “but to wear them as an everlasting trophy of His victory.” Hence Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xxii): “Perhaps in that kingdom we shall see on the bodies of the Martyrs the traces of the wounds which they bore for Christ’s name: because it will not be a deformity, but a dignity in them; and a certain kind of beauty will shine in them, in the body, though not of the body.”

Christ’s wounds are a dignity not a deformity, a sign of love not of loss, an indication of obedience not of onerousness. Through His wounds the Lord can say, “Here is what the world did to me, yet I live. Here is the cost of your redemption and the lavishness of my love.”

Secondly, to confirm the hearts of the disciples as to “the faith in His Resurrection” (Bede, on Luke 24:40).

This is what theologians refer to as “continuity.” The wounds demonstrate that the body that died on the cross is the same one the disciples see standing before them. Jesus has not taken up or fashioned a new body or a similar one; He is truly risen. The Greek word for resurrection is anastasis, which literally means “to stand again.” The word “resurrection” means the same thing: re (again) + surrexit (he stands). None of this would be true if a different body were before them, no matter how similar. Thus, Christ’s wounds confirm the truth of the resurrection.

Thirdly, “that when He pleads for us with the Father, He may always show the manner of death He endured for us” (Bede, on Luke 24:40).

Beautiful! The picture here is of the Son, Jesus, showing His wounds to His Father and saying, “See how I have loved them, Father. Have mercy on them.”

The Book of Hebrews says, Consequently, Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself (Heb 7:25-27).

Fourthly, “that He may convince those redeemed in His blood, how mercifully they have been helped, as He exposes before them the traces of the same death” (Bede, on Luke 24:40).

To those who doubt the Lord’s love or His understanding of our trials, Christ’s wounds speak tenderly and clearly of His love and of the price He was willing to pay for us. His wounds are more eloquent testimony than any words could be. Is God merciful? Does God understand or care at all about our condition? Look to the wounds of Christ; dwell in them; take shelter in them.

Lastly, “that in the Judgment Day He may upbraid them with their just condemnation” (Bede, on Luke 24:40). Hence, as Augustine says (De Symb. ii): “… So will [Christ] show His wounds to His enemies, so that He who is the Truth may convict them, saying: ‘Behold the man whom you crucified; see the wounds you inflicted; recognize the side you pierced, since it was opened by you and for you, yet you would not enter.’”

Such powerful and moving word, in this case from St Augustine. There is also a refutation of the idea that God is simply harsh on Judgment Day. In effect, He will say, “I endured suffering from you out of love for you. When I was on the cross, the soldier pierced my side. My heart was literally opened for you and still you would not enter. What more could I have done than to allow your own sins to be your redemption? Still you refused.”

In spite of receiving lifelong graces and unmerited favors and blessings, in spite of God’s call echoing in their depths, many still refuse God’s offer. It is a tragedy that some hearts are so hardened. Christ’s wounds testify to the justice of God’s only (and final) recourse: allowing them to live apart from Him. Accepting the choice of their free will, God’s last act is simply to recognize their refusal and say, “you would not enter.”

Dwell in the wounds of Christ.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Why Did Christ’s Glorified Body Still Have Wounds?